“A sense of duty” was Dr Nick Maurice’s immediate response when asked what provoked the indomitable task of penning an autobiography. But, “a sense of duty to write a history of the Marlborough Brandt Group and the partnership that we set up in 1982 between Marlborough and the predominantly Muslim community of Gunjur in The Gambia” he explained, emphasising the importance of the link between the two cultures and how that has driven his life.
It’s a rich and substantial work, 420 pages charting the history of the Marlborough / Gunjur relationship but also offering an insight into Dr Nick’s early years (born, raised, educated and worked in Marlborough), his early experiences working in remote areas of the world and the inspiration that fired his determination to bring the Marlborough Brandt Group into existence.
The Marlborough Brandt Group is at Dr Nick’s core, and central to his autobiography. He told me: “The signs on the main roads entering Marlborough which declare ‘Marlborough Linked to Gunjur in The Gambia’ are a signal of its importance to the community and this needs to be recorded for historical reasons if no others.”
“The link with Gunjur has, over 38 years, seen five Marlborough Mayors, one MP (Claire Perry), three Rectors, several of the GPs and many other members of the Marlborough community spend time in that community always living with families there and experiencing on the one hand a high level of poverty with no access to electricity, clean, piped water or proper sanitary conditions and yet meeting a very high level of ‘social wealth’ embraced with hugely warm and generous welcomes and hospitality.
The partnership with Gunjur has seen the exchange of some 1,950 predominantly young people between the two communities. Many of those who came from Gunjur to live and work with us in Marlborough are now in senior positions in both the public and private sectors in The Gambia and many from St John’s School and Marlborough College who spent a gap year teaching in Gunjur or went there as a member of a team, getting involved in, for example, building a classroom block for the primary school or a fence around a women’s vegetable garden, went on to become involved in international development work.”
Why The Gambia, why Gunjur?
It was, as the Group’s name implies (West) Germany’s Chancellor, Willy Brandt and his 1980 report ‘North South – A Programme for Survival’ that inspired the creation of The Marlborough Brandt Group thirty eight years ago.
A charismatic leader, deeply concerned about the huge inequalities in the world and the disparity between the wealthy Northern countries of Europe and America and the poor countries of the South, Africa, Asia, Latin America etc., Brandt produced a report that looked at some of the solutions to this disparity. One solution was the building of partnerships for mutual learning between communities in the North and South.
Dr Nick explains: “A group of us in Marlborough, most of whom had at some time worked internationally, agreed that we should follow up Willy Brandt’s recommendation and we wrote letters to the High Commissioners in London of ten different countries based on proximity – we wanted a country reasonably close that would not cost a lot to reach; on language – we wanted a country in which English was spoken, i.e. a Commonwealth country; a country which was reasonably politically stable i.e. not a country involved in a civil war! It was the High Commissioner for The Gambia, Hon Abdoulie Bojang who responded with the greatest enthusiasm to our letter explaining that we wanted to form a partnership with a community in his country – a partnership based not on “we want to help the poor people in your country” but rather “we think that through an exchange programme we may have as much to learn from the people of your country as they may have to learn from us.” – The rest is history!”
Dr Nick Maurice’s life is about far more than his relationship with Africa and the developing world. ‘Never Doubt…’ charts his time in Marlborough, his role as a GP in the family practice whose history stretched back six generations since to when his great, great, grandfather arrived in Marlborough as a doctor in 1792 “We were in the Guinness Book of Records for having practised medicine in the same community for more generations than any other family”.
His book also charts
and his experiences abroad (starting at the age of eighteen, working a passage on a liner from Liverpool to Lagos). Whilst in West Africa he taught English in neighbouring Togo for a year (in a francophone school) living with an African, Muslim family.
Later, while a medical student at St Mary’s Hospital in London he took 15 months out from studies to work as a medical assistant in a remote community, Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea where cannibalism was still being practised (he ‘suspects’ that his white skin rendered him particularly unattractive and indigestible!) and infant mortality rates from meningitis, whooping cough, cretinism and malnutrition were extremely high.
Before returning to settle down in Marlborough as a family GP in 1977 Dr Nick spent, with his wife Kate and their (then) 15 month old daughter, 18 months working in the field of tuberculosis control in Ilam a remote Hindu community in Nepal. This was thanks to Dr Barney Rosedale who was instrumental in setting up the Britain Nepal Medical Trust and was later to become a fellow partner in the Marlborough medical practice.
Even after settling down as a family GP, the need to venture abroad returned and in 1980, three years after joining the Marlborough practice (and, he notes “thanks to my partners in the Marlborough surgery”), he took four months out to work with Oxfam’s emergency team in Cambodia, immediately following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot by the Vietnamese. This was in many ways a turning point in his life when experiencing the aftermath of the ‘Killing Fields’ in which almost 2 million people died of starvation or were murdered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
“I found that recording all these experiences and going back over my life was in some ways quite ‘therapeutic'” Dr Nick explained, when asked if the two and a half years of the writing process had in any way changed the way he looked at his life.
‘Never Doubt…’ is, as noted above a substantial but very rich catalogue of a unique life. “I felt it was worth recording all these experiences for my grandchildren, if nobody else!” Other than the many historians who will undoubtedly use this as a source of both reference and insight into Marlborough life, but also on the relationship between the UK and the developing world in the decades straddling the millennium.
“Never Doubt…” will be available at £18 from the White Horse Bookshop which is re-opening on Monday 15 June. To reserve a copy please contact the White Horse Bookshop at email@example.com.
For every copy sold £2 will go to Oxfam and £2 to VSO, the organisations which had a major influence on Dr Nick’s life.