Just twenty minutes after midnight on 1st January 1952 Dr Courtney
Willey was summoned to his first call on taking up his position as Physician to Whitehaven
Hospital, then situated in Whitehaven Castle.
He had joined his friend and colleague, Dr John Simpson,
with whom he had shared the harrowing experience of four years imprisonment in
Japanese labour camps, as we reported last month. Until then, Dr Simpson had been the only
hospital physician in the area of Whitehaven and Workington to assist the team of general
practitioners in running Whitehaven Hospital and Workington Infirmary. After his arrival,
Dr Willey assumed responsibility for Whitehaven and district, including Cleator Moor and
Egremont, while Dr Simpson served Workington, but in a fruitful relationship, based on
close friendship - almost like twins, comments Courtney, fondly, they were
able to share notes and consult one another whenever they were in doubt. This partnership
was entirely free of professional rivalry or jealousy, and was broken only when John left
the hospital, on his remarriage, to tour the world. He died of a heart attack in 1980, and
on a plaque out side the main entrance to the hospital you may read the simple and
heartfelt message, Keep him in good memory.
His sharply focused memories put the present problems of West
Cumberland Hospital into an interesting perspective. Until 1958, when John Platt joined
the hospital staff and worked himself into the ground, they worked without the
assistance of any paediatrician. Ear Nose and Throat surgeon, Jack Page, operated in
Carlisle, but swore that he would get to Whitehaven within 45 minutes in any emergency,
driving at terrifying speeds on roads that would make our present A595 look like a
motorway. He also spoke with awe of the work of Mr Arthur Loughran, a beautiful
His department moved to the new West Cumberland Hospital in 1960,
establishing the only medical ward in the hospital, for all cases not requiring psychiatry
or surgery, just a few yards from the helicopter pad. Problems in recruiting staff were
even more acute than now, and the hospital was deeply indebted to a succession of
brilliant Indian doctors. Without them we would not have been able to cope at
all, he confesses. He recalls indignantly some of his Indian colleagues being abused
in a queue, and telling the muttering locals, You may not realise that these are two
of our hospital doctors and when you have your next heart attack you will be very pleased
to see them.
Another crucially important wing of the West Cumbrian Hospital service
was the Galemire Fever Hospital, ruled by Sister MacIntyre, who could cope with just
about anything. Dr Willey recalls the last severe epidemic of poliomyelitis, in
1957, when fifty cases were treated. Every one survived under Miss MacIntyres care,
he declared, though one suffered crippling paralysis. The care which one American girl
received so impressed her father that Miss MacIntyre was invited to spend a week in New
York with her family.
With rest and care there was a very good chance of recovery, but he
told sadly of a colleague, Jock Campbell, who did not survive. Finding himself feeling
stiff and feverish, he chose to row round the Loch in an attempt to shake it off, and the
exertions left him at the mercy of the disease.
His memory, as sharp as ever, is full of the admiration he cherishes
for colleagues who worked in the hospitals of West Cumberland, without any of the
resources we now take for granted but with incredible devotion and dedication. Keep them
in good memory.