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William Hofmeyr Craib

William Hofmeyr Craib was born in Somerset East in 1895, into a family where education was looked upon, not as a right but a privilege, and higher learning a goal for which to strive with determination.

His mother, Isabella (nee Hofmeyr) was a grand-daughter of the famous Rev. Andrew Murray, a young Scottish man who was chosen as one of Lord Charles Somerset's newly qualified ministers to be sent to Holland to learn the Dutch language before sailing for South Africa in 1822 to serve the Dutch Reformed Church in the Cape Province. His grand-daughter, Isabella, was one of the first women graduates in South Africa when she obtained her BA Degree at Gill College, Somerset East.


Professor James Craib came from Scotland to teach Mathematic, Physics, Greek and Latin at Gill College. In due course he and his brilliant pupil, Isie Hofmeyr, were married. Their first-born, William, or Don as he came to be known, followed in his parents' footsteps. His school years at Gill College were scholastically noteworthy, and he matriculated with the highest marks in the Cape Colony, with exceptionally high marks for Greek.


A Gill Bursary enabled him to study engineering at the South African College in Cape Town, where he passed his BA Degree with honours in Maths, Applied Maths and Physics, and was awarded the Jameson Bursary for post-graduate study overseas. However, the outbreak of World War I intervened, and he served under General Botha in the South-West African campaign.


On his return from active service he was offered and accepted a post as lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. The thought of what was happening to others of his generation in the trenches of Flanders and France at that time however made him resign from the post.


In 1915 he sailed for England and enlisted in the London Territorial Regiment of the British Army. He transferred to the Royal Field Artillery, was seconded to a Trench Mortar Battery and send some two and a half years in trench warfare.


In 1919, he was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to study medicine. The entered Guys Hospital, London for clinical training. He was awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship in 1925 for medical research at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, USA. Based on his earlier training as an engineer, Craib made a discovery about the electrical impulses of the heart. It was put before medical councils, but as it was with most forward thinking theories, it was treated with scorn. It was only in 1970, that world authorities investigated and decided that his paper of 1925 had indeed propounded an entirely new discovery, and that anything produced later was actually founded on Craib's work. Professor Shamroth, recognised as one of the greatest authorities on cardiology argued that Dr Craib's discovery had warranted the award of a Nobel Prize and said it was not unusual for discoveries that ran counter to accepted knowledge at any period of history to fail to win recognition.

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