Madeleine Sharp obituary: Doctor and peace campaigner who worked tirelessly for humanitarian causes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

 

Had the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan, not made grants available for the poor to train as doctors, Madeleine Sharp would have remained a nurse. It was the support she received to study at Edinburgh University Medical School that began her international career as a practical Christian Socialist, peace campaigner, inner-city GP and medical aid-worker to the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

At her funeral at her parish church in Coventry, the Vietnamese Ambassador, Fo Kwan Min, said that she represented the best that Britain had given to the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. “We are thankful for such a wonderful person,” he said. “She touched my life with her devotion for over 50 years – first as a peace activist and then organising medical aid.”

Madeleine Agnes Sharp was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1920. At school she developed a photographic memory; even in retirement she could recite all the poems and songs she had been taught. Her parents could not afford to pay for her to train as a doctor, so she served during the Second World War in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Her experiences in India convinced her to look at practical ways in which  Christianity could be used to better the majority.

The NHS grant enabled her to graduate from Edinburgh University Medical School. She became a GP at an inner-city practice in Coventry and stayed there for over 30 years, retiring as the senior partner.

Sharp was never afraid to stand up for the poor and downtrodden, whether it was fighting for better food in hospitals, opposing production-line maternity wards where babies were routinely induced to make life easier for the consultants, and opposing US involvement in Vietnam. In 1965 she joined the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam, which later became the Medical & Scientific Aid to Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia. Sharp served as Hon Secretary from 1987-2009. She could persuade even the most cynical journalist to take an interest in their work: those sparkling blue eyes and sense of humour quickly got most peoples’ support.

A major problem for her committee was the number of people who had lost legs due to stepping on land mines. Western technology was too expensive, but Sharp came across a limb that was easy to make in a low-technology environment. She was happy to show “before” and “after” films to anyone who expressed the slightest interest. The sight of a one-legged man being fitted with one of these prosthetic limbs and then jumping on his bike usually convinced everyone.

Sharp also worked with the Vietnamese government to reduce the high rates of infant mortality, improve medical training and see how traditional treatments could work alongside Western medicine.

Sharp was awarded the MBE for her work defending human rights and humanitarian causes in Southeast Asia. She was a leading member of the Lord Mayor’s Peace Committee and attracted international speakers to give the annual Peace Lecture in Coventry, including Ted Heath, Mo Mowlam and Harold Wilson. She was also awarded the Vietnamese Government’s Order of Friendship in 1992, the Coventry Peace Prize in 2004 and the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Order of Merit in 2013.

Chris Youett  

Madeleine Agnes Sharp, general practitioner and peace campaigner: born Newcastle upon Tyne 13 July 1920; MBE 2002; died Coventry 7 January 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk