Dr Reginald Saxton (1911 – 2004) – doctor and Sussex Brigader
Dr. Reginald Soames Saxton was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where his father was a university lecturer in botany, on 13th July 1911. The family moved to India, where Reg was sent to boarding school. He told me of the horrific punishments inflicted on boys who escaped from such barbaric conditions. He was later sent to Repton public school in England, which he also thoroughly disliked, before going on to Cambridge, where he switched studies from sciences to medicine, having wanted to be a doctor from an early age.
He completed his medical training at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London and became a member of the Inter-Hospital Socialist Society. His decision to join the Communist Party was prompted after buying a copy of the Daily Worker on Paddington Station during his daily commute from Reading. “Here’s common sense”, he thought. After visiting the Soviet Union in 1935, Reg became a general practitioner in Reading.
Reg was one of the first volunteers to serve with the Spanish Medical Aid Committee (SMAC) and arrived in Spain on 15th September 1936. Later, as a member of the unit, he joined the 35th Division Medical Division Unit, or Sanidad, attached to XIV Division (French) of the International Brigade.
Reg left a contemporary statement about his reasons for volunteering to help in Spain: “We are going to help the wounded of both sides…We cannot of course park on both sides, so we shall go out on the side of the Government, with whom we have sympathy as the democratically elected Government of Spain.”
Reg sent detailed accounts of his time in Spain to his mother, who prepared them for publication in the local press in Reading.
Reg set up an operating and classifying centre in a temporary hospital in Villarejo de Salvanés during the Jarama battle. In collaboration with Doctors Norman Bethune of Canada, and Frederic Duran-Jorda of Spain, he made a great contribution to the development of the Blood Transfusion Service in Spain, developing new methods for storage and transport of blood at the front. He had six weeks’ home leave after Jarama and saw the Paris Exhibition, where he doubtless saw Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ in the Spanish Pavilion, on his way back. He also served at Segovia and the Aragón front.
During the Second World War Reg joined the British Army Transfusion Service where he was posted to Burma. He was mentioned in dispatches for bravery and given the rank of Major.
After the war Reg practised as a GP in Brighton where he met his wife Betty, who was a great support to him, particularly when they moved to Wales to work with Dr. Julian Tudor-Hart, son of Dr. Alexander Tudor-Hart, a medical comrade in Spain. In 1976 Saxton retired to Ripe in East Sussex.
Reg continued to play an active part in politics, particularly in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) where he took his young children on the Aldermaston marches, campaigning on behalf of Cuba, and vociferously opposing the war in Iraq.
While in Spain, Reg Saxton had met Rosaleen Smythe, who worked as a hospital administrator and the two fell in love. After the war they went to live in Brighton together and made plans to marry, but after objections from Reg’s family, Rosaleen went to live in Canada, where she married Allan Ross, a former International Brigader, whom she later divorced.
In 1996 Rosaleen and Reg met again at the 1996 Homenaje in Spain to the International Brigades. After the death of his his wife Betty in 1998, Reg went to live with Rosaleen in Canada. They returned to live in Sussex in 2002. Dr. Saxton died in Worthing on 27th March 2004 and his body was donated to medical science. After the memorial meeting for Reg, Rosaleen returned to her home in Vancouver, where I spent an enjoyable week with her in 2008 after attending the unveiling of the ALBA national memorial in San Francisco.
Acknowledgements: We Cannot Park on Both Sides – Reading Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 by Mike Cooper and Ray Parkes (Reading International Brigades Memorial Committee, 2000); Salud: British Volunteers in the Republican Medical Service during the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Linda Palfreeman (Sussex Academic Press, 2012); Reg Saxton’s obituary published in Issue eight/July 2004 issue of the IBMT newsletter.