Today, I would like to expand on the life of Eric F. Dott, a conscientious objector during the First World War and a children’s physician at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. Under the project ‘Cataloguing Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)’, much has been written about his brother Norman, the pioneering neurosurgeon from Edinburgh, but Eric was a no less remarkable man. Simultaneously a Christian, a pacifist and a socialist, this well-loved paediatrician stood up for his principles all his life.
Eric Dott was born on the 3rd of December 1898 in the Dott’s family house in Colinton, at that time a small village five miles out of Edinburgh. He was a bright young man who discovered his Christian faith at an early age: when he was 11 year-old he was deeply moved by an organist practising in the church near his house, and from this moment he pushed his whole family to go to Church, thing that the Dotts weren't doing before. He stayed consistent with his Christian beliefs during one of the darkest and most proving times of the 20th century: the First World War. In 1917, when he was eighteen, he was called up to active service and sent to a place near Kinghorn, in Fife. However, at the first opportunity he disobeyed a direct order on moral grounds and thus was sent to the guardroom under arrest – he had become a conscientious objector. He was sent to Wormwood Scrubs camp, where he endured solitary reclusion and severe restrictions. After a bit less than four months, he was transferred to Dartmoor Prison to do some work of ‘national importance’: it mainly entailed digging holes or breaking stones, activities that Eric called ‘a farce’. However the living and working conditions in Dartmoor Prison weren't as gruelling as in Wormwood Scrubs, and prisoners had more liberty. Eric Dott spent a lot of time debating with other men of similar principles about religion, philosophy, and politics. At first he had opposed the war because of his Christian principles, and then he had become increasingly interested in the political aspect of the conflict, influenced by his father’s ideas about socialism. This ideology stayed important for him: when his father Peter McOmish Dott died in 1934, Eric was left to administer the considerable sum of money he had left in his will for the benefit of the Labour Movement and Socialism generally. Eric founded the Peter McOmish Dott Memorial Library, where books were purchased with a bearing on socialist education.
After his liberation, Eric enrolled at Edinburgh University to study medicine, and soon set up in practice as a doctor: by 1929 he had started up a small practice in Eltringham Gardens, off Rob’s Loan, in the west of Edinburgh, and by the mid-1930s he was working at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Records about him are somewhat lacking, however a few documents show what kind of doctor he was. His competence was recognised: in 1935 Eric Dott was appointed Honorary Assistant Physician to the hospital for five years, and in 1939 he was appointed ad interim as Physician of the Forteviot House. Eric also demonstrated his dedication and eagerness to help during the Second World War. Indeed, in a letter dating from 1939 addressed to Mr. Henry, the Honorary Secretary to the Hospital, he confirmed that he was absolutely ready to put his car and himself at the hospital’s disposal if the children needed to be evacuated. In another letter to Mr. Henry dating from December 1941, it is explained that Eric Dott had had to work both as a Ward Physician and as an Assistant Physician during one year because of a shortage of personnel: he gave a lot of himself during this difficult period.
I had the pleasure to have a chat with Professor Arnold Myers, who knew Eric Dott personally, to give a little personal touch to the portrait. Mr. Myers describes him as ‘a small man with nice features, very bright, alert and courteous’. He was a very keen chess player, and was very fond of his cat like his brother Norman was very fond of his dogs. Eric Dott spent his retirement in his quiet home of Canaan Lane, where he lived with his three sons, and died on the 8th of July 1999 in Edinburgh, aged 100.
Rush, C., and Shaw, J. (1990) With Sharp Compassion, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.
Goodall, F. (2010) We Will Not Go to War: Conscientious Objection During the World Wars, Stroud: History Press.
Conscientious objectors at Dartmoor Prison in England, c. 1917 [online]. Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network. Available from: http://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-463-616-C [Accessed 14/04/2016]. Photograph of conscientious objectors at Dartmoor in 1917. Eric Dott can be seen on the front row, fifth from the left, wearing glasses.
Conscientious objection in Britain during the First World War [online]. Learn Space. Available from: http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/infodocs/cos/st_co_wwone4.html [Accessed 14/04/2016].
Clements, K., Podcast 37: Conscientious Objection [online]. Imperial War Museums. Available from: http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/podcasts/voices-of-the-first-world-war/podcast-37-conscientious-objection [Accessed 14/04/2016].
Lothian health Services Archives, LHB5/36, Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children, 1859-1992.
Interview with Professor Arnold Myers who was a personal friend of Eric Dott, and whom we would like to thank for his time and contribution. [date of interview: 12/04/2016 at Edinburgh University Main Library]