Censorship or Propaganda only work if the two proceed in tandem: lies broadcast widely are only truly believed if the truth is first smothered and buried.
Almost all accounts of "the first ever x-type patient from the y-region treated/cured with penicillin" are untrue, lies and knowing lies, promoted by officials for a wide variety of reasons but never to simply tell the truth.
I collect these tales, with a mixture of anger at how readily journalists swallow bull feces
and sardonic amusement on the continued boldness of the liars.
Fleming and the dying policeman in Oxford (or is it at St Mary's?)
Florey and the policeman in Oxford.
Florey and Fleming fighting over their share of the glory of the first person treated with penicillin in America - a tale promoted originally by the bureaucrats at the American OSRD and then co-opted by the bureaucrats of the British Council and the American State Department.
Who was the first serviceman treated with penicillin - someone who got very drunk while off duty and woke up in hospital, the son of a Lord getting special treatment, or someone wounded in battle doing something very brave ?
Just guess who became the 'official first' there?
And then what about the first penicillin patients in those all important but sometimes awkward allies, the Canadians and the Aussies?
One account has the first Canadian treated (Picton Ontario) having being abruptly refused any penicillin by the Banting Foundation and then having to beg the Americans for a little of their Yellow Magic - which they were happy to rush to Canada to save this life.
It rings true, but it was buried - showing the Banting Institute of all places as heartless was 'just not on' in 1940s Canada ! (Sir Banting was the country's only native born Nobel prize winner.)
Australia had a bit of a problem with Yankee soldiers and their womenfolk but both nations badly needed each other during World War Two.
An opportunity arose to literally revive the "hands across the water" cliche and officials on both sides of the Pacific ran with it.
A bomber raced across the vast Pacific with penicillin for the dying son of a serving Aussie Naval Officer ( note that detail - no penicillin being wasted on the useless 4Fs or their children...)
Leaving San Francisco, it landed in Brisbane and then a plane took it to Sydney, saving the child's life.
The story came out of Melbourne (March 22nd 1944), released by Sir Alan Newton, chairman of the Medical Supplies Co-ordination Committee.
Mouthful of a title - very busy VIP for sure.
An A1, not an A2, priority cable was sent ( as it always is, in these type of purple prosed newspaper stories) to Mr L R Macgregor, Director-General of the (Aussie) War Supplies Procurement Mission in Washington.
Another very busy VIP.
He got on the blower to the Surgeon General of the US Army,(very busy VIP III), who authorized 1 million units of penicillin be put in dry ice and rushed by bomber to Brisbane, half a world away: in wartime, for a little boy, a non-combatant.
A few days later the boy is able to eat a normal meal - this is an essential part of all the penicillin stories involving little boys.
A common variant is that they wake up after hovering between life and death for days and loudly ask "when's chow?" and mother bursts into tears with relief and the hint of water wells up in the eyes of even the hardest of surgeons, etc.
Everybody knows all is it right with the world when a little boy's only thought is dinner.
This was officially described as "the first use of penicillin in Australia for civilians", in both countries.
Besides re-burnishing the 'hands across the water' friendship between Allies, the real intention of this whole charade was an attempt by these officials to reassure their twin bosses, the politicians and the voters that even during this busy deadly war, the Big People haven't forgotten 'the least among us', the little kiddies, the sick and dying children.
No stone was left unturned by the Big People to see that this innocent child's life was spared and while penicillin was in temporarily short supply, that problem "was being addressed" and soon all would have Penicillin.
And Victory and Full Employment and Housing for All.
In reality, this was 'The sixteenth Year without Penicillin' and people were complaining why it was taking so long to arrive.
Meanwhile some people - whose names should be remembered and honored but sadly are not - were doing more than just complaining about government,science and industry's lack of action.
They were rolling up their sleeves and making their own penicillin.
I call this penicillin agape penicillin or amare penicillin - the words mean basically the same thing.
Amateurs,(amare), making penicillin not for their own gain, making penicillin to help others,(agape), not their family and friends or the powerful.
In Brisbane, remember the place where the bomber landed - that nowheresville on the map, that point of transit en route between Washington and Sydney?
That is where the first civilian lives were saved with penicillin in Australia - way back
in November 1943.
I have blogged in The Arcadian Recorder about this tiny team - I am particularly amazed that no Aussie journalist has seen the fact that the whole life-saving effort hung on the use of Vegemite wasn't worth of at least a 'brite' .
I think this is because the tribe of journalists still buy into the Big Lie that World War Two was won not by the Allies' Big Armies but by their Big Science.
Evidence of amateur science playing a key role in World War Two discomforts the average journalist's sense of 'knowing the lessons' of the war.
Doctor James Vincent Duhig, along with Doctors David Grey and M Geaney, remains unknown to this day in his native land or in the rest of the world, despite his tale being written up in journal articles in 1944 and 1945 and ending up as a chapter subsection in the biography of Sir Howard Florey, the Australian usually credited with Penicillin's success.
They saved lives with the most basic of equipment and with very limited access to technical information and expertise.
I think Duhig's story was censored by the most effective method known - by being simply ignored.
My thesis - In Wrath Remember Mercy (Mo goes Po) - is that the entire penicillin story was pushed along by the contributions of about a half dozen similar 'agape amateurs' : Henry Dawson,Robert Pulvertaft, Rudy Schullinger, Frank Queen,John Mahoney,Dante Colitti, Jim Duhig - against the fulsome resistance of the penicillin bureaucracy and the pharma industry.
Let me credit one bureaucrat, Larry Elder of the WPB/OPRD, and one businessman, Harry Jephcott of Glaxo, as two more agape amateurs who should be honored fully.
Two others wanted to help and helped a very great deal, though I don't know their motives.
Raymond Rettew worked alone in rural Pennsylvia throughout 1942, working out such an successful little bottle operation that for 4 months it produced the most penicillin in all the world - successfully shaming the pharma companies to stop talking and to start walking on serious penicillin production.
Milislav Demerec, at Cold Spring Harbour Institute on Long Island, made up for its very large role in making Eugenics respectable, by working for years on creating better strains of penicillin fungi - this was the real crucial breakthrough the OSRD missed with its fixed idee of chemical synthesis. Merck & the OSRD (really the same unit in reality) turned him down flat - lucky that the WPB & Larry Elder wasn't as blinkered as Newton Richards of the OSRD/Merck.
Duhig came along late to the process and his activities in isolated wartime Brisbane had no direct impact on the penicillin story , during World War Two.
But he has haunted it ever since.
Historians still ask if Fleming had been as willing to simply inject raw penicillin juice into dying patients in 1929 as Duhig was in 1943, those few lives saved might spurred on the medical community to take up penicillin when it was first discovered.
And then millions of lives won't have been needlessly lost....
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