A Doctor at War – A Life in Letters, 1914-43 by Christine Daniell


This book tells the story, largely through his letters, of a distinguished New Zealander doctor, Dr. Montgomery Spence.

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Dr Montgomery Spence’s letters give fascinating glimpses of New Zealand at war – he was a medical orderly at Gallipoli in the First World War and commanded 2nd NZEF hospitals in the Second World War. He was awarded the OBE for planning and constructing a 600 bed tent hospital in just three weeks in the desert in the Middle East.

A Doctor at War tells of his difficult and unpopular crusade during the 1930s to get the iconic Plunket Society in New Zealand to recognise that the over-zealous following of the Plunket formula by Plunket nurses was actually causing hundreds of New Zealand babies to be seriously malnourished. It is a fascinating social document – the observations about life in New Zealand and other countries through the eyes of a sensitive, observant man who wrote long letters filled with vivid descriptions of people, places and events.

A marvellous glimpse of an era when letters provided the main method of communication among people. His letters give verbal snapshots of people he met: Lord and Lady Freyberg, Peter Fraser, Robert Menzies, King George V. Dr Montgomery Spencer was New Zealand’s second specialist paediatrician and his letters give new insights into the state of children’s health in New Zealand in the 1920s and 1930s. He was one of the pioneers of the Health Camp movement and was responsible for the introduction of milk and apples to schools. He wrote, for the government, some of the first reports on children’s health problems. He also carried out pioneering work in child psychology in New Zealand.


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