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McGREGOR, Alexander Hugh (1908-1997)

McGREGOR, Alexander Hugh (1908-1997)

'Alec' McGregor (Football 1927)

'Alec' McGregor (Football 1927)

'Alec' McGregor was born at Mount Gambier on 15 June 1908, the son of William McAlpine McGregor and Flora Sarah, nee McDonald. He was enrolled as a boarder at Geelong College from 3 June 1925 to December 1927 and was in the 1st Football XVIII 1925-27 (Captain 1926-27), the 1st Cricket XI 1926-27, and the Athletics Team 1925-27 (Captain 1927). As well, he won the College Cup in 1926 and was Head Prefect 1926-27. His address at enrolment was Frewville, Mt Gambier.

He attended Ormond College, University of Melbourne, graduating MBBS with Alec Sinclair (OGC) in 1933. He played VFL football for Geelong, as Russell Stephens noted in 'The Road to Kardinia' :
'Alec McGregor, Les Hardiman, Jack Walker, Angie Muller, Reg Hickey, Tommy Quinn, Jack Carney and Rupe McDonald had been superb contributors; Jack Metherell was again in outstanding kicking form and Hickey, who played his 150th game during the year, was a respected captain.

Alec McGregor played in all games. He was a talented footballer, recruited from Melbourne University; his skill was not only on the football field, but off it as well, as Doctor McGregor, and a resident medical officer at the Geelong Hospital. Earlier in the season, Rupe McDonald suffered a gash across the nose andd blood flowed freely from the wound. At half time McGregor came to the rescue and closed it with two stitches.'

He was Resident Medical Officer at the Geelong Hospital when he was playing football for Geelong and had to ask permission to play in the VFL team. From 1950-57 he was the club doctor of the Geelong Football Club, and was made a life member in 1957. His eulogy was delivered by the Rev Dr Ron Noone at All Saints, Newtown in 1997, and written by A H's grandaughter Kate, a historian at Melbourne University; part of it is repeated here:
'Alec McGregor was born in Mt Gambier in 1908. He was a tall redhead with a strong physique, freckles, a warm smile and quiet laugh, who was appropriately nicknamed 'Ginger' at school. He had an older brother Colin with whom he shared both a gentle nature and a passion for sports ...

'Alec' was named after his paternal grandfather Alexander Wood McGregor. He attended Mt Gambier High School, then (The) Geelong College as a boarder from 1925-27, where he was an outstanding all rounder achieving academically, and competing for the school in football, cricket, athletics and tennis. He was captain of many school teams, participated in the first College football team to win an APS premierslup in 1925 and 1927, and broke the APS record for the 880 yards in 1926. Alec was a sportsman who exhibited not only ability but also grace; he was accepting of defeat and never boastful in success. He was appointed Head Prefect in 1926 and 1927 when Frank Rolland was Headmaster. Both Frank Rolland and Old Collegian Ernie Smith were to greatly influence young Alec's career.

He studied medicine at Melbourne University. During this time he resided for six years at Ormond College, as a contemporary of E E 'Weary' Dunlop; 'Alec' was the Senior Student at Ormond in 1932. Whilst an undergraduate he participated with continuing success in both college and university sporting teams, and played District Cricket with the University team. To earn some money during university holidays he worked underground at the BHP mine at Broken Hill. Between 1934-35 he was RMO at Geelong Hospital, he played 35 games for the Geelong football team, alongside Reg Hickey and other notable players. A Geelong Football club history describe him as 'a fast skilful centreman-half back flanker, who developed a reputation for coolness, intelligence and effective defensive play ...'

At the end of the 1935 season 'Alec' took a position as a ship's doctor on
'MV Merkur' , sailing from Sydney to Singapore return. Ernie Smith was also a passenger on this cruise, (and) it was on this ship that Viola (Clarice) Donkin, a glamorous and vivacious Californian governess working in New Guinea, caught his attention. A romance began amidst this setting of ship parties, dances and tourist stops, including the famous Borobudur temple. 'Alec' and Viola made a promise to marry and exchanged many letters and communicated by two-way radio between Victoria and America for almost two years. Meantime, 'Alec' did country locums, including nine month at Wynyard on the north coast of Tasmania. He travelled to America, and on 10 November 1937 they, married in Modesto, California (Viola was the daughter of Guy Foster and Sarah Elizabeth (McBee) Donkin, of Modesto, California). Together they made a very elegant couple.

He became a junior partner in a medical practice in Morwell; their first son Gordon was born on 10 November 1939. In 1940 Alec enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps, as a Captain he saw action in the Middle East (including Tobruk), and later in New Guinea, where he was severely wounded at Buna. He was discharged as a Major in 1945. One of his fellow 'Rats of Tobruk' who survived the siege recalled that, like many other servicemen, 'Alec' said little about the war, but it was known that he was one of the surgeons at the 2/4th Australian General Hospital, who typically worked in unbroken shifts of 36 hours at a time, stopping only for meals. This hospital is recorded as being the closest ever to an active field of battle; many lives were saved here as a result of its close proximity to the front, however, it was also under constant air attack, and shelling of the nearby harbour. Dust, flies and heat made for appalling conditions, and the contribution of the 2/4th General Hospital played a vital part in maintaining the high morale of the defenders of Tobruk.'

He was a medical practitioner at Morwell when he enlisted in the 2/5th Field Ambulance, embarking on the 'Mauretania' , from 20 October 1940 until 29 March 1942 (526 days) with 2/9th Infantry Battalion at the 2/4th AGH. He embarked for Australia on the 'Nieuw Amsterdam' on 11 February 1942, and transhipped to 'Takliwa' in Bombay, arriving in Melbourne on 28 March 1942.

He embarked for New Guinea on 7 August 1942, serving there until 2 January 1943 (149 days), and was seriously wounded by shrapnel in both legs on 22 December 1942. (Only the fact that he was a medical officer saved him having one leg amputated, for he threatened dire consequences if such an operation was performed). He also suffered from attacks of malaria, being classified 'medically unfit'.

He was Mentioned in Despatches on 31 July 1943 'for gallant and distinguished service in the South West Pacific area'. 'Bloody But Unbowed' , the first of a series of broadcasts by officers and men of the AIF on the ABC, arranged by Dudley Leggatt and broadcast on 9 May 1943, spoke of his work at Buna:
'The Regimental Medical Officer, Captain Alexander Hugh McGregor, worked tirelessly and undoubtedly saved many lives, not only by the attention he gave the wounded in
the RAP, but by going forward and attending to wounded under fire when the shortage of stretcher bearers, owing to casualties, meant that the men couldn't be brought in quickly to him at the RAP. His coolness under fire and his concern for the wounded can not be praised too highly.'

He was reported 'missing, believed killed' after his wounding in New Guinea, and as such his name appeared on the Honour Roll at the Naval and Military Club in Melbourne. The AWM Collection includes a photograph 'taken at Heidelberg on 6 October 1943, showing Captain A H McGregor, AIF, a patient in the 115th Australian General Hospital, sitting in the sunshine'. His son Gordon remembered his father's wounds:
'He received a nasty gash to both thighs and was replaced by Dr Colin Copland, and spent an extensive time at both Concord and Heidelberg Repatriation Hospitals.'

He was re-classified from 'B' to' A' on 7 January 1944, and appointed Surgeon at 2/6th AGH, then to AAMC 1st Aust Beach Group on 27 March; he embarked for Morotai on 11 pril 1945, serving there and in British North Borneo until 15 November (219 days). On fellow Old Collegian Jack Hosford' release from captivity at Kuching, 'Alec' was one of the first people Jack saw. 'Alec' was devastated and reduced to tears by what he saw, as Jack weighed only 26½ kg (4 stone 2 lbs).

'Alec' was discharged on 4 December 1945, and later set up as a general practitioner in Geelong, remaining Jack Hosford's doctor until his retirement in 1990. Jack Hosford's daughter Jan nursed 'Alec' McGregor at Maryville Nursing Home, and was thus able to repay some of the kindness extended to her father by 'Alec' McGregor.

He was granted Life Membership of several organisations: as previously mentioned, the Geelong Football Club; the Australian Medical Association (for fifty years service to medicine); the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (a member for fifty years); and the Wine and Food Society of Geelong (of which he was a Past President).

'Alec' McGregor died at Geelong on 1 December 1997.

Sources: 'Geelong Collegians at the Second World War and Subsequent Conflicts' compiled by J. Affleck pp 366-368 (citing: The Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives; AWM Collection 141926; Russell Stephens, The Road to Kardinia: the story of Geelong Football Club; Eulogy delivered by Rev Dr Ron Nooone at A H McGregor's funeral, written by A H's granddaughter Kate; Photo Gordon McGregor.
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