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Biographical entry Huggins, Rt Hon Godfrey Martin, Viscount Malvern (1883 - 1971)

PC 1947; CH 1944; KCMG 1941; Viscount 1955; MRCS 1906; FRCS 1908; LRCP 1906; Hon DCL Oxford 1951; Hon LLD Witwatersrand 1953; Hon LLD London 1955; Hon DCL Rhodes 1957; KStJ.

6 July 1883
8 May 1971
General practitioner, General surgeon and Politician


Born on 6 July 1883, he was the eldest son of Godfrey Huggins, member of the London Stock Exchange, of Berkhamsted, and Emily Blest, his wife. After preparatory school Huggins went to Malvern College in January 1898, but had to leave in July 1899 because his schooling was cut short by illness as he developed acute otitis media complicated by mastoiditis. In 1901 he entered the medical school of St Thomas's where as a student he was a contemporary and friend of Max Page, Rowley Bristow and Sidney Macdonald. He qualified in 1906 with the Conjoint Diploma and then obtained successive house appointments at St Thomas's as casualty officer, house surgeon and senior house surgeon. After this he went to Great Ormond Street, first as house physician and later as resident medical superintendent, during which period he was admitted a Fellow in 1908. In 1911 after a serious illness he was advised to convalesce in a sunny climate and therefore chose to go out to Salisbury, Rhodesia, as locum for a general practitioner for six months. He decided to remain and set up as a general practitioner surgeon in Salisbury. When war broke out in 1914, he returned to England and was gazetted as a Captain RAMC and surgical specialist, serving in England, Malta and France. In 1915 as a result of his own war experience, he wrote a small handbook on the management and care of patients who had undergone amputation. Returning to Salisbury he decided in 1921 to give up general practice and became a consultant as he was recognised as one of the most able surgeons in Southern Africa. Even after his entry later into politics and when he ultimately became Prime Minister he found it impossible to abandon surgery completely owing to the demands of his old patients and of his friends. He would often operate in the early morning before going on to his ministerial duties and it was only in 1950 that he gave up surgery altogether.

In 1921 he volunteered for service during a police strike, when he mediated successfully for the strikers and, as a result, was urged to stand for parliament. In 1923 he was elected to represent Salisbury North in the legislative assembly. Like many other Rhodesians he had favoured the linking of Southern Rhodesia with South Africa, but, after a referendum in 1922, he accepted the decision of the majority and joined the Rhodesian party to help implement self government. In 1928 he was returned with an increased majority, but he was becoming increasingly impatient with the policy of his party. When the world depression hit Rhodesia in 1930, the Government was forced to adopt stringent economies, and it was over the decision to reduce the salaries of civil servants that Huggins broke with the Government. One vote was needed to give the Government the necessary two thirds majority, which Huggins gave with reluctance, announcing that he would leave the party.

In 1933 he was persuaded to accept the leadership of the Reform party in opposition. After a year, however, the majority of this party decided to join with elements of the Rhodesia party forming a new party under Huggins leadership. A general election followed in 1934 in the month of November and the new united party was returned with 24 seats. The next general election was held in April 1939 in view of the threat of war, instead of waiting the full five years, and Huggins' United Party was again returned with a majority of 23 seats. This Government carried on throughout the war period for seven years, but in the first post war election of 1946 was nearly defeated and in 1948 was defeated on a minor issue. By this time the question of closer union with Northern Rhodesia had become a dominant political issue and the United Party, led by Huggins, won a resounding victory, his party being in power during the negotiations for the formation of the Federation with Nyasaland. Huggins became Prime Minister of the Federation in November 1953. He had been the architect of the Federation but he resigned office on November 1 1956, the day the British and French Governments launched their Suez adventure. He was succeeded by Sir Roy Welensky who, like himself, considered that the British Government had let the Federation down. Huggins years as Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia were marked by the country's progress up to the outbreak of war in 1939, by its great record during the war and by its tremendous progress afterwards. He occupied the position of Prime Minister longer than any other man in the history of the Commonwealth, although he did not enter politics until after middle life. For many years he held the portfolio of native education, housing and hospitals, all of which made great advances, as did research in tropical diseases. Sympathetic in outlook towards the African and believing in social and economic advance rather than political advance, he was at the same time a realist, and as a result was assailed vigorously from time to time, both by those who thought that advancement of the African was not rapid enough, and by those who thought that it was too fast. Huggins caused comment in public life by his occasional apparent impishness, puckishness and a tendency, unusual in a politician, of saying exactly what he thought, irrespective of the time or the place, thereby exasperating his political opponents and giving anxious moments to his friends. His greatest disappointment was the defeat in 1962 as a result of the Southern Rhodesia election of Sir Edgar Whitehead and the United Party with the resulting emergence of the Rhodesian Front. The indications were that the Rhodesian electorate, after more than a generation, had turned away from the policy of racial progress initiated by him, Huggins. He expressed the opinion that it was a victory for those white Rhodesians who were opposed to any change. As the Rhodesia Front policies became increasingly intolerant, he expressed anxiety concerning the country's future. Pro-British and a loyalist, he condemned UDI, the declaration of a republic and the abolition of the Union Jack. Doubtless, being fully occupied as a surgeon for half his life, and partially even after he had entered politics, made him a realist. In 1938 he operated on his Governor, Sir Herbert Stanley and in 1939 on the Governor of Nyasaland; while on another occasion he dealt with a visiting British surgeon who had been mauled by a leopard. He was created a Viscount in 1955 and retired from office in .1956. Ever since his school days he had suffered from deafness, but he was a man of great energy, showing little strain, even when following two careers simultaneously. His relaxations were polo, golf, tennis and racing in his capacity as a steward of the Mashonaland Turf Club.

In 1921 he married Blanche Slatter, by whom he had two sons. He died on 8 May 1971 aged 87.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 10 May 1971 with portrait. Brit med J 22 May 1971 with portrait not so good. R H O B Robinson].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England