Harry Ranken, Doctor and hero

Harry Ranken (credit: Glasgow City Council)

Harry Ranken: A graduate of Glasgow University (1905), Harry would be the first Glaswegian to receive the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded for valour. Before joining the army he worked in several places in Glasgow, including the Western Infirmary as a House Physician and Surgeon (where there is now a stained glass window commemorating himself and 21 other doctors who gave their lives in the war). He also worked at the Brook fever hospital in South East London, which was next to the first hospital designed on the principals laid down by Florence Nightingale, after the Crimean war.

Harry joined the army as a Lieutenant in 1909, and in 1911 he transferred to the Egyptian Army. From there he became a member of the Sudan Government Sleeping Sickness Commission, and from 1911-1914 he was in charge of the Sleeping Sickness Camp at Yei, Mongolia. Sleeping Sickness can refer to several medical conditions, but the particular kind Harry was researching and treating, is African trypanosomiasis, which is spread by the bite of infected tsetse flies.

Harry came back from Mongolia to Scotland on leave in 1914, and he volunteered his medical expertise for war service. He was sent to the Front on 12th August 1914, and before his death would be created a Knight of The Legion of Honour by the President of the French Republic, and decorated with the Victoria Cross, for gallant conduct.  He received the Victoria Cross for tending to the wounded in the trenches under rifle and shrapnel fire, in Haute-Avesenes, France.

Harry was wounded himself whilst treating his men, he treated his own wounds but refused to be removed from the trenches for proper medical attention, and continued to attend to his men, despite his shattered thigh and leg. He sacrificed his own chance of survival in order to attend to the needs of his men over the 19-20th of September 1914, and finally permitted himself to be carried to Braisne, where his leg was amputated, but he died of a blood clot caused by his wounds five days later – only just over a month after he had left for the Front.

His parents founded a University of Glasgow prize in his memory in 1924, which is still awarded annually to whoever obtains the highest marks in the Pathology examinations. His image was used on cigarette cards which featured war heroes, and there was even a postcard of an artist’s version of Harry tending to his patients while wounded himself.

Harry Ranken (credit: Glasgow City Council)