Lives of the fellows

Alexander (Sir) Hood

b.25 September 1888 d.11 September 1980
GBE(1946) CBE(1939) KCB(1943) CB(1941) KCVO(1953) MB ChB Edin(1910) MD(1931) Hon FRCSE(1941) FRCP*(1944) DCL Durham(1945) LLD Edin(1945) Hon FRFPS Glasg (1947)†

Alexander Hood was born at Leith, Edinburgh, the son of Alexander Hood and Agnes Marshall (née Cunninghame). He was educated at Leith Academy, George Watson’s College, and Edinburgh University. After qualifying in 1910 he spent a year as house surgeon in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. In 1912 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps serving with Indian troops in France and Belgium in the first world war, and immediately afterwards on the north-west frontier of India and in Afghanistan. Continuing as a regular officer he studied pathology, achieving specialist status in 1923. During the years 1922-1937 he served on the Rhine, in India and in Egypt, mainly as a pathologist, and is credited with introducing the Khan Test to the Army, and having performed original work on cerebrospinal meningitis and pneumonic plague. He gained the MD of Edinburgh in 1931.

He was called from his specialty to administration at an early stage to become ADMS (later DDMS) HQ British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan during 1937 -1939, and it was here that he gained such a reputation as an administrator that he was marked as a future director-general. His skill was also acknowledged by a CBE and mention in despatches. He did not have to wait long to assume the highest office. After service in France 1939—1940, in 1941 he was promoted from the substantive rank of colonel direct to that of lieutenant-general, passing over scores of his seniors to become director general of Army Medical Services for the remainder of the second world war.

In this post Hood’s contribution to the war effort was second only to those of the great military commanders, and his work in directing the Army Medical Service towards prevention of disease and reduction of pain and suffering and disability, was probably the greatest contribution of any doctor. He was of large commanding presence, powerful personality and of great intellect, dominating and bending to his will the few regulars and many distinguished civilians who formed his medical directorate team at the War Office. He obtained complete loyalty, and by delegating heavy responsibility extracted from all the greatest possible contribution. Thus no innovation or advance in medicine was neglected, but was rapidly examined for its relevance to field or hospital work. If his experts gave favourable opinions, Hood’s administrative and executive ability ensured the minimum time lag between discovery and practical application. A directorate of medical research was set up to cooperate with the Medical Research Council, and to assist and support its operational units. Hood decided, against many pressures, that research by doctors upon soldiers should be directed solely to promoting health and preventing and curing disease and alleviating injury in the individual. His guidelines remain for the use of, and have been applied by, his successors in office.

He was always extremely proud of his contributions to the United States Forces — how he assisted them on their first entry to the war, and the close collaboration he ensured with their medical leaders, to the great benefit of both nations. Among his many achievements were the reorganization of field medical units; the provision of forward surgery on the field of battle; the organization of a first-class blood transfusion service; the rapid introduction of new chemotherapeutic agents, such as antimalarials and antibiotics; and the placing of Army psychiatry on a sound basis.

His success ensured that he held the appointment of DGAMS for three years after the war, but his dream of being the first head of a combined medical service for Navy, Army and Air Force was not realized. After a year in the Ministry of Health, Hood was appointed in 1949 Governor and Commander-in-Chief Bermuda, and his tenure was until 1955. In 1953 he acted as host to Churchill, Eden and President Eisenhower during their Bermuda conferences.

He was a very fine golfer, being the RAMC champion; gaining an Army Championship trophy; and winning the coveted Queen Victoria Jubilee Vase of the Royal and Ancient Club, St Andrews, in 1953.

His first marriage was to Evelyn Dulcia, daughter of George Ellwood of Kensington, and of this there were one son and two daughters. His second marriage was to Mrs Helen Winifred Wilkinson of Hamilton, Bermuda. He died in Bermuda.

Sir James Baird

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 281, 1149; Lancet, 1980, 2, 654; Times, 15 Sept 1980]

(Volume VII, page 275)

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