264 : In Search of Dr Albert Kagwa

Years ago, researching aspects of the first black Rhodes Scholar (Alain Locke, 1908) in the archives at Howard University in Washington DC I noted a cutting from the Oklahoma City weekly the Black Dispatch. Dated 28 November 1942 it reported that Albert Kagwa, son of Apolo Kagwa, was a house surgeon in a British hospital, having been educated at St Dunstan’s School in south-east London’s Catford and at the London Hospital. He had represented the hospital as a sprinter in the United Hospitals athletics. I knew of his father, who had represented Uganda at the coronation of King Edward VII, and had been an important political figure in Uganda as well as a preserver of Ganda traditions by publishing, in Luganda, aspects of his people’s history.

His father died in 1927 and there were many children: and the name was often written as Kaggwa. British newspapers are now largely on line and a scan of the name Kagwa in the 1930s brought up several references to athletes – but accuracy was uncertain. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of London of 18 June 1937 (p 41) has a photo of a J. Kagwa, and the issue of the previous week has A. Kagwa but it is entitled ‘West African Victory’.

I sent an email to St Dunstan’s College in Catford to see what their files might have, and then turned to the website page freebmd to see if Kagwa had married in Britain. There is a marriage registration at Brentford (west London) for the quarter ending September 1944 between Albert Kagwa and Ann Still. Ann Kagwa’s death in the Chichester region was registered in the quarter ending September 1967, aged 53. The same file reference details applied to Lillian R. Kagwa. I looked into the probate file for 1967, and saw that Ann Kagwa otherwise Lillian Rose Kagwa had died on 14 July 1967, at 31 Howard Avenue in the coastal town of West Wittering not far from Chichester. Her estate was £4,640 and a bank handled the matter.

With different names and confused journalists, one hopes that medical records will throw some light on the doctor. There is a mention of him serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. The unravelling will be detailed as it happens.

Years ago I had informed David Killingray of that American newspaper clipping, and I alerted him to my renewed interest. His response included :

Albert Kagwa (aka Israel A. K.), ‘youngest son of Sir Apolo Kagwa’, John Iliffe, East African Doctors: a History of the Modern Profession (Cambridge UP, 1998), p 99.  He was born 20 July 1915 – which is given when ‘Israel A. K’, 15 year old ‘schoolboy’ sailed from Colombo to London, arriving 22 February 1929; his London address was ‘c/o Mrs Goodwin, 11 Beechfield Road, Catford’, which may indicate that he was bound for, perhaps already attending the nearby St Dunstans College. (Iliffe has him aged eight arriving in the UK in 1927.) In the Electoral Register 1937 Kagwa was living at 9 Beechfield Road, Catford. By 1938 he is living at 47 Doughty Street, St Pancras, as a medical student at the London Hospital. The 1939 Register lists him in Southend-on-Sea. Barts Health NHS Trust Archives contain a photograph of Kagwa plus student records ca 1914-52 – RLHMC/S/1/18.   

Kagwa qualified by early 1943, when he is reported as a house physician at the Isle of Wight Co Hospital (Isle of Wight County Press, 29 May 1943, p1).  He married Ann Still at Brentford in the third quarter of 1944.  I have not seen his military record: he joined-up in 1943-4, (presumably in the RAMC) and was commissioned Lieutenant  (no. 318382) Supplement to the London Gazette, 27 June 1944, p 3025, so it would appear that he married before he was shipped off to Burma.  In 1946 the Daily Mirror, 9 May 1946, p 3, reported that he would march with the East African troops in the victory parade in London. Electoral Registers 1946-52 show Albert and Ann living in West London (in 1946 he was at 54a Marsham Place, Holborn, and 1948 in St Stephen’s Hospital, Kensington).  They appear to have moved to Uganda in 1953; they were both refused membership of the Mbale Club (Iliffe, p 109).  I think that Albert died 1963.

Killingray later advised the Medical Directory recorded Kagwa graduated in January 1942, MRCS England and LRCS London.

His old school St Dunstan’s College also responded:

We have conducted a search of our digital archives for references to Dr Kagwa, with limited results (see below). There may be further material in our physical archives but, as we are currently in Covid related lockdown, I do not currently have access to the school site. In the 1963 Chronicle (the school magazine), there was a reference to Dr A. Kagwa moving from Mbale to Kampala. This must have been shortly before his death. He died in 1963, but news of this did not reach us until 1967, when the following was published in the obituaries section of the school magazine: 

‘A. Kagwa (’32).—Coming to St. Dunstan’s from Uganda in the late ‘twenties, he soon found his feet in the strange surroundings as a most cheerful and popular member of an English school. He qualified in medicine and returned to do excellent work in Uganda, first as an ordinary doctor and later as a specialist in the nutrition problems of his people. News of his death on April 17, 1963, has only just reached us and we must offer apologies for the late announcement. He was a Life Member of the Association’.  

The National Archives, Kew has three files relating to Albert Kagwa, raised by the Colonial Office. CO 536/185/11 is concerned with the financial arrangements for his education in Britain 1937-1939, and CO 536/203/7 relates to his London Hospital connections 1939-1940. An earlier file CO 536/180/12 is concerned with the financing of the studies of Kagwa and another student named Derek Bamuta in the period 1933-1935. They have not been examined for this project.

A 1946 newspaper mention. The Daily Mirror of 9 May 1946 (page 3) noted that Lieutenant Kagwa the ‘prime minister of Buganda’ was to march with East African troops at the London victory parade.

A 1948 newspaper mention. The Fulham Chronicle of 30 July 1948 (page 5) reported that Dr A Kagwa of St Stephen’s Hospital was waiting for a train at Hammersmith station when he witnessed a passenger being killed by a train.