This was a surprise read for me. I caught a snippet of a radio adaption just before Christmas which was followed by a programme on the bombs that changed Britain, one of those BBC documentaries of surprising depth – in this case a study of individual WW2 bombs that had far reaching impacts on Britain during and after the war.
The bomb in question, linking to this book fell on a school days into the mass bombing raids on London in 1940. Because so many children were there, because it was in a severely poverty stricken part of the East End, and because they should have been long gone but for the lack of coordination by the rescue services the journalist who documented their plight caused a set or ripples that in part formed the mindset of a civil servant William Beveridge. His eponymous report on health and social care led, inexorably to the creation of the National Health Service.
And the link to the Citadel? Aneurin Bevan and the book’s author were both in Tredegar in the early 1920s, Cronin as a Doctor appointed by the workman’s management board. They both had their opinions on the need for a better, more universal health system formed by their experiences and the Citadel, published in 1937 is often spoken as having a major influence on the creation of the NHS.
Doctor AJ Cronin’s novel is about a young idealistic doctor worn down by the myopic self serving health provision between the wars.
It is an uplifting book despite many gloomy turns as Scot Andrew Marsden goes from newly qualified terror in a Welsh industrial town, whose health care is dependant on having a card, part of the unionised work force in, in this case, anthracite works. He moves to a large town and then a quango studying the effects of silicate in lung disease.
But his ideals are stopping him getting on and the bright lights of medical practice in the West End seduce him.
As a sound historical novel recounting the stubbornness of self protecting professions and the iniquities of a private medical system that failed those without the means to pay, it is priceless. As a novel with a compelling story line, flawed and believable characters it is a joy. The prose isn’t sophisticated, the descriptions lack any flamboyance and the philosophical musings are of the human sort, grounded in an often grim reality.
If you’ve not found it yet, I heartily recommend a read.