Friday, October 31, 2014

Citation on Military Cross reveals the essential Martin Henry Dawson

Martin Henry Dawson 1915
Martin Henry Dawson , enroute to battlefields of WWI
Henry Dawson went to WWI as a private and came back an officer and a decorated war hero (MC with citation for bravery and leadership in the field).

He also had two grave war wounds which left him permanently partially disabled.

Time spent recovering from those wounds and the resulting infections, together with a year overseas as an orderly in Dalhousie's Number Seven Base Hospital, meant he had spent almost half of his war in hospitals or recovering in convalescent homes.

Perhaps as a result, he had decided to change his career plans and become a medical doctor.

Unfortunately,some highly ambitious medical students who successfully avoided war service ( such as Howard Florey and Chester Keefer) had a vital four year start on him in his new profession.

Despite all this, I argue that the war did not fundamentally change his personality.

His parents raised him right - and to do right.

Always a serious studious both as a schoolboy and as a young university student , he merely shifted his lifelong love of learning to medicine - becoming a research doctor rather than some kind of university professor in the humanities.

His parents had instilled in him and his brothers a Christian concern for helping others less fortunate and if he later fell away from a formal affiliation with the church , some of that upbringing clearly never left him.

It is that upbringing that earned him his MC .

He won it for his efforts during his first ever time in combat.

Partly it was won for his considerable physical triumph in rising up after being wounded in the big toe to lead repeated charges against the enemy through the heavy mud.

And for his efforts later that day re-organizing a badly disorganized general front line from counterattacks, after more senior officers failed.

A wounded big toe is a total game changer for combat activity - which is why so many soldiers deliberately shoot out their own big toe through a sand bag  to get out of war service.

Without two working big toes, we can't really run or walk , let alone while carrying heavy back packs through heavy mud.

It is our unique big toes, not our primate-shared and relatively common set of opposing thumbs, that truly marks out the humans from the rest of the lifeforms.

 But what really secured his MC was what he did when he was finally ordered off the field to hospital.

He gave up his place in a stretcher and instead walked through miles of mud to the rear hospital, at the cost of great physical pain and adding further damage to his wounded foot.

He gave up that seat he said so that a severely wounded ordinary soldier, who had been triaged to die out in the front line mud with a blanket as his only solace in his final hours, could exercise his 'faint hope clause' for a further lease on life.

Dawson's concern that all humanity should have a fighting chance ("a fair go") to enjoy a normal full lifespan was never more revealed than in this small wartime incident.

This same concern later made him notable for being the first doctor to use penicillin as an antibiotic.

A pioneering effort he did all because he hoped to save some patients he felt the wartime medical establishment were deliberately triaging to die by neglect.

His efforts (again achieved at a great physical cost because this time he was dying of a painful terminal disease) directly saved a few dozen of these patients.

But indirectly , his efforts have benefitted ten billion of us - so far since 1940 - all living longer healthier lives as the result of his initially small efforts.

Small bread cast on big waters....

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