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Rotary tribute to war surgeon who saved so many lives

Rotary tribute to war surgeon who saved so many lives

Dr Gertrude Toland was a well-known doctor based in Dover who famously saved dozens of lives during the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II. Now, thanks to a Rotary initiative in the town, Dr Toland’s work has been commemorated.

The life and work of a surgeon and GP who saved the lives of many Dunkirk soldiers and civilians during World War II has been remembered.

A plaque paying tribute to Dr Gertrude Mary Beatrice Toland was unveiled by her son, Gordon, at Buckland Hospital in Dover, Kent.

Among those who attended the moving ceremony was David Fisher, President-Elect of Dover Rotary, as well as a number of Rotary members since it was the town’s club which commissioned the memorial.

Dr Toland trained at St Mary’s Hospital in London before moving to Kent to work at Buckland Hospital.

Mayor of Dover, Sue Jones, thanked members of Dover Rotary for the initiative to commemorate Dr Toland, who had also served as a town councillor and been Deputy Mayor of Dover in the 1960s.

Son Gordon singled out Peter Sherred, Past President of Dover Rotary, for his initiative in ensuring both that an original plaque had been placed in the former hospital in 1991 and also arranging for a replacement plaque in memory of Dr Toland to be erected in the new hospital.

He recalled his mother had broken through several glass ceilings in her career and that in the war, in addition to her surgeon duties in the hospital, she single-handedly ran the GP practice as his father, Dr Patrick Toland, had been called up as a medic with the army in Italy.

Gordon recalled how his mother operated in wartime in underground bunkers at Buckland Hospital.

During the nine days of unstinting work at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, teams of surgeons, one of which was led by his mother, worked side by side on two operating tables ministering to the wounded, many of whom had arrived at the hospital wearing their dirty field dressings.

More than 350 wounded troops, who had fled the French port in 1940 when it was besieged by the Germans, were operated upon, with 300 surviving.

The plaque serves as a testament to the determination, skill and dedication of this remarkable lady who in war and peace gave so much to so many.”

Dr Tolland also attended many people injured by the constant shelling of Dover, known as Hellfire Corner, from the German guns in Calais.

She remained in Dover throughout the war driving to different hospitals in her Morris car often at night in the blackouts which was dangerous. She and her husband retired from their practice in 1968, he subsequently dying in 1979 and she in 1985.

Peter Sherred said that neither Gertrude or Patrick Toland received any official recognition by the nation or the town during their lifetimes for their many contributions to Dover’s life.

He explained: “Although a memorial bench was unveiled on Dover’s seafront as part of the 50th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation commemorations, it was not until the Rotary Club of Dover commissioned a memorial plaque that a dedicated fixed memorial to this outstanding lady was unveiled in 1991, near to where she operated in the former Buckland Hospital.”

When Buckland Hospital was later demolished, it was thought the plaque had been lost. However, Peter Sherred and the Rotary club arranged for a replacement plaque to be made, which is now on display in the reception area of the new hospital.

He added: “I had the privilege of knowing both Gertrude and Patrick Toland while I was growing up in Dover – indeed they were my GPs.

“I often had the opportunity of chatting with Gertrude during her retirement and, like many others locally and further afield, was rather bemused by the fact that despite all her heroic wartime exploits and commitment to the local community no national or local recognition had been given to her in any form.

“The plaque serves as a testament to the determination, skill and dedication of this remarkable lady who in war and peace gave so much to so many.”

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