George Notman Kirkwood was born on 9th July 1879, in Neilston, Renfrewshire, the seventh of nine children of Allan Kirkwood, a lime merchant, and his wife Margaret Anderson. The family home was Darnley House in Nitshill. George’s father died in 1890 and his mother died shortly after in 1891. The children were brought up by their eldest brother, Allan (1869-1946), who also took over the very successful family business.
George went up to the University of Glasgow in the summer of 1899 to study medicine. He graduated MB ChB on 1st November 1905. In the years between these landmarks he had a respectable enough but undistinguished undergraduate record. Success in his exams did not seem to come easily. His name did appear on the prize-list, however, a second class merit certificate in Professor John Ferguson’s class of Practical Chemistry in the summer of 1900.
During his years as a student, he had lived at a number of term-time addresses in Glasgow’s west end, though he continued to give his home address as Darnley House, Nitshill. When he matriculated in 1903, however, he recorded 10 Regent Park Square, Strathbungo as both his home and term-time address. He could not have lived there for long. According to the Medical Directory, in 1907 and 1908 he is listed at The Friage, Penrith and for 1909 and 1910 at Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle.
Sometime in 1910, however, he went out to South Africa, to the Cape Colony and the General Council of the University of Glasgow listed his address there as Box No. 5, Barkly East until his death on 7th January 1931. His life and career in the Colony, however, were interrupted by war. In 1915, he returned to Scotland to serve his country.
George Kirkwood was commissioned as a temporary Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and served in France. Following the loss of 25 officers out of 28, and 500 out of 800 men of the 11th Battalion, the Border Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in June 1916, Lieutenant Kirkwood was involved in an incident that resulted in an enquiry. Called to examine soldiers of that regiment who failed to mount a subsequent attack on 9th-10th July 1916, he certified that the men were unfit because of shell-shock. It was an unusually sympathetic response and would nowadays be readily supported. After a Board of Enquiry into the circumstances he was mostly exonerated and blame attributed to others in command. He was, however, relieved of his duties with the 11th Border Regiment and sent for duty with the 91st Field Ambulance.
George relinquished his commission as Lieutenant on 15th October 1916, though not, it seems, for long. The London Gazette records his appointment as a temporary Lieutenant on 4th June 1917. He was promoted Captain on 4th December 1917 and finished his war service with 8th Field Ambulance, South Africa. Captain George Kirkwood, who served his men compassionately returned to live and practice in South Africa after the war. He was married to Nellie. He died on 7th January 1931. His name can be viewed on the Roll of Service plaque in the grounds of Pollock House, Glasgow.
Photo credit: Glasgow University Archives