Lives of the fellows

John Morley Holford

b.10 January 1909 d.4 November 1997
CB(1965) OBE(1954) BA Cantab(1930) MRCS LRCP(1933) MB BCh(1939) MRCP(1939) FRCP(1954)

John Morley Holford was born at Ettingshall, Staffordshire, the son of the reverend William James Holford and Amy Finnemore Lello. He was educated at Kingswood School, Bath, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied for the natural science tripos. He then went on to St Georges Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1933. Following RMO jobs, at Paddington Green Childrens Hospital and Maidenhead Hospital, he joined the Royal Navy for short service as a surgeon-lieutenant in April 1935. He was also married that year, to Monica Peregrine Propert (who predeceased him in 1986).

After initial training appointments at RN Hospital Haslar and RN Barracks Chatham, he served as second medical officer on board HMS Valiant on the Mediterranean Station before being appointed to HMS Grenville in December 1936 as flotilla medical officer accommodated in HMS Glowworm. Here, as throughout his naval career, he was remarked upon as a personable, well-read messmate with a healthy interest in and respect for the ways and customs of the Royal Navy. He carried out his duties in an exemplary manner; sympathetic yet firm with those who were ill but giving short shift to ‘malades imaginaires’. He passed both parts of the final MB examination at the University of Cambridge in 1939.

His early naval seniors considered him to have exceptional ability and in 1940 he was successful in his application to transfer to the permanent list. He joined HMS Nelson in April 1940, initially as medical officer, then, having been promoted to surgeon lieutenant commander, as principal medical officer. He survived service in the Battle of the Atlantic and Malta convoys.

Following a short period of general duties ashore, in March 1942 he was appointed as a medical specialist at RNH Plymouth where he continued an interest in the use of mass miniature radiography in the diagnosis of diseases of the chest. He was appointed medical specialist at RNH Simonstown, Cape of Good Hope, from August 1944 and was promoted to the rank of surgeon commander in April 1946. He was much liked in Simonstown and respected for his personable manner, professional skill and considered judgement. A brilliant chess player and half blue at Cambridge, he became joint chess champion of South Africa in 1946.

In August 1947 he was awarded the King Haakon VII liberty medal bestowed by the King of Norway for services rendered during the war. Following a short appointment as a medical specialist to Washington DC in the summer of 1948, he was appointed for duty inside the Admiralty as an assistant to the medical director general (naval), advising on all research matters and keeping close contacts with scientific and research authorities in the other services and civil life. His work included research into the chemical, toxicological and radiological aspects of warfare, medical intelligence and psychiatry. His publications included a medical manual on chemical warfare and papers on occupational health and aspects of atomic medicine.

Due to his intellect, knowledge, enthusiasm, pleasant personality and balanced analysis of matters he was held in high esteem by his director and scientific authorities and was clearly marked for accelerated promotion and the highest ranks. He was appointed OBE in the 1954 New Year Honours, elected FRCP in the spring of that year and was awarded the Gilbert Blane medal in 1956.

Following his promotion to surgeon captain in 1957 he saw service for a few months as principal medical officer of the submarine base HMS Dolphin and flotilla medical officer to the flag officer (submarines) before being appointed as senior specialist in charge of the medicine section at RN Haslar where he was held in very high esteem. 1960 saw him back as an assistant to the medical director general (naval) on duties outside the Admiralty, advising on research matters and especially atomic energy and radiobiology. Considered to be ‘the best brain in the Royal Naval Medical Service’, he was appointed a consultant in medicine, promoted to the rank of surgeon rear-admiral in April 1963 and in the same month was appointed an honorary physician to Her Majesty the Queen. He was then appointed command medical adviser to the commander in chief at Portsmouth and medical officer in charge of RNH Haslar. Admiral Holford was appointed as a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in the 1965 New Years Honours and retired from the Royal Navy four months later. He then pursued a successful career in the Ministry of Health, retiring as senior principal medical officer in 1974.

G H G McMillan

(Volume X, page 220)

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