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Volume 7 (2014)

DR GEORGE LAPRAIK M.B., Mast. Surg.

Twenty Years Service to Thames

by Althea Barker

INTRODUCTION

What started as an attempt to find out more about WWI doctor George Lapraik, has emerged into the story of a man who came to Thames and immersed himself into the community – from the minute he arrived, until his last breath, the town treasured the doctor from Glasgow.

HIS LIFE BEFORE THAMES

George Lapraik was born 6 January 1864 in Glasgow, the son of Thomas and Mary Jane (née Duff) Lapraik. In the 1871 Scottish Census, the family were living at 94 Stirling Road, in the Glasgow Inner Parish. Thomas Lapraik was a General Practitioner. George gained an M.B. (Bachelor of Medicine) and C.M. (Master of Surgery) from the University of Glasgow, appointments then included Assistant-Surgeon at Glasgow Lock Hospital and House Surgeon at Western Infirmary in Glasgow. Dr Lapraik next spent two years in China in-charge of a large hospital and dispensary. He travelled next to Sydney, Australia where he worked for eighteen months, before travelling back to Glasgow and working at the Western Infirmary. He was at this time a lecturer on ambulance care.

In 1897, Dr George Lapraik appeared in the New Zealand Medical Register, having received New Zealand Registration 19 October 1897. Qualifications listed as M.B. and Mast. Surg. University of Glasgow 1887, his residential address was Manaia. It was in the South Taranaki area of New Zealand that Dr Lapraik first practised, and where he stayed for two years. Lapraik Left Manaia in June 1899, to take up the position of assistant to Dr Payne of Thames.

THAMES 1899-1915

From the time George arrived in Thames June 1899, he immersed himself in any activities that were on offer outside working hours. For instance at a concert of the Old Men and Women at the Tararu homes in August 1899 he presented items as part of the entertainment. Dr Lapraik performed comic skits and songs as well as played the piano. Later that same month he performed piano solos at the St James Presbyterian Church Sunday School recital.


Surgeon Captain Lapraik,
Hauraki Rifles 1909.

An ongoing connection to the militia began in 1900 when George was appointed Surgeon of the Medical Corps and attached to the Hauraki Rifles. In 1901 he was on the Recruiting Board for Thames with regard to South African war enlistments.

Dr Lapraik was an active member of many Thames social and sporting groups, serving on multiple committees. These included the Oddfellows Thames Masonic Lodge, St James Presbyterian Church, Lawn and Table Tennis, Hockey, Cricket, Rowing, Rugby, Scouts and the Thames Fire Brigade as Honorary Surgeon. In later years he was also involved at The Thames School of Mines.

It was in the St John Ambulance Association that Dr Lapraik made major changes. From at least 1902 he held regular ambulance classes for organisations such as the Fire Brigade and Thames Rifles. In 1904 Thames Hospital Nurses also began to be included in the first aid lectures. Then in 1908, Dr Lapraik gained the approval of the New Zealand Registered Midwives to give lectures to the Thames midwives. Later he went on to initiate health talks specifically for the young men of Thames.

It was a young-looking George, who appeared in the 1902 Cyclopaedia of New Zealand as a Physician and Surgeon, Pollen Street, Thames. The Doctor’s Surgery was located on the north-western intersection of Pollen and Mary Streets. Later street directories have Lapraik residing near the corner of Queen and Walter Streets, Thames.


Dr George Lapraik

On 26 April 1905 at St George’s Church in Thames, George Lapraik (aged 41) married Marian Eliza Bush (aged 29). Marian’s father was Robert Smelt Bush, the local Stipendiary, Magistrate and Warden for the Thames area. (1)

Given George’s commitment and involvement in the town, it was no surprise that in 1911 he stood in the Borough elections and won by the highest margin.

Dr Lapraik enlisted for WWI, a member of the New Zealand Medical Corps, Serial number 3/1440 and his rank was Major. His next-of-kin was his wife Mrs. Marion Eliza Lapraik, Blythswood House, Queen Street, Thames. At his medical exam, he weighed in at 140 lbs and was 5 foot 6 inches in height. His medical practise was taken over by Drs Walsh and Derrick, who covered him in his absence. He left New Zealand aboard the Hospital Ship No 2 Marama, on 4 December 1915 from Wellington. Major Lapraik served in Egypt and on the Western Front, from 3 January 1915 to 10 October 1916, a total of 313 days.

Dr Lapraik’s war file is large and contains considerable service details. It includes letters written during and after the war by and about Dr Lapraik. The reality of war service is hauntingly revealed. George had signed up to serve aboard hospital ships or transports or alternatively in the New Zealand hospitals based away from the front line. On 3 March 1916 from the New Zealand General Hospital at Cairo, George wrote to General Henderson and raised concerns over where he was next to be placed. There were no long-term vacancies at the hospital and he had heard mention that he could be sent to the front.

What happened next was that he was transferred to the 1st Brigade Artillery and saw active service on the front line in France. He claimed that he was the oldest Medical Officer on the front line – he was aged 51 years of age.


Major George Lapraik 3/144 ,
Medical Corps,
NZ Expeditionary Force.

He was stationed at The New Zealand General Hospital at Cairo; then at Alexandra, France and England, before returning home (on duty) aboard the ship Tofua in 1916.

In later years, Dr Lapraik also expressed his disappointment that he had not received a higher rank, such as Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel, given the fact that he had served in the voluntary militia since 1899. This had major financial implications for him.

On September 1916, while members of the St James Church were holding their annual Daffodil Show, the welcome news came that Dr Lapraik was shortly due to return to Thames. Mrs Lapraik went to Wellington to meet her husband on his return from service overseas. They travelled home together by train and were welcomed at the Railway Station by the Thames Boy Scouts. (2) The reason for his return to Thames was because Dr Derrick was sick and Dr Lapraik was urgently needed back at his Thames practise.

George must have had doubts about his return to Thames, given what he had seen overseas. On 12 March 1917, he wrote to General Henderson. It included the words: 'Anytime you are in want of a man –don’t hesitate to ask me, as we must see this war through.'

All was not over and in the latter half of 1918, the war file has letters of outrage that Dr Lapraik was to be called up again for active service. A letter was sent to the Ministry of Defence by the Mayor Henry Lowe and other Thames leaders pleading for the service decision to be reversed. It was even noted that townsfolk were willing to sign a petition to show the Minister just how strongly they were against Dr Lapraik once again leaving the town. Dr Lapraik had himself noted he was anxious about active service given his age and the fact he had not been active in surgery for some time. But he accepted that if he was needed he would go, but expressed a preference to be based in Egypt if possible.

It would appear the town was listened to, and Dr Lapraik was allowed to stay on at Thames. Little did he know then what was to come at the end of 1918, in the form of a severe influenza epidemic in Thames. On 29/7/1918 Dr George Lapraik was approved for the New Zealand Long & Efficient Service Medal, having served for 19 years and 152 days in different branches of the militia.


Dr George Lapraik outlines his service in a 1928 letter to the Ministry. (From his military service records available on Archway.)
...and was the oldest medical officer in the lighting line. - I only volunteered for hospital ship (in transport) or hospital - not for active service in the fighting line. I went to N.Z. General Hospital, Cairo for a few months - then was transferred to 1st Brigade Artillery. I saw active Service in Egypt and then in France. Although I had been in the Volunteers...

THE EVENTS OF 1919

Having survived the war and the November 1918 influenza epidemic, Dr Lapraik must have thought that things were at last settling down in his life. Lapraik recalled that the influenza epidemic had drained both him and his wife. It was usual for him not to stop for his dinner until midnight. He said he was frightened to go to bed for fear that he would not want to get out of it.

Dr Lapraik continued his involvement and concern for others and was President of the Returned Soldiers’ Association in Thames. Then on September 16, 1919 his dearly beloved wide Tottie (Marian Lapraik) died at her residence in Thames. Mrs Lapraik had in her own right been extremely active and involved in a wide range of charitable and service groups within the town, including the St John’s, Red Cross and Womens’ National Reserve.

It is possible that the death of his wife led to the Doctor’s decision to leave the town he had called home for twenty years. On November 1919, the town and in particular those interested in outdoor sports gathered together for a Valedictory evening in honour of George Lapraik. The sad occasion was his imminent departure from the town.(3) The toast list impressive, including special mentions on behalf of the swimming, hockey, tennis and football clubs. They all spoke of the 'the Doctor’s genuine interest in all out-door sport during his past 20 years’ residence in Thames, the loss to the district, and the genuine regret felt by all. The same month, the Thames Swimming Club made Lapraik a Life Member, noting he had been a member for the past 14 years, since the club began in Thames.

LIFE AFTER THAMES

Dr Lapraik worked in Auckland and had a practice at 'Blysthwood', Marine Parade in Herne Bay. He also served on the War Pensions Military Appeal Board in 1921. Later in 1921 came the news that Dr Lapraik was in Wellington Hospital with a nervous breakdown. The war file offers some insight into the hard times that followed Dr Lapraik after he left Thames. He had spent many years confined at home with ill health and as a result, was finding things a struggle financially. It was mentioned that he had given a lot of free service during his time at Thames, including hiring launches during the influenza epidemic so that he could visit sick patients at Kerepehi. Dr Lapraik sought the help of the M.P., Mr Rhodes to see if he could get any financial assistance from the government. It is not known the outcome, but the Ministry had pledged to give the matter serious consideration, given the wonderful service that had been given by Lapraik.

By late 1928, the situation for Dr Lapraik appears to have improved and the future was once more full of some hope. In August 1928, the newpapers reported that Dr Lapraik was visiting his home town of Glasgow to complete post-graduate studies. In the following years, he gained experience and qualifications in Anaesthetics in England and Scotland. He worked at the Prince of Wales’ Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormonde Street. A report in the Auckland Star (4 September 1930) stated Dr Lapraik was due to get further experience at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, before heading home to practise as an anaesthetist in Auckland. Within three years Dr Lapraik had died, his dreams of a new career gone.

Dr Lapraik died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis on 6 May 1933 at Waikato Hospital, Hamilton and his Obituary read: (4)

DR. GEORGE LAPRAIK. A former resident of Thames, Dr. George Lapraik, died in the Waikato Hospital on May 6, aged 69 years. During his long residence at Thames he took a great interest in the affairs of the town. He was honorary surgeon to the Thames Volunteer Fire Brigade from 1900 till 1919, when he was made a life member of that body. He was keenly interested in every branch of sport, and presented a shield for Rugby football competition among the primary schools. He was a member of the Rugby Union's management committee for many years, and belonged to the Borough Council for two years, 1911-12. After his return from the Great War, Dr. Lapraik was appointed a member of the Medical Board in connection with pensions for two years. During the influenza epidemic of 1918 he worked tirelessly among those smitten with the disease. He was particularly well known in the town for his contributions to the various charitable organisations and for his work among the poor and distressed. He was a past master of Lodge Corinthian of Freemasons.

The people of Thames did not forget the doctor who served them so well for many years and erected his headstone at Hamilton East Cemetery where he was interred. The monumental inscription reads:

In loving Memory. Geo. Lapraik M.B. Mast. Surg. Univ. of Glasgow 1887. Died 7th May 1933 Aged 69 Years. He gave of his best for humanity. Erected by Thames friends.

Headstone in the Hamilton East Cemetery

References

  1. Marriage Certificate, New Zealand Birth Death and Marriages Office
  2. Thames Star 19 & 20 September 1916
  3. Thames Star 17 November 1919 (online at Papers past)
  4. Auckland Star, 10 May 1933, Page 5 (online at Papers past)
  5. Thames Star, 11 December 1918 (online at Papers past)
  6. Obituary for Dr George Lapraik in the Auckland Star 10 May 1933.
  7. Dr G. LaPraik 3/1440 Military Records for WWI available on Archway
  8. Further military records for Dr Lapraik also available at Archway.
  9. Paperspast.



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