Dr Eric Cruickshank : a Scotsman up for a challenge

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By | From the Collections

The papers of doctor and medical educator, Eric Kennedy Cruickshank (1914-2007) have recently been catalogued and are available to researchers in the Wellcome Library (Library catalogue reference: PP/EKC).

The papers, donated to us by Josephine Cruickshank in 2009, give a strong indication of someone who lived life to the full and maintained a dynamism and enthusiasm for medicine in spite of adversity. This is most evident in his work as a Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) doctor in Changi Prisoner of War Camp, Singapore, during the Second World War.

Prisoners in Changi Jail, Singapore. Wellcome Image no. L0025435

Prisoners in Changi Jail, Singapore. Wellcome Image no. L0025435

Based in a makeshift hospital, surrounded by malnutrition, disease and appalling camp conditions, he managed to maintain detailed patient case notes, often writing on any scraps of paper he could lay his hands on. This experience greatly enhanced his knowledge and interest in nutritional deficiencies and their neurological manifestations. During the three and a half years spent in Changi (1942-1945) he treated countless cases of beri-beri, typhus, and protein deficiency.

On return to Britain in 1946 he continued his medical studies at Aberdeen University and was awarded a gold medal in 1948 for his MD thesis entitled ‘A Clinical Study of Beri-Beri and the Painful Feet Syndrome’ (PP/EKC/E/1). To write his thesis Cruickshank used some of the surviving case notes (many were lost on their journey back to England via India after the war ended) and these are listed in Section A of the collection. It should be noted however that the structured series of patient case notes, PP/EKC/A/1, are closed until between 2027 and 2030 for data sensitivity reasons.

In 1950 Eric Cruickshank left Aberdeen to take up a post at the University College of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. As Professor of Medicine he developed the medical school into a centre of excellence. His work in the West Indies, which included the first observation and description of Jamaican Neuropathy, a disease of the malnourished, led him to be awarded an OBE in 1961. Correspondence from friends and colleagues relating to the accolade can be found in section PP/EKC/E/3 of the archive.


Cartoon of Cruickshank given to him by staff and patients on a ward in Changi POW camp. Artist unknown. Wellcome Library reference: PP/EKC/A/4

Material on Jamaican Neuropathy amongst a host of other subjects can be found in PP/EKC/B. This section comprises an extensive series of subject files, which Cruickshank collated during his career from the 1940s to 1990s. They cover his particular areas of interest, work and research – nutrition, malnourishment, neurology, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, disorders of the blood, diabetes mellitus and metabolic diseases – and contain mainly off-prints of his own publications and those of others. Occasionally other unusual topics crop up, such as fish poisoning in St. Kitts, and other islands, of possible relevance to him as he lived in the West Indies for many years (PP/EKC/B/54).

His papers reveal an avid traveller as well as an expert on medical education. Section PP/EKC/C records his work for the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas and the World Health Organization, c.1961-1983, assessing and assisting the development of medical education in many different countries including the USSR, Jamaica, Sudan, Kuwait and Brazil.

Eric Cruickshank left Jamaica in 1972 and returned to Scotland to take up a post at Glasgow University as Professor of Post Graduate Medical Education. The correspondence comprising Section PP/EKC/D relates mainly to his professional activities during this period. He retired in 1980 and died aged 92 in 2007.

Author: Sam Blake is a Support Services assistant at the Wellcome Library.

Samantha Blake

Samantha Blake is Visitor Services Assistant at the Wellcome Library.

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