Shortly after his
experiences at Hawkhead Hospital, Robert McIntyre took up a position
under Glasgow’s Department of Health as Port Boarding Medical Officer
based at Greenock.
This involved his being
part of a team which had the responsibility of ensuring that ships were
free of infections before they proceeded up-river, and also liaising
with the vessels’ medical staff.
During the war years,
passenger activity across the North Atlantic was suspended and large
liners like the Cunard’s "Queens" were put to use as
troopships. Both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were converted
to carry around 14,000 troops, although Dr McIntyre recalls, on one
occasion, that the Queen Mary brought 18,000 troops across the Atlantic.
He comments ruefully that this presented a considerable problem for
Chief Stewart Jones: "Imagine providing 36,000 eggs for breakfast
organisation and provision of medical facilities, both on board and
ashore, for such numbers was of vital importance and ensuring that the
ships were clear of disease and fever was an essential task.
Not only were British
ships commissioned for such purposes but some vessels from allies like
the Dutch were put into troop carrying service. One such vessel was the
Holland-America Line’s NIEUW AMSTERDAM, built in 1938 and converted to
carry 8,000 troops. Records show that during the period of its war-time
service, the Dutch ship, under Cunard management, carried 350,000
service personnel. It was on this vessel that Robert McIntyre made his
only war-time voyage across the Atlantic - not a pleasure cruise - but
strictly, on the grounds of professional medical business.
His medical advice became
necessary when there were repeated outbreaks of gastro-intestinal
disorders among the troops on the Nieuw Amsterdam.
because, as the war drew to its close, plans were being made to return
the vessel to its commercial passenger use. Such a reputation was not
the best advertisement for troop carrying and certainly could hardly be
expected to do well as a passenger liner.
A thorough investigation
of the problem was required and Dr McIntyre obtained the approval of the
Medical Officer of Health in Glasgow, Sir Alexander McGregor, to join
the ship on a trans-Atlantic voyage in order to try to discover the
cause of the problem.
On the journey to
Halifax, Nova Scotia, various investigative devices were used to try to
find which item of food or cooking method might be the culprit. Courses
and specific items were eliminated from meals but the vessel arrived in
Canada with a number of serious complaints and discomfortures among the
personnel and no solution found.
McIntyre’s skill as a
bacteriologist was deployed but, even with the assistance of equipment
at Dalhousie University, progress was not made. There was one brief
respite from work. Another vessel, The Empress of Scotland (formerly
Japan) was in port and McIntyre knew the ship’s surgeon, James
Prendergast, very well and he decided to pay him visit. He boarded the
Empress, went along to the Doctor’s cabin, knocked the door and
entered. The ship’s medical practitioner had been asleep in his bunk.
McIntyre’s entry produced a startled awakening coupled with an
astonished cry, "Good heavens, Greenock already!".
On the voyage back to
Scotland, Dr McIntyre’s diligence (and his grandmother’s wisdom)
paid dividends. He had no criticism of the ship’s galley and cooking
facilities. All Dutch ships were spotless and no fault could be found
there, but he used his tours of inspection to strike up a relationship
with the Chief Cook. On one occasion, he queried, "Do you put soda
into the water when cooking your vegetables?". Some cooks did add
baking soda to vegetables in order to retain their colour. The Chief
Cook acknowledged that this was the practice. "My grandmother
disapproved of that", McIntyre replied. Little more was said but,
when the ship returned to the Clyde, he was able to report back to the
Glasgow Health Department that the inconvenience and discomfiture of
passengers and crew on the Nieuw Amsterdam were at an end. He did not
reveal that what had happened was that his grandmother’s stricture had
produced queries on the part of the Chief Cook who had discovered that,
instead of adding baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) in the cooking
process, what had happened was that some inexperienced person had been
adding washing soda which is toxic, and thus the cause of all the
problems and the near destruction of the ship’s reputation, to say
nothing of the physical fitness of those on board.
As it happened, the Nieuw
Amsterdam did return to passenger carrying on the North Atlantic and
continued in service into the 1970’s.
The Dutch merchant marine
and those who comprised the 1,600 passengers which the Nieuw Amsterdam
could carry owe a debt to Dr McIntyre and, of course, his grandmother