As far as I know, only one member of my extended family has ever served in military forces. I’m not proud of that fact – I suspect it’s pure chance that prevented some male members from enlisting. But I am proud of my Uncle Andy.
Dr. Andrew Taylor went out to Central India in 1928 as a mission doctor, serving in Ratlam (a hospital later made fairly famous by Dr. Bob McClure). During the depression, however, the United Church’s Board of World Mission ran out of money. They laid off everyone who was home on furlough, Andy among them. Instead of giving up, he went to Edinburgh, studied tropical medicine, and went back to India with the colonial medical service.
During World War II, as an officer of the British Indian Army in Burma, he was in charge of a 1000-bed surgical hospital that was cut off when the Burma Road fell to Japanese forces. Andy was the last person to leave when the hospital was evacuated. The bridges were blown up behind them, to delay the Japanese advance. On the retreat to India, they were strafed by Japanese planes. They covered the last stretch out on foot, shivering with malaria, debilitated by dysentery, in deep mud, during the monsoon rains.
Japanese forces were so close behind, that Andy was under strict orders not to stop to help anyone who fell, for any reason…
After the war ended, he became personal surgeon to the last two Viceroys of India–the Queen’s senior representative and governor–General Wavell and Lord Louis Mountbatten, father of Prince Philip. When the Queen and Prince Philip visited Canada, they demanded a special visit to see him.
He had, in other words, a remarkable life.
But that life required a lot of sacrifices. He was separated from his family for years. His daughter Barbara was sent back to Canada when she was eight; she didn’t see her father again until she was 18. By then, he was a stranger, and she had her own life to live.
“I didn’t really think I had a father until the last few years,” she said sadly after Andy’s death.
Uncle Andy never talked about his experiences. Some were too ghastly to discuss. For others, he was bound to confidentiality for life.
But he did keep a diary. And those diaries now belong to The United Church’s archives in Toronto. Where, in due course, the experiences of a life that no one else on earth could have lived will be available to the public.
That’s what archives do. They preserve stories that would otherwise be lost forever.
Jim Taylor, Honourary Life Member of the Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society