Norman Bethune

Please post your comments and suggestions for this article.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on July 3rd, 2011 at 11:46 am

Bethune was born 4 March. He graduated from O.S.C.V.I. in 1907. For verification, v. Phoenix: the Life of Norman Bethune. McGill UNiversity Press, Montreal, 2011.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on July 3rd, 2011 at 11:49 am

The publisher of Phoenix is McGill-Queens University Press.

Comment by Jennifer Tanabe on September 6th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Thank you for your comment. His birthdate has been corrected and your book added to the references.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on March 15th, 2013 at 11:18 am

I hope that you will consider the following:

Please note that Bethune did NOT establish the first mobile blood transfusion service. That this has been widely accepted as factual is very likely owing to my erroneously having stated that in Bethune, my first biography of the Canadian doctor. The first to do so was Dr. Duran i Jorda, a Spanish haemotologist in Barcelona. His system was in operation on the Aragon front in September 1937, nearly three months before that of Bethune had begun to function (v. Phoenix, p. 164).

What happened, however,is that in November 1936,when Franco made Madrid the focal point of his military assault, a status it maintained until long after Bethune left Spain in June 1937, Duran i Jorda’s service was seldom in operation until much later in the war. Because Bethune’s Instituto canadiense de Transfusion de Sangre was in Madrid, at the very centre of the front, it contributed far more to the saving of lives through the transfusion of blood than did Duran i Jorda’s service. As aresult Bethune’s service is generally regarded as one of the most important military-medical contributions of the war. But it was not the first transfusion service set up in that war.

Please note also that he did not pioneer battlefield surgery or MASH units. Mobile surgical units had been in operation since the U.S. Civil Wa

Comment by Roderick Stewart on March 15th, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Please consider also the following:

A reference is made to Bethune’s having been one of the most highly-paid medical persons in Canada. Bethune did well financially in Detroit (1924-1926), but spent it all, and for the rest of his life in North America he was perennially in debt. He was supported by a scholarship and an insurance indemnity during his nearly five years at the Royal Victoria Hospital (April 1928 to January 1933). He also received a $25.00 weekly salary from Sainte Anne De Bellevue Veterans Hospital starting in 1930-v. Phoenix, p.82.

During his period at Sacre Coeur Hospital, (January 1933 to October 1936) he received a salary, normal for the period and hardly sufficient to make him highly paid. He had a handful of patients from whom he received hardly a pittance. (v.Phoenix,p. 101)

One of the various myths about Bethune is that he sacrificed a life of comfort made possible by a high income to go to China. The truth is that in the autumn of 1937 his personal life was in a turmoil: he was suffering from a severe reprimand from the Canadian Communist Party for his misbehaviour in Spain, partly the result of excessive drinking; he was financially broke, without a job and would have had difficulty finding one had he looked, largely owing to his decision to identify himself openly as a communist. (v.Phoenix. p. 241) By going to China he was both running away from and running toward. It fitted the pattern of his life established in his youth.

I would like to point out that Jesus Majada of Spain and I have written in Spanish Bethune en Espana, (Bethune in Spain),which was published by Fundacion Domingo Malagon,in Madrid in 2009.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on March 20th, 2013 at 8:21 am

The caption of your initial photograph states that it is of Bethune in 1922. It is, in fact, his graduation picture taken in December 1916 in Toronto. Not the normal time of the year for an academic graduation, December was the month which ended a special fifth-year course in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto owing to the need for doctors to be sent overseas to be part of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. v. Phoenix: the Life of Norman Bethune p.28

Comment by Jennifer Tanabe on March 20th, 2013 at 11:00 am

Thank you, Roderick, for all your feedback! It is most helpful. The caption of the photo has been corrected.

Further revisions to the article will be made based on the information you have provided. Thank you again for taking the time to comment and helping to make NWE a valuable information resource.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on March 21st, 2013 at 8:28 am

Hello, Jennifer Tanabe:

In the paragraph referring to Bethune’s work in Spain is the following sentence:”The mobile unit contained dressings for 500 wounds and supplies for 100 surgical operations and could be carried by a single mule.” Please not that this description is of a device he created in China in March 1939, not Spain. v. Phoenix, p. 347. He did not use mules in Spain.

May I repeat that the first mobile blood transfusion was not created by Bethune. That distinction belongs to a Spanish haemotologist Dr. Frederic Duran i Jorda (1906-1957). In addition to my supporting documentation in a previous comment above, should you wish, I can provide you with documentation from several Spanish sources attesting to this fact.

In addition, it is mere hearsay that MASH units were modelled on Bethune’s mobile operating units. Nor were Bethune’s units unique. Similar techniques had been in use in the nineteenth century.

May I make another small point. Reference is made to Hannant’s book as”the most recent biography” of Bethune. His was published in 1998. Phoenix, as is correctly indicated in the Bibliography, was published in 2011.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on March 21st, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Hello, Jennifer Tanabe:

Thanks for taking into consideration my several comments. There are numerous legends about Bethune. My aim and that of every source you list in your bibliography, I am certain,is interested only in documented evidence, not hearsay.

Comment by Roderick Stewart on March 30th, 2013 at 10:48 am

In relation to the widely-believed, but erroneous belief that Bethune set up the first mobile blood transfusion service, may I refer to a biographical article on Duran i Jorda which appears in the Spanish-language version of Wikipedia? There it is stated that the Spanish doctor “created the first transfusion service in the world in Barcelona in 1936.” Documented information for the article, as indicated in the bibliography, came from a book and various articles in academic journals.

It is also not true that Bethune’s service covered a “1000 mile front.” That was a wish that Spanish military authorities never allowed to be transformed into reality. Frederic Duran i Jorda, a haemotologist, not only established the first mobile transfusion service in Spain, in September 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, his was superior to that of Bethune, who was not a hameotologist, and who recognised the superiority of the Spaniard’s service. (Phoenix, p. 178). What is supremely important about Bethune’s service, which was set up in December 1936, two months after that of Duran i Jorda, is that it operated out of Madrid, which had become the focus of Franco’s armed forces’ attack since the beginning of November, and would remain the focus until long after Bethune had left Spain in June 1937. The result of Franco’s strategy was to leave the Aragon front, where Buran i Jorda’s service had been operating, almost inactive until much later in the war. Bethune’s service, therefore became much more involved in supplying blood to the wounded, and saved far more lives than did Duran i Jorda’s service throughout the entire war.

Comment by Jennifer Tanabe on April 5th, 2013 at 10:36 am

Thank you, Roderick, for all your feedback. The article has been revised based on the information you provided. Hopefully the inaccuracies have been removed!

Leave a Reply

return to top