Series 1 - Diaries

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CA MUA MG2001-1

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  • 1922-1995 (Creation)
    Robertson, H. Rocke (Harold Rocke), 1912-1998

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1.45 m of textual records.
27 photos.

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Biographical history

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, on August 4, 1912, Harold Rocke Robertson, known as H. Rocke Robertson or “Rocke”, received his primary school education at St. Michael’s School and his secondary school training, from 1926-1929, at Brentwood College in Victoria. From 1925-1926, accompanied by his sister, Marian, he studied near Geneva, Switzerland, where he acquired French. In 1929 he moved to Montreal where he attended McGill University, receiving a B.Sc. (1932) and an M.D.C.M. (1936). He also completed an internship at the Montreal General Hospital under Dr. Fraser B. Gurd and he studied pathology under Dr. Pop Rhea. Following this, Robertson earned a medical fellowship at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Scotland, where he studied from 1938 to 1939. In 1937 he married Beatrice Rosyln Arnold, known as “Rolly” at Arncliffe, her family home, in Senneville, Quebec, and had four children: Tam, Ian, Bea, and Stuart, known as “Tooie or Toopot”.

H. Rocke Robertson died on February 8, 1998, Ottawa, Ontario. His funeral was held at McGill University.

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Scope and content

This series of diaries, arranged chronologically and spanning the years 1934 1995, contain Robertson’s matter of fact overview and some of his measured reflections his personal life, including his private interests and his family life, as well as his professional activities, as a surgeon, as principal of McGill University, and as an advisor and a board member following his retirement from McGill in 1970. Also included in the series are photos, correspondence files, ephemera, and newspaper and magazine clippings attached to entries in his diaries 1922 1981 (Container 15, File 224).

In particular the years 1934 1961 Container 12, Files 195 200/ Note: There are no diaries for 1959 1960), recount his final student years at McGill, his courtship of Rolly Arnold, his completion of his medical fellowship in Scotland and England, his war experiences in both Great Britain and Italy, his medical years in Vancouver, and his return to the Montreal General Hospital. Of note is the bustling social life that Robertson maintained during his final years as a medical student at McGill. He, his friends, and Rolly frequently went to cocktails parties, to the theatre, and played sports, including doubles tennis and golf. Also of interest are his comments about headmasters that he encountered at St. Michael’s School and Brentwood College in Victoria, British Columbia 1940 1941 (Container 12, File 197) and his anecdote about Sir Arthur Currie, a former McGill Principal, 1940 1941 (Container 12, File 197) which was later incorporated into one of his speeches, 1972 (Container 8, File 153).

The diaries dating from 1962 1969 document the events that transpired during Robertson’s tenure at McGill Container 12, Files 201 203; Container 18, Files 247 256), including his reflections on his ultimate decision to retire. These diaries, in particular, are more introspective and personal as they reveal Robertson’s attempts to assimilate the societal change of the 1960s as well as discussing his own feelings of stress and sense of confoundedness at the student unrest at McGill. The diaries dating from 1969 1979 Container 14, Files 214 223), commence with the announcement of his retirement, his decision to ultimately leave Quebec, due to the political turmoil and violence of the times, and the initial years of his retirement. They also treat his reactions to the Stanley Gray affair. His diary entries include his relief over Gray’s dismissal, which Robertson felt was crucial in allowing him to maintain a semblance of control during his final year as McGill’s principal Container 14, File 214).

The aforementioned diaries, coupled with the set from 1980 1995 (Container 13, Files 205 213), focus on the retirement years of H. Rocke Robertson They are increasingly dedicated to reflections on the weather (which are an aspect of all of his diaries), as well as his activities as a gentleman farmer at “Struan” in Mountain, Ontario. Activities include gardening, caring for his dog, Blaze, and working on his dictionary manuscript. Most revealing are his reflections on the purpose of his book and his attempt to convey how each dictionary and his collection, in its entirety, illustrate the development of English dictionaries 1969 (Container 14, File 214). His retirement diaries also document his efforts to keep active in the professional milieu, such as through his duties as an honorary librarian and archivist for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Also included is a Diary Index, compiled in 1988, spanning January 1961 February 1971 (Container 13, Files 212), which reveal his attempt to make key life events, particularly during his time as principal of McGill, readily accessible to researchers.

Part of this series consists of notes and a partial draft of his autobiography (Container 4, File 82; Container 12, File 197 as well as the original manuscript and a transcribed version of Robertson’s War Diaries 1940 1943 (Container 11, Files 192 -93 Container 4, File 88). His reflections on the war reveal his restlessness during his time in England, where it became evident that Prime Minister Mackenzie King did not want Canadians to see active combat. Despite this, Robertson did experience one of the first significant London bombings and he assisted in the treatment of patients who had been injured at Coventry. His diaries also reveal that he learned about hospital organization and administration, particularly during his time at Marston Green, on the outskirts of Birmingham; this knowledge was to become crucial for his subsequent professional activities. His time in Sicily and Italy, known as Operation Husky, includes descriptions of surgical techniques, of individuals he performed surgery on, as well as few instances of being under mortar fire, particularly at the Battle of Ortona, 1943. This information is supplemented by photos, as well as a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and notes, all related to Robertson’s activities during WWII, 1940 1943, 1940 Container 11, File 194; Container 16, File 238).

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