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Buckingham Liberal Democrats

Black History Month

October 17, 2020 10:57 AM
Originally published by Chesham and Amersham Liberal Democrats


To mark Black History Month this year it seems appropriate to consider the extraordinary contributions made by a couple of individuals to the care and health of others. We have all heard of Mary Jane Seacole, the British-Jamaican nurse and entrepreneur who cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War (1853-1856). After being refused for service by the British War Office, she followed the fighting herself, unofficially setting up refuge and medical assistance centres for soldiers. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991 and was voted the "greatest black Briton" in 2004.

Someone far less familiar is John Alcindor, a gifted doctor, respected and trusted by his many patients. Originally from Trinidad, he graduated with a medical degree from Edinburgh University in 1899. He then worked in London hospitals for several years before going into practice on his own. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he naturally wanted to use his skills to help with the war effort.

Despite his qualifications and experience, he was rejected outright by the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 because of his 'colonial origin', notwithstanding that the Medical Corps desperately needed good doctors.

Nonetheless Dr Alcindor joined 90,000 others in signing up as a British Red Cross volunteer.Throughout the conflict, he helped countless wounded soldiers at London railway stations as they returned from the battlefields.

Deservedly, he was later awarded a Red Cross Medal for his life-saving work.

Following the war, Dr Alcindor - a long-term resident of Paddington - became a senior district medical officer for the area. While his name lived on in local legend following his death in 1924, his legacy was largely lost with the passing of time. But in 2014 - on the 100-year anniversary of the start of the war - the good doctor finally got the recognition he had so long deserved.

With national television cameras whirring, members of his family unveiled a heritage blue plaque in his honour at a Paddington health centre. Fittingly, the inscription reads: 'Dr John Alcindor 1873-1924. Physician, Pan-Africanist and WW1 local hero'.

This year, in fighting the covid19 pandemic, there will be very many doctors, nurses, carers and other frontline workers of black and other minority ethnic origin, making an exceptional contribution in caring for the health of the nation. It would be good to think that by 2024, the centenary of the death of Dr Alcindor, there will have been fitting long-term recognition of the major and very valuable contribution that they make to our communities.