View all news

Wessex, Wales and Beyond: Professor Bowden (MB ChB 1948)

Professor Bowden

Professor Bowden (MB ChB 1948) travelled to Bristol to celebrate the archiving of his memoirs

Professor Bowden with Sir Winston Churchill

Professor Bowden (far right), President of the Students' Union in 1945/46, orchestrated a student address from Sir Winston Churchill

23 December 2014

Last month, 90-year-old Professor Drummond Bowden (MB ChB 1948) travelled to Bristol from Canada with his daughter, Jane, to celebrate the archiving of his memoirs, ‘Wessex, Wales and Beyond 1941 – 1952’ in the Bristol Record Office.

Born in 1924, Bowden began his medical studies at the University of Bristol in 1941, in the midst of the Second World War. He went on to become President of the Students’ Union in 1945 and, during his time in office, orchestrated a student address from Sir Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the University at the time.

In his memoirs, Bowden writes nostalgically, fondly and energetically of his time at Bristol, giving an insight into this pivotal epoch for the city: 'Life was fragile, time was short, relationships brief, intense; grab the moment, vow to meet again.'

He describes his arrival at Bristol train station, expecting to see a city riddled with 'total devastation' and destruction but instead finding it bustling with activity. The 'gaping holes' in the city were patched up by the natural energy of its people. The Wills Memorial Building was still standing, a central hub of busy and engaged citizens and students.

However unfamiliar it may be to envisage war-torn Bristol, Bowden tells of more familiar lively, drawn out evenings at Aunties on the Triangle, and weaving back late at night, hearing 'the night calls of peacocks in the Clifton Zoo [and] watch[ing] Jeeps discharge American servicemen on the hallowed ground of Clifton College'. Regardless of the oppressive war-time atmosphere, Bristol was filled with interesting, eccentric people; 'the city had never been so wild and gay'.

As President of the Students' Union, Bowden made it his mandate to provide relief from study and the drabness of war-time Britain, hiring bands and arranging evening dances, at which many would arrive on foot or by bicycle. In his memoirs he remembers with particular fondness the revival of the Union Ball in 1946. In Bowden’s own words, 'Presidents and partners from most universities came: a fine dinner at the University Reception Room and, at the ball, not one band but two!'.

Bowden organised for Sir Winston Churchill to address the student body at Union Week, where he supported Churchill’s enthusiastic speech, got distracted by the politician’s 'stunning' daughter and chuckled at Churchill’s anecdotes over wine, port and cigars. He gave students at the University the opportunity to pay tribute to a great man, 'the man who rallied Britain' in their darkest hour.

Bowden graduated in 1948, and went on to marry his sweetheart from his Bristol days – Joyce – who worked as a secretary at the BBC during the war years. They soon moved overseas where he held senior medical positions in both Canada and the States.

As well as visiting the Bristol Record Office, Bowden also met with current senior staff at the University, including the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Eric Thomas (Hon LLD 2004) and enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of campus.

When asked about his favourite Bristol memories, he quickly names two: meeting Churchill and of course, meeting Joyce, his wife. Bristol will always hold a significant place in his heart for its eccentricity, youthfulness and ever persevering energy.