Updated: Apr 24, 2020
To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp on the 15th of April, Historyeye charts the life and family tree of a little-known Irish doctor who was one of the first medics on the scene, Doctor Patrick Joseph Fox. There were at least three Irish doctors working on the ground after Bergen-Belsen’s liberation in April 1945. All were serving members of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The three were Frank Waldron (Galway) Arthur Oram (Cork) and Patrick Joseph Fox (Dublin). P.J. Fox was one of the first doctors to be caught on camera in Pathé News' reports from Belsen. His brief interview occurs between 4.20-5.38 minutes on the newsreel. Patrick Joseph Fox was born at Holles Street Hospital, Dublin, on October 24th, 1910. He was the eldest child of Mary Teresa Fox (née Enright) a qualified nurse, and John Fox, a postmaster stationed for a time at Longford and later at Ballina, Co. Mayo. The family moved to Dublin in the early 1920s on account of John Fox's poor health. They opened a private hotel at No. 14 Lower Leeson Street, just off St. Stephen's Green. The hotel was also the family home. After John Fox’s death in 1932, Mary Teresa continued to run the hotel until her death in 1952. She was aided in this by one of her twin daughters, Florence (Florrie) until the 1960s. Her other twin daughter was Mary Bernadette who took a BA and H. Dip. at University College Dublin before going on to teach in Slough. In 1938 Mary Bernadette married Michael Boland, Solicitor, brother of Frederick Boland, and moved to Skibbereen, Co Cork. Mary Bernadette’s closest friend at school and University was the author Mary Lavin, who was a frequent visitor to Fox’s Hotel. P.J. Fox’s only other sibling was John Bernard Fox who qualified in Medicine from UCD in 1946, having spent some time in a sanatorium with TB. He specialized in Radiography and spent most of his career in Sligo.
P.J. Fox studied medicine at UCD and graduated in 1934. In 1937 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to the British Military Hospital in Lucknow, India. There he met and married, on the 28th of February 1940, Nancy Kirkpatrick (1911-1962), a nurse from Co. Antrim and a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.
After the couple returned to the U.K. in 1943, P.J.Fox undertook a Hygiene Specialist course in London. He entered Belsen on 15th April 1945 in command of No 30 Field Hygiene Section, responsible for preventing the spread of disease in the camp and decontaminating patients afflicted with Typhus. This process was unforgettably recorded in a film made in Belsen in late April 1945 named “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey”. It has been recently restored and reissued in a joint project by The Imperial War Museum in London and The British Film Institute. It makes riveting viewing, showing as it does the appalling conditions in the camp and the enormous task facing the hygiene section from providing clean water, food, clothes and medical care to decontaminating the camp by measures such as delousing patients, bedding and clothing and ultimately burning the camp huts to the ground.
P.J.Fox was part of the British Delegation to Berlin for the Conference of Allied Powers at Potsdam in July 1945. He retired from the army in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He went on to become Medical Officer for Health for East Cornwall district and was based at Liskeard where he lived until his retirement. Nancy died in June 1962 aged 51, after chronic illness.
In 1967 P.J. Fox married Elizabeth Minnie Taylor (née Norland) and continued to live in Liskeard with Liz and her daughter Lindsey until his death on the 25th of February 1992.
(Historyeye is indebted to Mary Polkinhorn as a key source of information in the writing of this article.)
Historyeye |14 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin. Former site of Fox's Hotel from the 1920s and home of P.J. Fox.