Saturday, 25 March 2017

Max Herschel Montesole

A London Doctor in Peace and War

Max Herschel Montesole (1882–1937), the eldest son of Max Edward Montesole, husband of Kate Marion Heaton and son-in-law of Kate Heaton (neé Petter), qualified as an MBBS from St Thomas Hospital in 1907, when he was 25. 

He married Kate in 1909, giving his address as The Manor House, East India Dock Road, Poplar, originally the Sheriff of London’s residence but after the 1870s a doctors’ commons of two large houses where several doctors ministered to whoever came through the door, often for no fee for the poorest. And in Poplar, the poor were very poor indeed, largely casual workers in the East India and West India Docks on the banks of the river Thames, with their families crammed into decaying slum housing; living space had been compromised by the driving of the railway through the East End of London, putting great strain on the sewage system and causing frequent water contamination. 
The Poplar Workhouse was ‘the size of a small town’ where the able-bodied indigent were put to work; the aged went to the Workhouse in the neighbouring borough of Stepney and the sick to the Poplar Asylum. Herschel (his brother, the actor Max Montesole, used the name Max) was born in inner-city Islington, but the family of two parents, six sons and a daughter had by 1901 moved upmarket to 270 Wightman Road in the newly built Estate laid out by the Great Northern Railway Company in the Hornsey/Harringey suburbs. Herschel could have entered a medical practice in these more prosperous local surroundings, but seems to have made a socially conscious decision to work where typhoid, cholera (both water-borne diseases), typhus and tuberculosis (diseases of dirt and overcrowding) were rife in the insanitary tenements, and the average life expectancy was 37 years old. In 1911, The Medical Register, in its announcement of his election as a Member of the British Medical association (BMA), lists him as living in 18 Russell Mansions, Coram Street Bloomsbury: had he moved to work in Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, whose charter was ‘the education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’ taken off the streets and treated for diseases such as dysentery and smallpox? On 20 May 1915, at just 33, he was elected as a Freeman of the City of London, presumably in recognition of his work.

On 7 April 1915, The London Gazette lists Herschel as a Temporary Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), the non-combatant corps delivering medical services to an infantry or artillery regiment, in Herschel’s case the 2nd Royal Fusiliers (the City of London Regiment). In his mid-thirties and in a reserved occupation as a doctor, he had no need to enlist, but perhaps the fact that his brothers were fighting influenced his decision. (The Montesoles were among the handful of British families to send five sons to the Front: Max abandoned his life as an actor to join the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, and survived the war to make a glittering career in America; Eric died of wounds on 4 March 1916 at the Hohenzollen Redoubt in Loos; Herbert was killed by a shell at Festubert on the Somme on 17 March 1915; Allan served in the Machine Gun Corps, and survived the war. Edward, the second son, was in a reserved occupation as a director of Mulliners, a coachbuilding firm commandeered to make ordnance and munitions.) The 2nd Fusiliers served in Gallipoli and Egypt early in the war and were almost wiped out by disease. They entered the Western Front at Marseilles in March 1916, and Herschel’s Medal Rolls Index states that he became a Temporary RAMC Captain in May. In the summer/early autumn of 1916 the 2nd Fusiliers fought at Ginchy on the Somme, in the attritional and costly action around Arras in 1917, and on the Somme again in 1918, when several divisions were destroyed.

Herschel would have been the Medical Officer in a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), set up in an abandoned farm or ruined building a few miles behind the front lines, but still dangerously vulnerable to shelling and, after the battle of Ypres in April 1915, gas attack. CCSs moved location to follow the fighting but where possible stayed close to a railway line so that the most severely wounded could be evacuated to hospital. He would have had some surgical equipment and a rudimentary operating theatre, but many soldiers who made it that far would have died of infection or disease; the chain of casualties he received would have come first from a regimental aid post set up in a deep shell hole on the battle line itself, which could administer first aid and some pain relief, and then from an advanced dressing station in an underground bunker or dugout where wounds could be treated. Since they had no holding capacity, casualties had to make it to the CCS on foot or stretcher, often under bombardment.

At some time in 1918, Herschel was seriously wounded; he was awarded the Silver Badge as someone honourably discharged on account of wounds or illness.

He seems to have returned to medical practice until 1928, but we do not know if his marriage survived the strain of war: at his death in 1937, probate did not go to Kate. We have also found only one child, Katherine, born in 1914; one would expect a child or children to have been born in 1910–1913 and one can speculate that if he was doing paediatric work at Coram Fields, he may have been motivated, like Alice Edith Vlieland, by personal experience of child loss (we remember that Alice Edith’s mother, Phoebe Coulson, was one of 11, only 5 of whom survived into their teens, and Alice’s own eldest sister Helena predeceased her at the age of 18 months).

Thanks are due to for some of the material in this post.

Thanks to Barbara for this post

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