Bernard McSherry OVC ‘42
Ontario Veterinary College
Interviewed by John H (Tim) Lumsden OVC’ 60
TL: Can we begin with some background Bern regarding yourself?
BM: My name is Bernard McSherry. I was born in 1918 in Winnipeg. In 1933 or 1934 moved to Toronto where I finished high school. I was born during the depression and, only marginally affected by this, I was aware of the dire problems facing many families. This period had a profound influence on my outlook on life. My experience was urban rather than rural. Trying to find work during the depression made me aware of the necessity to obtain further education and led me to investigate the OVC in Guelph. I registered in OVC in the fall of 1938 and returned during the 1939 session when the Second World War had started.
The Class of 1942 had about 60 students. Five or six were Americans and one was from the West Indies. My classmates were from across Canada from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. Two were women, one from America and one from Ontario. As a group, we got along well and became a unit.
TL: Can you tell us a little about campus life and activity?
BM: The veterinary students did not live on campus or residences but for the most part lived in boarding houses in Guelph, usually two students renting a room. I lived with one roommate, Ross Walton from Alberta, for all four years. We variably ate at Mason’s Café which is still existing as a store on the corner of College Avenue and Gordon Street. We also ate at the cafeteria in the OAC administration building. Renting rooms and eating out was relatively inexpensive. Tuition fees were $100 a year. Most of us had little money but we managed to get along. Only one or two students in my year had a car and these were old models. The various years would have a dance in a room now occupied by the OVC library.
The head of OVC was Dr McGilvary. There were about 10 to 12 other faculty members. These were Drs. Schofield, Jones, Batt, Kingscote, Bain, Ingram and Glover. These faculty were men with not extensive postgraduate degrees but they were keen to impart their experience gained over many years. They taught the basics well and turned out veterinarians who served the public well.
The war had a profound effect on students. Prior to 1939 we lived a pleasant life of study and pleasure. After this we were profoundly aware that we were a country at war. All of us found ourselves on parade after lectures. We were led by some of the faculty carrying wooden guns. We would go through maneuvers, route marches, etc. Some of us joined the Canadian Officers Training Corp attending lectures to familiarize us with military life. At the end of the school year there would be a two-week training camp where we would be taught by professional soldiers. As the war progressed the campus changed. A training station for Air-force wireless training crews took over much of the campus and the buildings. Gradually one or two of your classmates would not return and you would realize they had joined either the army or the air force.
TL: As university life was drawing to a close there were obvious decisions to be made prior to joining the armed forces. Can you tell us about this?
BM: Well Tim, it so happens that as we finished exams we were obliged to go to another army training camp outside of London, Canada. There, three of us, George Boyce, Jim Schroeder and myself, let it be known that we were likely interested in joining the permanent army for the duration of the war. We were sent back to our homes until convocation and graduation in Toronto. Following convocation, we waited until informed we were to report to join the army. We were then moved to various training camps, one being Brockville and then to Petawawa, a training camp for officers in the artillery. We trained about three months as artillery officers. On New Year’s Day in 1942 we boarded a train for New York to catch a boat to England. We arrived in England and were transported by train to a little town where there was a huge army camp and it was called Borden. I don’t know whether the town of Borden in Ontario was named after this Borden, or vice versa. We were there for about three weeks when suddenly George and Jim suddenly disappeared and I only found out after a few days that they had been sent to Africa where they were joining the first Canadian division and being involved in the invasion of Italy.
I was sent to become a subaltern of the 12th Field Regiment of the Canadian Artillery. I was assigned to the 16 Battalion of the 12th Field Regiment which strangely was the Battery from Guelph, Ontario. In no way was this planned for me to be assigned to a Guelph regiment. We were stationed near Brighton, England. I found there were several veterinarians or veterinary students, some of whom had been in my class but had quit early to join the army. We moved from Brighton to Bournemouth, England. The reason was that we were to change from our 25 pounders to American self-propelled guns in preparations for D-day operations. We did a lot of training around the Bournemouth region and then were moved to Southampton region where we waited until we could load our guns unto landing craft tanks to sail across the Channel to France. Our job was to proceed ahead of the infantry and to fire our guns onto the shore to help them to make their landing, which we did.
TL: There are a number of stories regarding the deceptions devised to fool the Germans where the landing was to take place. Also, the weather was a factor. You were probably sitting around for days without knowing what was happening.
BM: We were reasonably well informed. We went into a camp which was surrounded by barbed wire. Nothing much happened there. We knew that we were going to be loaded any day. There were several bombing raids on top of us while we were there but none of us were damaged at all. We were then given orders to move down the Channel. We loaded our guns unto the landing craft tanks and were ready to set sail. You are right Tim, the weather was changing. They postponed it once. It was uncertain if we were going to go the next day. The day after that we did set sail about noon time for France. It took us all night to get there from England but finally we lined up facing the French Coast and began to fire proceeding ahead of the infantry as they headed to shore.
TL: Bern, those were very exciting times, but in retrospect times you would probably prefer to forget. When you think about the influence it had on history it is quite remarkable. Your time in Europe was probably much less comfortable than the time in basic training in Brighton. How long were you involved in travelling with your group into Germany?
BM: Well Tim talking about landing, we landed on D-Day outside of the little village of Courseulles. Again, this is rather strange, as one the chaps who joined me at OVC in 1938 was killed not very far from where I was during the landing. He had left the University, joined the army and was in a recognizant unit. He was one of the first persons I knew that was killed in that adventure.
From there we went up the coast of France trying to clean out the areas where Germans were sending buzz bombs to the English shores doing a great deal of damage to England, and people in London in particular. From there we moved into areas of Belgium and Holland finally ending up spending Christ mas in Nijmegen. Again, we were trying to clear the port to Antwerp to allow supplies to be brought up the channel. From Nijmegen, we followed the Dutch side of the Rhine down to a spot where we could cross the Rhine into Germany. From there we turned towards the North Sea. We were halfway to the North Sea when we were returned to Holland to help free the Dutch people from hunger and persecution. Shortly after that we moved back into Germany and were not there very long before the war ended.
TL: Remarkable story. How long before you were returned to civilian life and how did that take place?
BM: The war ended in May, 1945. We returned to England in the fall of 1945. I married my wife in London at that time. I was able to returned to Canada by Christmas in 1945.
TL: I take it that you knew Barbara before the D-day landings.
BM: Yes, I had known Barbara almost from when we landed. George, Jim and I used to go into London and frequent the Overseas Club and that is where I met Barbara.
TL: Did she come to Canada with you?
BM: She didn’t get to Canada until about six months later.
TL: Did you return directly to the College?
BM: I returned to the College to see what was going on then. I was offered a chance to join the faculty of the Ontario Veterinary College working in the Department of Anatomy, which I did. I joined the Department under Dick Brown. I was there for about six months and decided that was not my preference and was able to join the Department of Pathology.
TL: What did the Department of Pathology consist of then and did you, or someone else, knowing where you ended up, convince you of the addition of laboratory medicine to pathology?
BM: Yes, I liked the idea of working with clinicians dealing with sick animals and thinking that I could help them know more about the animal’s illness by running tests and this was called ‘clinical pathology’. I began initially with haematology and later became interested in clinical chemistry. I was allowed to operate as an offshoot of pathology and gather a group of people with similar interest in clinical pathology.
TL: You did an internship. Was it at that time or later?
BM: The best clinical pathologist at that time was a man named David Coffin at Boston and I went down and worked with him for a while. I came back and tried to organize a more typical type of clinical pathology group. It was tough going at times but we eventually did get a group interested. It was particularly lucky that we did get individuals like Ted Valli and Tim Lumsden and together we did put together a reasonable clinical pathology group.
TL: You are being kind Bern because you put in many years of effort, thought and development to allow that to occur. Can you go back to the subject of ‘McSherry’s Solution’ and how that occurred? Colleges around the continent talk about McSherry’s solution and in clinical practice we used McSherry’s solution. Can you tell us how that developed?
BM: As I said I was interested in haematology and how that might benefit the clinician diagnosing sick animals. Later I became interested in clinical chemistry. I had heard how many infants with diarrhoea were dying due to upset in acid base balance and pH and this could be corrected by giving them the lost materials with the correct solutions. We decided to measure what they were losing and what might be needed to replace what they were missing and made up solutions that could be given to calves, mainly young calves with scours and miraculously it worked. These animals were dying and when their acid base was corrected they survived.
TL: You mentioned some anecdotal stories regarding the skepticism you encountered?
BM: A lot of people didn’t think this was a very worthwhile procedure. Perhaps I didn’t either. A clinician let me try it out on a couple of calves and it worked very well. One clinician passing by in the old gray barn to do some work shook his head as though we were wasting our time treating this very sick calf. When he came back the calf that was lying down out cold was standing and walking around. It didn’t impress too many but it worked.
TL: While in practice we certainly use gallons of that solution which was marketed as proionate by Saunders company.
BM: I guess that was what was done. I have a bottle of that at home.
TL: Another story I heard relates to the Chairman of Pathology suggesting that you should do something that the clinical pathologist did at Cornell.
BM: The Head of Pathology at that time was Larry Smith. Larry and I were good friends and we got along well. Larry did his PhD at Cornell. He became interested and was a friend of the clinical pathologist who happened to come from a wealthy family and who bought his own equipment for the laboratory. Larry thought that maybe I should do the same but that didn’t go over too well.
TL: While I was in practice I frequently thought back to statements you made to us as students. I found myself doing titrations for blood urea while eating my lunch. They were rather cumbersome procedures weren’t they.
BM: Really, what we were doing was adapting tests used in human medicine to veterinary medicine. A lot of the tests were very simple for specific diseases and they helped make a diagnosis for these diseases.
TL: It was interesting how you made associations with sedimentation and illnesses and how this led you to study fibrinogen as an inflammatory protein, essentially placing you ahead of the pack studying inflammatory proteins.
BM: I would suggest ahead of the veterinary but not the human field. There was a very good article published a couple of decades previously showing that red cells sediment faster from individuals with inflammation or malignancy. The work was done by an individual in Denmark who did a lot of work and concluded that this was due to an increase in plasma fibrinogen and a decrease in plasma albumin resulting in a faster rate of red cell sedimentation. This was hard to relate to horses and cattle. A healthy horse has a very fast red cell sedimentation rate whereas red cells from very sick and dying cattle have a very slow rate of sedimentation. What we did was measure the fibrinogen level in cattle and see whether the fibrinogen levels increased when they were sick. They did increase fibrinogen levels very rapidly but there was not the expected increased rate of red cell sedimentation. One could obtain the same indications by measuring fibrinogen levels directly in cattle.
TL: Bern it appeared that you read widely. You had one little yellow book on your shelf that directed my career when I came back from practice to do some graduate work. It was written by Niels Soderstrum from Lund, Sweden, on fine needle aspiration cytology. It appeared to me to be an aid of great potential use in veterinary medicine so I thank you for that. Your reputation as a hematologist was widespread. You were early involved in the American Society of Clinical Pathology. You saw that as an opportunity to get together and share information and experiences. It certainly provided Ted and myself an opportunity to meet clinical pathologists who were publishing papers and textbooks. It was different than the American Veterinary Pathology group. Can you discuss the difference?
BM: Clinical pathology means different things to different people. To some clinical pathology includes hematology, clinical chemistry and microbiology. We started out in haematology and clinical chemistry but never did microbiology which was well serviced in OVC by microbiologists. Cornell University clinical pathologists were very active in microbiology. I became aware that David Coffin and others were interested in forming a group of clinical pathologists. I was not one of the initial organizers but very early became involved and watched it grow from a small group to a very large active society.
TL: You mention that the American College of Veterinary Pathologists organized differently and set up a rigorous examination required to become a member. You were invited to become an Honorary Member which is quite an honour.
BM: Well I can tell you that Ted Valli and Tim Lumsden, who each became Board Certified in the American College of Veterinary Pathology, probably put me up for consideration and pushed this through.
TL: I can tell you Bern, there was very little resistance or effort involved in obtaining your acceptance as an Honourary Member. I believe there is an award associated which we will include with this interview. Can we go back to this University when you returned from the war? What was the atmosphere and size of the College, the relationship of faculty and students as it must have been quite different?
BM: When I came back the OVC was undergoing a lot of reorganization. There were 12 faculty, many were war veterans. Many students were war veterans who knew what they wanted. Some younger faculty members became involved. George Boyce and Jim Schroeder became faculty members for a period. The situation was that human and veterinary medicine were advancing and there was a lot of building going on. More and younger faculty with training were hired. Prior to that you had experience but not necessarily advanced training. There were about 10-12 faculty members when I was a student and I understand now the whole pathology department probably has three times as many.
TL: When you look back what would you consider to be the more significant changes that have taken place?
BM: I think having graduate students studying problems which needed to be studied in veterinary medicine. Having graduate students required research funds which allowed problems of interest to be studied. This kind of work attracted individuals from other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain to come to Guelph to see what was going on and for many to stay and work. It was kind of like a metamorphosis. It was bound to happen and it was going on in many other professions, I am sure, but it was the younger people and the better trained people and people like Larry Smith who insisted that we should do more than just train students to become veterinarians but in addition to train postgraduate students in veterinary medicine.
TL: You always impressed me on your ability to ask probing questions. Also, your ability and patience in sorting through piles of records filtering out information. Nowadays epidemiologist like to be able to use computerized records to do the same. You spent hours sorting through these records to obtain information to assist in interpretation of laboratory tests. Where did that inspiration come from Bern?
BM: Well it came from the fact that we were doing a lot of tests on animals, cattle, horses and pet animals, mainly dogs and cats. We were providing a lot of data. It seemed useful to find out if the data was useful in helping diagnose disorders. I admit that didn’t work out too well. You had to have good records allowing comparison of the data and outcome of the animal’s disorder. The record keeping was not that reliable as to clinical diagnoses. I had to go through many records to attempt to put this together.
TL: I was visiting the IT department recently. I understand they are instituting a new software program which is supposed to improve limitations. I remember back in early 80’s when our learning was almost logarithmic. We were entering our laboratory data without corresponding clinical data. We were still able to examine relationships within laboratory data. The original intent was to include clinical and pathology data but this still has not happened. Until it does we will still be doing a lot of ‘supposing’ as to what these laboratory test mean.
BM: That is very true. That is what worried me for many years and still worries me. It has to start with the person looking at the sick animal and keeping a record as to what happens. Unfortunately, in veterinary medicine we treat animals up to a certain point and then it is not worthwhile treating them further and they are disposed of losing opportunity for follow up.
TL: Bern, we have covered a fair bit of material, some more superficial than intended, but since your retirement almost 20 years ago and you reflect on your career you must feel comfortable in what you have accomplished.
BM: I think the things I am most proud and pleased about are the people I worked with, the technicians, the people who ran the pathology department and the people who came to work with me, particularly you and Ted Valli, people who far outstripped what we could have done on our own. We were a group of people very happy to work on the things we liked to do. Your work and Ted Valli’s work brought us out of the dark ages. It made it worthwhile in the field of clinical pathology.
TL: It was the environment and the probing questions that you asked that stimulated us to try to come up with some answers.
BM: When you didn’t have answers yourself you asked other people. That is why I probed.
BM: In regards to your retirement, how have you used your time and ability to maintain such a positive attitude?
BM: I have had good friendships. When you go through life you have high school friendships, I had friends in the army but when I came back to the University I made many great friends with faculty and the people who worked with the faculty that was unbelievable and these people have contributed to my life before and after retirement. I think one of the things that I enjoy is going out to lunch with people I worked with once a week and visiting with them.
TL: I consider it an honour and a privilege to have been one of your students, a colleague, and then a fellow retiree.
Bern, thank you very much for taking the time to do this.