On the sixth day of Christmas...

... my true love sent to me... a Christmas card from six years of pioneering neurosurgery.

From 1939 to the end of the Second World War in 1945, Edinburgh neurosurgeon Professor Norman Dott spent six years performing life-saving surgery on military personnel and civilians in Bangour General Hospital near Broxburn, West Lothian. Bangour General was built in 1939 as an Emergency Medical Service hospital (one of seven in Scotland) in response to the outbreak of the war; it was an annexe to the existing Bangour Village Hospital, a psychiatric hospital opened in 1906.

Dott was given space for a Brain Injuries Unit in Bangour staffed with two neurosurgical teams – one headed by Dott himself, and the other led by G.L Alexander. In this period, Norman Dott was a member of the wartime Brain Injuries Committee, Consultant in Neurosurgery to the Army in Scotland and Consultant Neurosurgeon to the Emergency Medical Service. He was awarded a C.B.E for this outstanding wartime service in 1948.

The records of the unit’s work will be catalogued as part of a current LHSA Wellcome Trust project, and they are some of the most interesting case notes in the Dott collections. Dott’s teams treated serving soldiers, sailors and airmen, women from the auxiliary services and civilians. At the start of the war, military patients suffered from injuries sustained in their camps in Scotland (as a result of road accidents in the blackout or mishaps and illnesses during training, for example) – although as the war went on casualties from battlefields in Europe and North Africa were treated in increasing numbers, as well as a considerable number of men from the Polish army and German prisoners of war.

Dott undertook ground-breaking procedures during the war years, including an operation to treat aneurysms in the delicate anterior communicating artery of the brain by clamping the more accessible larger vessel that feeds it, avoiding the need for direct and risk-heavy surgery. However, what make these case notes particularly fascinating are the stories of wartime lives that emerge from them, such as the tale of an army officer who was a prisoner of war in northern France, but “managed to get hold of civilian clothes and ducked over a wall between guards…” The officer eventually made it back to Great Britain to re-join his unit – via Cannes, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal!

You can find out more about the progress that our Project Archivist Louise is making on the cataloguing of Norman Dott's case notes here.