Cluny MacPherson

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Colonel Dr. Cluny MacPherson of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in Egypt 1915
Source: Wikicommons
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See also Norman Bethune | History of medicine portal | Osler Library of the History of Medicine | Lucille Teasdale

Cluny MacPherson (1879 — 1966), physician, inventor and soldier, was born in St. John’s Newfoundland on March 18, 1879. He attended Methodist College, and later McGill University in Montréal, earning his medical degree in 1901. MacPherson began his medical career at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and returned to Newfoundland to join Dr. Wilfred Grenfell’s Labrador Mission to contain the smallpox epidemic. His work with the St. John's Ambulance Association led to the creation of the St. John's Brigade. Macpherson continued his involvement with the International Grenfell Association (IGA), eventually serving as its director.

In 1915, while serving as principle medical officer in the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, MacPherson began to research methods of protection against poison gas as the Germans were using it against allied troops in France and Belgium. At the time, the only protection was for soldiers to breath through their handkerchiefs, or pieces of cloth, soaked in their own urine. MacPherson invented a respirator or gas mask which was the first general issue countermeasure or protective device used in the First World War. MacPherson's invention protected countless soldiers from blindness, disfigurement and injury to their throats and lungs.

After he himself suffered an injury in Egypt, MacPherson returned to Newfoundland as director of the military medical service. He served as president of the St. John's Clinical Society and Newfoundland Medical Association. In 1936, MacPherson began to write in his notebooks which contained anecdotes about events in his life. The notebooks provide an important view into early 20th century Canadian medical history, and are available online for viewing via the archives at Memorial University.

After Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, MacPherson became a member of the Medical Council of Canada and served as its President in 1954-1955. In 1962, MacPherson was presented with an honorary doctor of science degree from Memorial University. MacPherson was awarded many other honors for his contributions to medicine and his service to rural communities in his home province. MacPherson died on November 16th, 1966 in Newfoundland at the age of 87.

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