In Memoriam: John Edwin Kneen (BVSc 1954)
(b) 1929, (q) 1954, Died 11 June 2022
John Edwin Kneen was born in the gentle glow of an oil lamp on Burns Night of January 1929, the youngest of three surviving children, at Ballacorkish, a 60-acre hill farm complete with a disused Lead Mine in the South of the Isle of Man near the last area where the language of Manx was spoken. Farming in these parts was often subsistence. One winter, 30 store cattle yielded a combined profit of 1-/6d at which point John’s elder brother Tom restructured the farm and his mother declared that John was not to become a farmer.
By the paraffin lamp, Maud made sure that John applied himself to his studies resulting in his securing a scholarship for a free education at King William’s College. John left school for National Service joining the Ordnance Corp as an Ammunition Examiner preparing shells being sent to assist Greece in their civil war. On occasion John and colleagues would go fishing on the River Severn – using explosives to stun the fish.
John was granted early release to go to Liverpool University, qualifying as a veterinary surgeon in late 1954. One of his lecturers knew of an excellent vet living in Arbroath, Linton, Archie Robertson, who was looking for a new assistant. Archie was a bearded giant who spent the summer as Robert the Bruce on horseback in the Annual Abbey Pagent. John had arrived in what for him was an agricultural paradise. Cherry Blossom, a famous line of Aberdeen Angus, were worth more at birth than a large family house – it was the boom years for the breed, they were exported worldwide, and an exciting, perhaps stressful, time to be the “new” vet with a family audience at each calving. (He had a cylinder of oxygen in order that the calves got a supercharged first breath). Archie agreed to a host of changes including one vet working at weekends and, a novel idea for the time, holidays. However, on some veterinary ideas they were not aligned, so at the end of 1956 John left for a job with partnership prospects amongst the Cheshire dairy herds at Alsager.
The Alsager partnership was not as John planned, rather it is where he met his wife-to-be, Maureen. His head spinning, in love, he took a short break to re-visit his Arbroath flatmates and Archie Robertson who was having problems with his new “new” assistant. John returned to Alsager with an offer from Archie of a veterinary partnership knowing that he had to now secure a “life” partnership with Maureen. By November 1957, less than a year from their first meeting, John and Maureen were married and setting up home in Arbroath at Hill House where they remained for the rest of their lives and sons Quintin and Marcus were born.
John liked challenges. Though shy, he had a quick, impish mind which revelled in sorting problems or inventing solutions. John served the Arbroath community for 43 years until he took retirement, which resulted in the towns’ first three vets Wallace, Robertson and Kneen having a combined service of 100 years.
John who was direct, short on words, and expected everyone to be quick on the uptake, found teaching a challenge (or so his sons say); however, the family meals were accompanied by stories from the farms, pets or people John had met that day. As they grew older the boys were taught how to make fireworks – a vet’s house had all the chemicals and kit required. The former Arbroath Infirmary X-ray machine could be repurposed to check progress through pregnancy of their pet hamsters and rabbits.
Maureen and John worked together as they built and expanded the practice. It was a 24/365 business; animals and their owners could contact any time of day of night, and they did, but John never complained.
One of the stories of which John was most proud was the story which hit press and TV both here and abroad in 1997. Megan MacFarlane, a three-year-old, was enjoying a summer ice cream when a dog unfortunately also went for the ice cream, resulting in Megan losing her upper lip. The dog’s owners wanted it put down. John asked if anyone had found Megan’s lip. “No, Megan’s in an ambulance heading to Dundee” was the response. “I know where the lip might be” said John and subsequently the dog’s stomach contents were emptied and the missing lip found. The surgeon at Dundee performed a UK first, re-attaching tissue recovered from an animal’s stomach. Megan’s lip was grafted successfully and they met a couple of times over the years. A high point to a career to give a little girl her smile back.
After Maureen’s death in 2021, John was disciplined in his daily routines whether the maths puzzles or the 30 minutes of physio exercises. To celebrate his 93rd birthday in January he walked 2 miles. He visited the National Museum of Flight taking his photo beside the 8-seater De Havilland Rapide – the first plane he’d flown in from the Isle of Man to Liverpool for £5 He re-started tying flies for his fishing and on the 8th of March got back to what he loved, standing in the river in his waders, fly fishing. Fishing was his passion including designing and making his own flies and rods. He also made an effort to visit someone every day, usually armed with his homemade jam or marmalade. Often saying “they need a visit”.
John filled his life caring for others and his patients which he did with skill, kindness, generosity and good humour.
For John dying from exhaustion at 93 would be just fine and that’s what he did, but to die from boredom that was certainly not for him.
Sebastian J D Daly BVSc CertAVP(GSAS) PgCert MRCVS