Civil Surgeon, Natal Volunteer Medical Corps
Surgeon, 16th Stationary Hospital, Elandsfontein - Royal Army Medical Corps - Anglo Boer War
- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Transvaal and South Africa 1901 to W.G. Wight, Surgeon
Walter Wight, according to his obituary was a Scotsman but his Death Notice claims Castlewellan in County Down, Ireland as the place of his birth. The Irish seem to have won with his birth being recorded at Down in Ireland as having been on 4 October 1870 to parents Henry and his wife Agnes born Mallay.
Wight senior held an important position as Division Officer for the Customs and Excise Department, an occupation that took him and his family away from his native Scotland to various places in the United Kingdom which would also account for Walter and his younger brother Adam’s Irish births.
By the time the 1881 census rolled round the family were back in England and living at 2 Grace Cottages in Lambeth, London. The house was a full one with 10 year old Walter joined by siblings Adam (7) and Ronald (4 and born in Lambeth). Mr Wight’s 24 year old sister Mary was also in residence along with boarders (and perhaps colleagues of Mr Wight’s) John Gray and Charles Proctor.
Ten years later and, according to the 1891 census, the Wight family were back in Scotland resident at Glen Leven Villa in Markinch in the county of Fife. Mr Wight was now the Supervisor of Inland Revenue and a 20 year old Walter was an unemployed Draper’s Assistant. Brothers Adam and Ronald had been joined by a new addition to the family in 8 year old Lizzie. As if to declare the family’s prosperity to the world, 22 year old Servant Isabella Kennedy was in attendance.
Things were also looking up for young Walter, in March 1891, he registered for the Preliminary Examination in Arts and on 6 May enrolled in the Medical School of the Faculty of Physical Surgery of the University of Edinburgh. What followed was several years (as any medical student will tell you) of hard slog and application all of which culminated in the conferring of the degrees M.B, C.M. Ed from the Royal College of Surgeons. Wight was now a qualified surgeon.
Initially employed as a Medical Officer with the Bristol and Burma Company he threw the position up with them on the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War in October 1899. This conflict between Boer and Brit cast an unfavourable light on British medical preparations for war. Quite aside from the fact that there weren’t enough Imperial troops in South Africa when war broke out was the added complication of there being not enough medical staff or facilities to treat the wounded and ill that began to stream in soon after the outbreak of hostilities.
Perhaps it was in response to this call that Wight came to South Africa. According to both the Natal Field Force Record and the medal rolls, Wight was initially a Civil Surgeon with the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps – a small but very hard working outfit with a complement of 78 staff under the command of Major James Hyslop. In what capacity he was deployed is unknown – the N.V.M.C. medal roll dated at Pietermaritzburg in August 1901 confirms the issue of his medal with clasps Transvaal and South Africa 1901 whilst under the Remarks column it is stated that he was “With R.A.M.C.”
The Transvaal clasp to his medal was issued off the 13th Stationary Hospital roll, signed at Pinetown Bridge on 15 July 1901.
The remarks column to this roll states that he was “To Elandsfontein on 5 January 1901. This was followed by the medal roll entitled “Attached to Royal Army Medical Corps”, dated 23 September 1901 and stamped “16 General Hospital, Elandsfontein.” The Remarks column on this roll indicate that he “Left for Zuikerbosch Spruit on 23 February 1901.
Although it has been difficult to track Wight’s movements it would seem that he was initially attached to the N.V.M.C. for an unspecified period of time, possibly on loan from the R.A.M.C., whereafter he left for the Transvaal where he was stationed at Elandsfontein for the most part.
But we get ahead of ourselves – having arrived in Natal, Wight was first employed as a District Surgeon in Durban. We have a study by Prinisha Badassy entitled “A Severe Umbilicus: Infanticide and the Concealment of Birth in Natal, 1860 – 1935” to thank for the following snippet of information. According to the study he was the District Surgeon, Umgeni Division (Durban) in 1899 who was responsible for the final delivery of a child of one “Mongoposa”. According to the medical report compiled “The accused’s mother was a licenced midwife and she was in fact responsible for the scraping of the infant’s scalp. Scalp had a sharp object inserted into it and cause of death was a combination of shock, haemorrhage and exhaustion.”
The father of this child was reputed to be a Ramasamy and it can be assumed that it wasn’t wanted by the mother being the result of an illicit relationship between her and the father who was most likely an indentured Indian labourer.
The war over Wight was removed himself to the Eastern Transvaal where, according to the “Citizen” newspaper of 12 April 1902 he wed: -
“At Cape Town, South Africa on 18 March Walter Galbraith Wight, M.B. C.M., Imperial Railway Medical Officer, Waterval Boven, Transvaal, eldest son of Mr Henry Wight, supervisor of Inland Revenue, Windygates, to Janie, second daughter of Mr John Ward, Rosetta Avenue, Belfast, Ireland.”
Returning to the Eastern Transvaal Wight and his bride set about making a life for themselves. We will leave it to the obituary which appeared The Medical Directory of 1910 provided further insight into his movements. The insert read: -
“Wight, Walter Galbraith, Waterval Boven, Vis. Medical Officer Waterval Onder Hospital; Medical Officer and District Surgeon Waterval Boven: Medical Officer Machadadorp - Breyton Railway: late M.O.H. Machadadorp; Medical Officer Witwatersrand Native Labour Association Compound, Waterval Boven; Medical Officer Repatriation Depot, Machadadorp, Civil Surgeon, Boer War, and Medical Officer Imperial Military Railways, Komatipoort.” Quite a CV!
Walter Galbraith Wight passed away at the age of 52 years 2 months on 15 December 1922 in his dwelling at Waterval Boven. He was survived by his wife and only child, Henry Ramsey Wight, born on 4 September 1911. The 23 December 1922 issue of the South African Medical Record to tell us what he busied himself with whilst alive. It read as follows: -
“We regret to record the death of this confrere which occurred last week at Waterval Boven, Transvaal.
Dr Wight was a Scotsman, and graduated at Edinburgh in 1897. He came out to this country as a Civil Surgeon during the Boer War, and was for a time in medical charge of the Repatriation Camp at Machadadorp. In 1903 he was appointed Additional District Surgeon at Machadadorp, and in 1905 District Surgeon and Regional Medical Officer at Waterval Boven, where he remained until his death.
A week or two previously to his decease he had been very badly knocked about in a very severe hailstorm. Which overtook him whilst on a professional journey on horseback at a place where he was unable to obtain any shelter, and he never recovered from the shock, which probably hastened his death. He was about 50 years of age.”
A sad end to a man of science.
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