Charterhouse Chronicle Kit Cunningham
An extraordinary funeral took place in February in Dar-esSalaam, Tanzania. It was that of Dr Leader Stirling, who had died at the age o197. His name will mean little to people in Europe, apart from family and colleagues.
He was a striking example of the European who went out to Africa and who became absorbed in the life of his adopted country. He was not one of those expatriates who developed an eccentric lifestyle removed from the pressures of European culture. His motivation in living in Africa was primarily Christian, and he went to Africa as a missionary doctor.
Dr Stirling was of a Scottish family, settled in Essex, with a strong tradition of medicine, though a famous cousin founded the SAS. Educated at Bishop's Stortford and the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, he went on to study surgery, but passed the preliminary exam only when he responded to a request from the University Mission to Central Africa, which urgently wanted a doctor in Masasi in southern Tanganyika. In terms of this world's goods, there was not much to go with it — no salary, a suit of clothe,' every four years, and pocket money of one shilling a day. So to southern
Tanganyika. as it was then, he went.
He had little knowledge of what to expect, except a life of continual shortages. He told me how he had confused the sisal plant with the pineapple. As necessity is the mother of invention, so his improvisations in the field of surgery were legendary. If you had marvelled at his enterprise, he would have been puzzled, for he was a modest man, and would have thought that his work was not remarkable, but the sensible thing to do.
So in February of this year, he was given a great funeral. For years. mentally, "his bags had been packed," said his nephew, Jeremy Stirling. He had been very active all his life, and the gradual loss of energy and mobility limited him.
On the day of the funeral, it started to rain, not in the English style, but in true African style. The deluge went on for several hours. Jeremy later wrote: "I thought, how inconvenient. But numbers of people came up to me and told me, God was showing his deep approval of the life of Dr Stirling. Apparently, Tanzanian folklore says, it only rains like this at the funeral of a truly great man. By that count, Dominic Leader Stirling was truly great and we were all totally soaked. That was the first rain that Dar-es-Salaam had had for five months."
Because of his great age, he belonged in a sense to a previous generation, but the affection and respect for him were undoubted, for he had in his time demonstrated his care for humanity in a country where family and tribe are deemed most important. Dr Stirling's dedication was to all, so he put down no roots in any particular part of Tanzania, and in the course of his long life, he gave his talents and energies to all parts of the country. He had helped Nyerere in the foundation of his political party for independence — the
Tanganyikan African National Union. He was to be at some time the Minister of Health in the national government. He was indeed a caring Minister, though not for him the machinations of politicians.
The underlying theme in Stirling's life was his Christianity. and he converted to Catholicism and took Dominic as a baptismal name. He worked with the Benedictine monks of Ndanda, and he started an association with a remarkable monk, Brother Fortunatus, an architect who produced professional drawings.
Prior to that, he had lived in mud huts and his operating theatre was "an open work bamboo building with a grass roof, and every gust of wind filled it with dust and dead leaves", The story of his early days in Tanganyika has been published in a book called Bush Doctor, in which the letters he wrote home have been edited, and with his easy style, it makes most interesting reading. To quote his obituary in The Times, "in his book Africa — My Surgery, Stirling describes the conditions he encountered, from everyday belly ripping by jealous husbands, to the bites of crocodiles and hippos.
He devised instruments from simple materials: screwdrivers made ideal fraction pins, sewing cotton was perfect for ligatures. Thomas splints were contrived from bamboo, external cord from plaited palm leaves with stones for traction weights. For intravenous infusions, he used triple distilled water, to which he added salt and glucose. When plaster of Paris ran out he made his own from locally quarried gypsum".
He was to move to the Kilimanjaro
to influence the standard of medical care
region, to run a hospital at Kibosho and in the area. His devotion was of the highest order, and he will be remembered.
He had a lifelong interest in the scouting movement, and was the Chief Scout of Tanzania for many years. Even while studying to be a doctor in East London, he became the leader of the Stepney (Toynbee) Scouts. And he has left us a log of an expedition to the fourth World Jamboree in Hungary in 1935. Even there, he was showing the ingenuity that was to serve him so well. His interest in the movement was with him to his death, and it was appropriate that his coffin should he carried by a party of Tanzanian scouts. He was dressed in his scout uniform, and the coffin was draped with the scout flag.
His commitment to Tanganyika and then Tanzania was immense, and it was his Christian faith that gave him this commitment. Not for him the life of the expatriate, who might retreat into his own community to recharge his batteries. Stirling's involvement was with Africans and the Catholic Church. He married at a mature age, a nurse who became the nurse to St Michael's School in Soni in the Usambara Mountains, where they lived in a house called "VIGAI" which means "tiles", a name given by the locals because of the composition of the roof. She was to die, sadly childless, but later he married a widow with six children, and he proved an admirable stepfather, as proud and understanding of them as if they had been his own.
His later years were spent in Dar-es
Salaam, as his wife thought that life was too quiet in Soni, though the atmosphere was wonderful. It used to be said that the air in Soni was like wine. It was here, of course, in his partial retirement, that I got to know him, far from the hustle and bustle of Dar-es-Salaam. He showed a gentleness that was very striking. This came not entirely from temperament, but from a life of prayer: I am not one to throw the word "holy" around, but I think I can say he was a holy man. Whether he was a saint or not is not for me to say, but his undoubted good works and achievements were there for all to see. I hope the Tanzanians will remember hint as an example of goodwill to all people. He was there to build up the medical care of people in Tanzania.
There is another lesson from his life, in the care he had for all people, of whatever race. In that, he was a citizen of the world, and God favoured Tanzania, in making him one of its citizens.