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Monday, 21 September 2009

Kenneth Sinclair Loutit

In 1930 Kenneth Sinclair Loutit won a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. At university he joined the Cambridge Socialist Society where he met John Cornford. Loutit became concerned at the growth of fascism in Italy and Germany. He also became an active opponent of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. He later wrote: "there was an ever increasing consensus, uniting men and women of all ages and all backgrounds, in a simple refusal of complaisance toward fascist thinking... We were ready to do something about the world we lived in, rather than to accept whatever might happen next."

After completing his degree at University of Cambridge he began a medical degree at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London. However, Sinclair Loutit decided to volunteer to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. According to Tom Buchanan, the author of Britain and the Spanish Civil War (1997), "he disregarded a threat of disinheritance from his father to volunteer." Loutit was appointed Administrator of the British Medical Aid Unit that had been set up by the Socialist Medical Association to help the victims of fascism.

In August 1936 he left for Spain with twenty other volunteers and a fully equipped mobile hospital. According to the woman who later became his second wife: "He found himself heading an autonomous municipal department employing several hundred staff in first-aid posts, a mobile medical unit, rescue parties with light engineering capacity, motorised stretcher parties and a mortuary." They eventually set up hospitals at Cuenca, Murcia and Albacete.

While in Spain he met the journalist Tom Wintringham. When asked what he was up to, Wintringham replied: "Look, the Party as you saw in Paris is the brain, heart and guts of the Popular Front and it's even more so in Spain. Unless the unit is right with the Party you'll be lost." According to Sinclair Loutit, Wintringham was already "formulating the concept of the International Brigades."

At this time Sinclair Loutit described himself as "a non-party, radical intellectual aged 23, frightened and disgusted by the inhumanity of the depression." Tom Wintringham, who was a leading member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, befriended the young doctor: "He (Wintringham) was helpful and kind in great things and small. To be with a warmly human Marxist who was also a cool soldier made it possible for me possible for me to find the beginning of the path and I count him one of the best friends I ever had."

After returning from the Spanish Civil War he completed his medical degree at St Bartholomew's Hospital. He married Thora Silverthorne and the couple lived at 12 Great Ormond Street. Sinclair Loutit was elected as a “unity front” councillor for Holborn. Unfortunately, the marriage was not a success and ended in divorce.

Kenneth Sinclair Loutit became a doctor in London and in 1938 helped establish Finsbury Health Centre. His second wife, Angela Sinclair Loutit, later recalled that it had been "founded on socialist principles that would later become the bedrock of the National Health Service. For the first time, doctors worked side by side with nurses, social workers, radiographers and physiotherapists."

On the outbreak of the Second World War Loutit was appointed Medical Officer in Paris to the Polish Relief Fund and Medical Officer for Civil Defence in Finsbury. He was on duty during the Blitz. On 10th May, 1940 he was involved in trying to extricate survivors from a collapsed block of flats in Stepney. He later told a journalist: "On May 10, the borough was hit so badly it was just a jungle of smoke and flames. I led my rescue team into the wreckage and the first few yards of tunnelling were always the worst; if the building was going to cave in on top of you, it would most likely be at the start. Each bomb that dropped, he said, was a form of Russian roulette in which the trigger is pulled by someone else."

Loutit was awarded a MBE for his work during the early stages of the war and it was suggested that he stood for the House of Commons. However, his second wife, Angela, persuaded him not to embark on a political career: "I wasn’t really into politics at the time, so I advised him to take another job offer with the World Health Organisation." He remained with the WHO for the rest of his working life.

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