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Biographical entry Barker, Eric Anthony (1920 - 1993)

CBE 1975; MRCS 1943; FRCS 1951; MB ChB Birmingham 1943; MD 1950; LRCP 1943; Hon FRCP London 1978; Hon LLD Birmingham 1975; Hon PhD Natal 1974.

3 September 1920
Accident and emergency surgeon and General surgeon


Anthony Barker was born in Birmingham on 3 September 1920, the son of Charles Edward Barker, a solicitor and clerk of court in Birmingham, and Alice Mary, née Short. He was educated at Mill Hill School and the University of Birmingham Medical School, where he met his future wife Margaret (Maggie) Newton, 'over a dead body' as he put it. She was already committed to serving three years in Africa as a medical missionary, having had her medical education financed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. They qualified and were married in 1943.

Barker had registered as a conscientious objector, and joined the Merchant Navy as a ship's surgeon. His ship was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean but fortunately the crew survived.

In 1945 Anthony and Maggie went together to the Charles Johnson Memorial Hospital ('the Charlie J') in Nqutu, Zululand. Over the next thirty years together they built this up from a converted store with seven beds into a thriving general hospital with six hundred beds; it became a training centre for doctors and nurses from Johannesburg and all over Africa. Anthony was a gifted teacher, and a general surgeon in the widest sense, performing laminectomy, craniotomy, cataract extraction, nephrectomy and caesarean section in addition to the commoner general surgical procedures. Meanwhile his wife, who by now had an MD, organised the anaesthetic, midwifery and paediatric services. In 1948 Barker returned to England for three years to write MD thesis and take the FRCS.

Anthony and Maggie mastered the Zulu language, took South African nationality, but resisted the apartheid regulations, which they were able to do because the hospital was owned by the Church, not the State. Thus all the staff ate and played softball together, regardless of the attention of the plain-clothes police.

After thirty years in Africa they returned to England in 1975 and Anthony was appointed consultant to the Accident and Emergency Department at St George's Hospital, with Maggie as senior house officer in the same department, 'unsure whether to call him darling or sir'. He subsequently became sub-dean of the Medical School.

In 1975 he was appointed CBE for his outstanding work in Nqutu; arriving at Buckingham Palace on a bicycle he was refused admission until he could produce the necessary identification! In 1978 he was made an honorary FRCP for his work.

When the old St George's Hospital was converted into an hotel Anthony, always conscious of avoiding waste, used the teak floorboards from the Nightingale wards to make furniture. He was an accomplished cabinet maker, and had built much of 'Charlie J' with his own hands. His wife was a good artist and seamstress, and created an allotment on the waste ground behind the casualty department at St George's.

On retirement in 1985 the couple returned to Africa for six months to organise the casualty department in Alexandra Township Health Clinic, a hazardous undertaking in a deprived black settlement. Together Anthony and Maggie raised considerable sums of money for various charitable trusts by sponsored bicycle rides in the Pyrenees and the Arctic Circle. He was a gifted writer, and published articles on these experiences and his time at St George's.

In August 1993 Anthony and Maggie celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and decided to retrace the steps of their honeymoon on a tandem in the Lake District. Tragically, both were killed in a road accident. So ended two remarkable lives, linked by a strong faith and dedicated to their fellow men. They had no children.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1993 307 1138, with portrait; SAMJ 1993 83 872, with portrait; Personal communications from Dr W S Hamilton and Professor Barry Adams].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England