Much of the incidental information about Dr Crew, that appears in Barefoot on the Cobbles, is based on fact. He really was the local scout master and he was indeed fascinated by chicken genetics. He breezes into the lives of the novel’s main characters when they are in crisis and there is only scope to portray the brief essence of a fascinating man, who spent just a short time in Devon.
Dr Francis Albert Eley Crew was born in 1886 in Tipton, Staffordshire, the son of a grocer. Frank was the only surviving child of five siblings. He was educated at King Edward VI School in Edgbaston and his interest in breeding and showing poultry began at an early age. His father changed careers and became the manager of a brick works; the family lived in Stourbridge at this time.
Frank went to Edinburgh University to study medicine, graduating in 1912. He married fellow student, Helen Campbell Dykes and together they set up a practice in Hartland and Clovelly. Quite what the inhabitants of rural North Devon felt about the ministrations of a female doctor is unrecorded.
A keen member of the territorial army, Dr Crew also ran the local scout troop. This allowed me to make a brief reference to a recently founded, yet significant, institution, which helped to evoke an essence of the era. The Bank Holiday camp in East Devon, to which Dr Crew alludes, is reported in the local press. Dr Crew was also an honorary member of the Mariners’ Union, along with Mr Caird, Clovelly Estate’s Land Agent. When the First World War broke out, Frank was attached to the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. He gained the rank of major, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and India. The Crews had two children.
Dr Crew did not return to Devon after the war; instead, he went back to teach at Edinburgh University, becoming a leading authority on animal genetics, particularly chickens. During the Second World War he was in charge of the military hospital at Edinburgh Castle and was inspired by the many Polish prisoners of war to set up a Polish School of Medicine in Edinburgh. He gained the rank of brigadier and became the director of Medical Research at the War Office. After the war, he abandoned genetics in favour of concentrating on the development of nursing training. He made several overseas trips in connection with the World Health Organisation, including visits to Egypt, Canada and India. He worked for several years in Burma and India before retiring to Sussex.
In 1972, the year before his death, Frank remarried to Margaret Ogilvie Withof-Keus, with whom he had worked in the Army Medical Corps. More information about Dr Crews can be found here.
‘The doctor looked at Bertie appraisingly.
‘Hello young man,’ he said. ‘You look just the age for my Scout Patrol. Have you heard of the Boy Scouts? I am sure you would enjoy the jolly times we have. We are off to camp in a week or two. What do you think of that?’ ’
Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.