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Newbury to host family of first man ever treated with penicillin at Newtown Road Cemetery

Descendents of the first person in the world to be treated with penicillin are visiting Newbury this week to see his final resting place.

Newbury Town Council unveiled a blue plaque in 2021 to remember Albert Alexander, a local police constable born in Woodley in 1897 who became the first man ever to be treated with penicillin.

Photo of Albert Alexander, the first person to be treated with penicillin
Photo of Albert Alexander, the first person to be treated with penicillin

And in an exciting development, surviving descendents of Mr Alexander are visiting Newbury from the United States to see their ancestor’s plaque at Carnarvon Place in Andover Road — site of the former Newbury District Hospital — and his final resting place at Newtown Road Cemetery.

Sheila LeBlanc, the 90-year-old daughter of Mr Alexander, and her daughter Linda Williason are visiting Newbury tomorrow (Thursday) at 11am.

But Mr Alexander’s significant contribution to modern medicine was not always known to his family.

An article written in 2018 by professor of biochemical parasitology at the University of Glasgow, Mike Barrett, states: "It wasn't until the 1960s that Sheila's family discovered the role of Albert Alexander in the footnotes of medical history, when a German journalist appeared at Edith Alexander's [his wife] doorstep asking for a photograph of penicillin's first patient.”

During 1940, research was under way for a pioneering new drug known as penicillin.

Numerous experiments had been carried out on animals with some success, but scientists decided to risk a clinical trial.

And their subject would be none other than a young constable from the Berkshire Constabulary.

Mr Alexander joined the force in 1921 and served in Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford and Brimpton from 1923 to 1929.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was stationed at Wootton in Bedford.

On the evening of November 23, 1940, Mr Alexander was among 30 men called to support police in Southampton during enemy bombing.

A police station took a direct hit, killing a sergeant and injuring two constables, including Mr Alexander.

After treatment, Mr Alexander was transferred to Abingdon Cottage Hospital where he developed blood poisoning.

He was moved to the Radcliffe Infirmary Oxford, where it was agreed he would be injected with penicillin, which started in February 1941.

The drug improved his condition, but a limited supply caused him to relapse and die a month later on March 15, 1941, aged 44.

An article announcing Mr Alexander’s death in the Newbury Weekly News read: “He had 20 years service in the Berkshire Constabulary and was a most popular officer.

“PC Alexander leaves a widow and two children, with whom the utmost sympathy is felt.

“Police officers from all parts of the county attended the funeral, which took place yesterday (Wednesday) at the Newtown Road Cemetery, Newbury, where a service was conducted by the Rev A A H Radice.”

But the period leading up to Mr Alexander’s tragic death revealed a crucial detail — the drug worked.

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