Lives of the fellows

John Victor Stewart Arlingham Davies

b.17 April 1917 d.27 June 1990
VRD BA BM BCh Oxon(1941) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1965)

John Davies was the son of Willoughby Arlingham Davies, a solicitor, the fourth generation of his profession. Previous Anglo-Welsh ancestors had followed the professions of Church and Army. In Cwrt-y-Gollen and its families (a Brecon Museum publication), A Raymond Hawkins wrote ‘ ... In Dr Johnson’s England, ... the Davies family took their place quite naturally in the circle of local aristocrats, and followed the prevailing fashion by placing their sons in the Church, the Law and the Army, ... the only professions worthy of gentlemen.’ John Davies was the first member of the family to break the mould.

He was born in Caerlon-on-Usk, Monmouthshire, and educated at Stoke House Preparatory School, Seaford; St Edward’s School, Oxford; Oriel College, Oxford, and the Middlesex Hospital, London, where he was Broderip scholar and a class and annual prize winner. After completing the post of house physician to T Izod Bennett [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.34] at the Middlesex, he was asked by the dean, H E A Boldero, later Sir Harold and Registrar to the College, [Munks Roll, Vol.V, p.43] to go to Wolverhampton as resident medical officer at the Royal Hospital, where he was to superintend the students from the Middlesex who were evacuated there. It was there he met that distinguished physician J Harold Sheldon [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.402] and S C Dyke [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.156], physician and pathologist to the diabetic clinic, who eventually became his early consultant colleagues.

His war service, as surgeon lieutenant and later surgeon lieutenant commander RNVR, extended from 1943-46. He served his first two years as medical officer to HM Destroyers Charlestown and Westminster. In 1945 he was appointed medical officer at the Admiralty, with responsibility for the medical care of all naval personnel working there, from Sea Lords and First Sea Lord downwards. He also acted as medical officer in matters concerning the health of Admiralty civil servants.

On discharge from the Royal Navy in 1946, he was appointed honorary physician to the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton, with further similar appointments at the Guest Hospital, Dudley; the Corbett Hospital, Stourbridge, and the Hallam Hospital, West Bromwich. As the years passed, in an era when the range of effective therapy in medicine was expanding rapidly, it would appear that John’s geographically extensive practice throughout the Black Country was too large and left little time for academic medicine and later private practice, from which he withdrew early.

In the last decade of his consultant career he was able to concentrate on Wolverhampton, where he developed a haematology clinic and an interest in gastroenterology. He retired early from the NHS, in 1980, when all the beds at the Royal Hospital - the old voluntary hospital he loved and served - were transferred to the other district hospital in the town.

John was an amiable colleague and, although later fellow consultants may have had differences of opinion with him over many matters, we recall no rancour over a period of more than 20 years. Hewas a kind, modest, friendly man but with a reserve that made it difficult for anyone to know him intimately. He was a private individual with numerous and diverse talents, suggesting that he belonged to that rare breed of British eccentrics.

In his student days, his artistic ability led to a contract by which he supplied cartoons of the honorary staff and others to the Middlesex Medical Magazine. He maintained his interest in contemporary visual art. He loved music and played the classical guitar. Like J H Sheldon, he was an erudite ornithologist. He was also a knowledgeable plantsman, and something of a poet:

Diary, Saturday January 25th 1941 ‘To a lovely lady undergraduate seen in the High’:
‘Take heed sebaceous girl upon your bicycle!
Hold hard your skirt below the knee to hide
Your silk, lest too appreciative gaze
Should penetrate and rape you as you ride.’

He was a diarist and a writer. Disgust of his earlier illegible scribble led to a course of calligraphy and a subsequent elegant and idiosyncratic hand. John’s command of the English language was manifest in his writing and conversation. He had the provocative Oxonian ability in argument of pursuing the obverse view, thus confounding lesser debaters educated in other universities and institutions. He was an elegant and witty after-dinner speaker. He did not speak Welsh. His view of medicine always remained that of a natural historian of disease.

He had no great liking for administration. Nevertheless, as a student he was general secretary of the Middlesex Hospital medical society and later, in Wolverhampton, chairman of the medical advisory committee from 1956-57. He was also a member of the Wolverhampton Hospital management committee from May 1958 to March 1962.

John Davies had an enquiring mind and might have pursued a more academic career to which, but for the burden of his clinical responsibilities, he was well suited. He must have been extremely disappointed when his thesis, submitted in 1971 for the DM Oxon, was rejected. This had been written in middle-age, the subject being systemic arterial embolism in thyrotoxic patients with atrial fibrillation. The thyrotoxic patients under consideration comprised 310 patients seen in his personal practice at four district general hospitals m the West Midlands, and in private practice between 1957 and 1969. He also wrote and published scientific papers on a variety of clinical subjects: carotid pain, decubitus bleeding, phaeochromocytoma and systemic lupus erythematosis. Joint authorship of ‘Stannosis in hearth tinners’, published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 21, 235-41, July 1964, was a consequence of his appointment in industrial medicine to West Bromwich. He had achieved a reputation with solicitors and barristers for his reports on industrial medical problems in the Black Country, being retained by both employers and trade unions.

He married Alisa, née Steven, a Guy’s nurse, in 1943 and they had four children. His younger son is a sculptor and actor. His elder son had a successful career in hospital medicine, decided that it was not for him and became a medical student - and later a general practitioner. This must have pleased his father, who was equally pleased and proud to learn, shortly before his death, that his eldest grandson - a St George’s Chapel, Windsor, chorister - had won both an academic and musical scholarship to Charterhouse School.

W A Hudson

[Brit.med.J., 1990,301,869;Photo]

(Volume IX, page 120)

<< Back to List