Skip to content

toddler feeding and the good private tragedy in her life, the demise of her husband, the zoologist Rolfe


    This can be a story that for me started within the early Seventies. At a gathering, as I recall of the Society for Endocrinology, I used to be approached by just a little outdated woman. She had been despatched to speak to me by Alfred Cowie, later to turn into a very good pal, whom I learnt later she often badgered for info on the endocrine management of lactation. She mentioned to me one thing alongside the strains of, ‘All these persons are poisoning all of the infants in Britain by making up milk too sturdy. You realize one thing about milk osmolality and tonicity and issues, do not you?’. She defined that some moms and helpers crammed as a lot child components (already too wealthy in sodium) into the provided measuring scoop as potential within the perception of the extra meals the higher. When combined with the right quantity of water, the milk would have a a lot greater osmotic focus and presumably result in dehydration in addition to having a long-termdeleterious impact on a new child’s kidneys. Thus started a brief experiment through which I crammed as a lot child components right into a measuring scoop as potential to see simply how overconcentrated the milk might be made*.

    Mavis Gunther at a symposium on the
    Ciba Basis, London, 1965

    The little outdated woman was Mavis Gunther and I exploit the time period within the sense that in all sports activities and any card recreation it’s smart to watch out for the little outdated woman as a result of at tennis you’ll quickly be 6-0 down, at golf all her putts will drop and at playing cards or any board recreation you’ll be toast. Mavis requested pertinent questions, didn’t undergo fools, particularly her fellow clinicians and different well being professionals, gladly and had trenchant views on obstetric observe and the care of infants. She was annoyed by the angle of of her fellow physicians and, realising that information of lactation had very hardly ever come from that supply, that’s the reason at conferences she sought out those that have been finding out lactation funded in Britain, like most of mammalian reproductive biology, as a part of agricultural analysis.

    Because of our contact and dialog I requested her to offer a paper on human lactation and toddler feeding at a symposium I organised for the Zoological Society of London in November 1976. She was then 73 and I believe that was the final time we met.

    Shortly earlier than she sought me out, Mavis had written a e book, Toddler Feeding, revealed by Methuen in 1971. She then produced a revised version for a paperback revealed by Penguin in 1973. It was extremely influential and her views on mother-infant interactions are nonetheless referred to at this time. I bear in mind studying it on the time however within the Nineteen Nineties after I was extolling Mavis’s virtues and looking for a duplicate of the duvet with which as an instance a lecture, I couldn’t discover a second-hand copy. I needed to borrow a duplicate from the Nationwide Lending Library. The problem of getting maintain of the e book was talked about by contributors after I talked about Mavis at a seminar organised by the Wellcome Basis in 2007. Was it as a result of so many copies had been offered and held onto or had the print-run been inadequate to fulfill demand? Nevertheless, a few weeks in the past I discovered a duplicate of the Penguin version on the market and paid the £4.56 together with postage. It has solely taken 49 years.

    By now those that know something about reptiles might be asking the query that I requested 50 years in the past. Was she associated to the German-born Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf Günther FRS (1830-1914) of the Pure Historical past Museum in London? ‘Sure’, she replied, ‘He was my late husband’s grandfather’. Solely just lately have I found that her husband, Eustace Rolfe Gunther (often known as Rolfe), to whose reminiscence her e book was devoted, was a zoologist and that his demise was an totally tragic occasion amongst all of the tragedies in wartime Britain.

    Mavis Gunther (née Carr)

    Nevertheless, earlier than turning to Rolfe, I need to return to Mavis’s life. She was born Mavis Hilda Dorothea Carr on 17 June 1903 in Bromley, Kent. She was educated at Bedales Faculty after which Cambridge for pre-clinical drugs, graduating in 1925. She certified on the Royal Free Hospital, then within the centre of London in 1928. In 1929 she married Rolfe. In 1935 she was co-author of a paper on the genetics of epiloia (now often known as tuberous sclerosis) a uncommon situation. She was within the Analysis Division of the Royal Japanese Counties Establishment for the Mentally Faulty in Colchester working with Lionel Penrose (1898-1972, elected FRS in 1953). She had younger youngsters, born in 1930, 1933 and 1937. Described as being basically observe in 1939 Register (an emergency census), the Medical Listing for 1940 signifies that Mavis did numerous medical jobs round London, protecting actions from antenatal clinics to psychological illness. She was a neighborhood councillor within the late Thirties however resigned instantly after the demise of her husband.

    Inside weeks of Rolfe’s demise in 1940, she and the kids left Liverpool on board Canadian Pacific’s R.M.S. Duchess of Atholl which crossed the Atlantic unescorted after having arrived in convoy carrying Canadian troops. An article behind a ludicrously excessive paywall which I’ve solely seen partly, signifies {that a} posthumous letter from her husband urged her to hunt security for the kids in Canada. Associates apparently invited her to work within the Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology on the College of Toronto; whereas there she was supported by the the Banting Analysis Basis for analysis in human lactation. A few of her work she described in a paper within the Canadian Medical Affiliation Journal.

    Mavis’s daughter reported that they have been in Canada for 4 years. Someday earlier than 1946 she joined Robert Alexander McCance’s (1898-1953; FRS 1948) well-known group in Cambridge and its equally well-known mission to Wuppertal in Germany after the tip of the battle. McCance knew meals had been and could be quick in Germany and that varied specialists might examine the consequences of undernutrition and to assist the native inhabitants. As one of many specialists with earlier expertise, Mavis Gunther studied the quantity and composition of breast milk.

    At a while she was awarded the M.D. diploma by Cambridge.

    It seems that Mavis was a member of the Medical Analysis Council’s employees however I’ve not been capable of finding if this employment started with the Wuppertal mission or earlier. We do know although that in 1948 she was seconded the College Faculty Hospital, London, the place she was given lodging and amenities. She expanded a clinic for ladies with issues breastfeeding and it was recalled: ‘Mavis Gunther used to go spherical the ladies every day speaking to them about breastfeeding and breast issues. She was recognized, maybe irreverently, to most of the college students as “The Breast Queen”, however her work in her mild persuasive manner was invaluable to the moms within the days when components feeding was not very dependable. She helped 1000’s of infants within the first weeks of their lives and is remembered with affection by girls who had their infants throughout her reign’.

    The journalist Katharine Whitehorn (1928-2021) in her Foreword to Mavis’s e book wrote of her experiences within the maternity ward of College Faculty Hospital:

    Into this overheated environment there got here just one voice of utter kindness and sense: the Breast Woman, who got here calmly spherical and sorted us all out, and received an incredible many people fortunately established at breast feeding who might by no means in any other case have managed it.

    At some stage she should have moved from obstetrics to paediatrics and to a lecturer’s place. I believe she should have retired from College Faculty round 1972. I solely bear in mind writing to her at her dwelling deal with in Esher, Surrey.

    Mavis Gunther collaborated broadly in pursuit of enhancing toddler feeding and understanding the issues confronted by moms and infants, whereas gathering the proof on which recommendation needs to be based mostly. She was no breast-feeding zealot, arguing that mom’s should be free to decide on breast or bottle relying on their particular person circumstances. She revealed analysis on numerous subjects together with allergy symptoms to take advantage of, the potential causes of ‘cot demise’, comparisons of breast and bottle feeding, colostrum and milk as a supply of antibodies, mastitis, sore nipples, human milk composition, the usage of mineral components in milk components from totally different producers and breast pumps. In obstetrics she studied the switch of blood between child and placenta instantly after start. She careworn the significance of contemplating the mom and baby as a unit, and to be supported as such. She argued that the behavioural initiation of breast feeding isn’t an instinctive course of and that the mom wants some extent of instruction both by remark throughout life and/or by the assistance of household, pals, docs and midwives. She based mostly a part of that argument on following up early observations on Chimpanzees in captivity by contacting London Zoo and studying of their experiences within the Thirties and early Nineteen Forties which instructed that solely these introduced into captivity late succeeded in breast-feeding their younger.

    On the 1976 symposium on the Zoo I discussed above, she described her contacts with Geoffrey Marr Vevers (1890-1970) who, with a human obstetrician, described the start and rearing of the newborn chimp ‘Jubilee’ (named for George V’s 25 years on the throne) in 1935. Vevers, was then Superintendent and like Mavis, medically certified. Listening was Geoffrey Vevers’s son, Gwynne (1916-1988) who amongst his quite a few tasks on the Zoo had general cost, splendidly delegated, of scientific conferences and publications.

    Mavis Gunther died on 30 June 1997. She was buried alongside he husband, at Heacham, a city in Norfolk, not that removed from the place Rolfe was killed, the place his dad and mom had a home, and the place he was born.

    Rolfe Gunther

    Eustace Rolfe Gunther

    With a view to describe the tragic occasions which led to Eustace Rolfe Gunther’s demise, I’ve drawn on an account given by his daughter, Rosalind, for the Dictionary of Falklands Biography. Based on an article in a village journal recording her demise in 2021, aged 90, she did so as a result of the data are closed till 2040 and she or he believed there had been an official cowl up. Certainly, the stories of the inquest within the native press are perfunctory. I’ve additionally drawn on the obituary written by Alister (later Sir Alister) Hardy, who labored carefully with Rolfe, and my very own delvings into the happenings in a Norfolk village. That is what Rosalind wrote:

    …As a member of the Territorial Military he was referred to as up on the outbreak of battle and commissioned 2nd Lt within the 72nd Anti-aircraft Regt RA. In Could 1940 he was stationed close to North Walsham in Norfolk. When approaching Barton Turf on foot to verify that somebody was not signalling to the enemy at sea he referred to as at a cottage to learn his map and acquire instructions to the suspect home. The resident, a Particular Constable, directed him on foot, cycled to the home by one other route and borrowed a gun from the newly armed Residence Guard. Gunther reached the home. The Constable returned with some additional Residence Guard members and after asking Gunther at hand over his gun, by chance shot him within the higher leg.

    Rolfe Gunther bled to demise in Norwich hospital on 31 Could 1940.

    The native newspaper’s account of the inquest carried no element of the examination of witness, simply the conclusion of the native coroner: ‘died from a gunshot wound brought on by a rifle Inadvertently discharged’. 

    It doesn’t want a lot deductive energy to envisage the response within the first yr of the battle of the Particular Constable to the looks of an armed officer with a German surname at his door purportedly in search of a possible German spy. It could not have crossed his thoughts that the very last thing a German spy would possibly do could be to make use of a German surname. A Particular Constable, for these readers not within the U.Ok., is a part-time, unpaid voluntary police officer. I found to a level of amazement that the tiny village of Barton Turf had three particular constables in 1939 however it actually does seem to be the entire affair was coated up since, battle or no battle, whichever one of many three received issues so flawed, ought to have been charged with manslaughter.

    I can see why there have been different unanswered questions. For instance, why was Rolfe, an officer in a searchlight regiment (not anti-aircraft, as indicated above) investigating any person suspected of signalling to the enemy of sea? And by his motion won’t the zealous constable have tipped off the suspect that he was underneath investigation?

    So as to add to the tragedy, Mavis was referred to as by the police and drove to the hospital; when she arrived Rolfe had simply died.

    Hardy for an obituary in Nature wrote: ‘In 1937, distressed by Nice Britain’s unpreparedness for battle, Gunther joined the territorials as a sapper and was commissioned a yr later. On inquiry about the very best use a person of his coaching could be, he was suggested to enter the searchlight service, and his eager powers of remark have been of explicit use in coaching spotters’. His territorial unit was the thirtieth (Surrey) anti-aircraft battalion of the Royal Engineers (later transferred to the Royal Artillery), the unit through which, by coincidence, my father served from 1941). Gunther was commissioned within the 72nd Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery, in February 1939.

    Hardy within the obituary and in one other I believe he additionally wrote for The Occasions, praised his pal and colleague Gunther extremely:

    Educated at Winchester and Caius Faculty, Cambridge, he was appointed as zoologist in 1924 to be one of many unique members of the scientific employees of the Discovery Committee arrange by the Colonial Workplace to analyze the assets of the antarctic seas, notably in regard to the elements, organic and bodily, governing the good whale fisheries of these waters. 

    It was my privilege to be carefully related to Gunther on the R.R.S. Discovery on her voyage of 1925-27, on the smaller ship R.R.S. William Scoresby, and afterwards within the joint authorship of an intensive report upon the ecology of the antarctic plankton. He was a person of sterling qualities. Working with him day and night time, usually underneath the tough circumstances offered by the Southern Ocean, one was frequently impressed by his deep sense of responsibility, his devotion to his work, and his tireless power. His enthusiasm was at all times mixed with a scrupulous regard for accuracy: each within the subject and the working-up of information. After working on the nets and water-bottles for thirty-six hours on finish, apart from odd moments snatched for hurried meals, it was solely the worry of being inaccurate within the readings and recordings, not fatigue itself, which persuaded him to relaxation. He had a love of the ocean and the open life; he was an actual deep-water oceanographer, with the dedication to deliver again outcomes. 

    In 1931 on the R.R.S. William Scoresby, Gunther led a extremely profitable expedition to analyze the Peru Coastal Present (generally referred to as Humboldt’s Present) and revealed in 1936 a complete report on its bodily, chemical and organic features. Later he once more visited the Antarctic on a whale-marking expedition to review migrations, and made invaluable observations on the swimming and respiratory habits of whales (a paper now within the press). A lot of his time earlier than the Struggle was spent in engaged on the fabric collected throughout a trawling survey, partly carried out underneath his route, on the in depth banks mendacity between the Falkland Islands and South America. It’s to be hoped that each one the work he put into this may ultimately be revealed. 

    Along with his extensive pursuits in zoology and oceanography, Gunther was at all times delighted to document any uncommon pure phenomenon ; his latest letter in NATURE on the ice storm in Wiltshire is an instance of this. Color and surroundings have been an incredible pleasure to him, and he did splendid water-colour drawings, each sea and panorama, in addition to correct color research of marine animals. Many will treasure his privately printed “Notes and Sketches made throughout two years on the Discovery Expedition”. 

    It was attribute of Gunther’s capability for work that his lengthy depart after the 1925-27 expedition drugs within the College of Pennsylvania, on ought to have been spent within the Division of Biochemistry at Cambridge, endeavor researches on the fatty and vitamin content material of plankton (revealed in collaboration with G. Collin, J. C. Drummond [later Sir Jack who also died in tragic circumstances] and T. P. Hilditch). His revealed work, whereas in depth, isn’t any actual measure of his business. He was at all times being attracted by facet branches which he felt it his responsibility to discover, and solely when he had carried them a good distance did he notice he was being taken too removed from the primary problem; reluctantly they have been placed on one facet for some later obtainable time–alas, now no extra. 

    …He has been a worthy upholder of the custom set by his father, his grandfather, Dr. A.G.L.G. Gunther, F.R.S., and his great-uncle, Prof. W.C. Mcintosh, F.R.S. 

    In 1941 Eustace Rolfe Gunther was posthumously awarded the Polar Medal in Bronze for ‘good providers between the years 1925-1939 within the Royal Analysis Ships “Discovery II” and “William Scoresby”’


    Amongst the many individuals I’ve met Mavis Gunther was one of the vital memorable—and one of the vital price remembering.

    *About thirty years later I met a paediatrician at a gathering who knew of this work and I requested him if  overconcentration had proved to be an issue. He mentioned no, the toddler might cope. Nevertheless, I now discover that there have been circumstances of dehydration linked to overconcentrated child components and I see all types of warning about making up the powders correctly.