Lives of the fellows

John Wycliffe Linnell

b.31 October 1878 d.1 December 1967
BA Lond(1898) BA Cantab(1902) MB BChir(1907) MD(1913) MC MRCP(1921) FRCP(1940)

John Wycliffe Linnell was born and died at Pavenham of which his father was vicar. His mother was Emmeline Elizabeth Darby. The Reverend J.E. Linnell was a "character" well known for miles around. His son wrote a delightful memoir of him as "Old Oak". The Linnells were an ancient Northamptonshire family.

John Linnell was educated at Bedford Modern School, the University of London where he became a BA in 1898, and St. John’s College, Cambridge where he took his BA in 1902, MB BChir in 1907 and MD in 1913. He carried out his clinical studies at the London Hospital. He became MRCP in 1921 and FRCP in 1940. After house appointments he carried out research in tuberculosis at the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest at Ventnor, the Mount Vernon Hospital in Hampstead, and St George’s Hospital where he was Gibbons Research Student.

He had a remarkable war record, serving in France, Gallipoli and Egypt, and attaining the rank of Major. He won the MC, and was mentioned in despatches, but a colleague who served with him said that he deserved the VC not once but many times. Military matters remained a great interest all his life and he became a learned military historian, carrying on until the end a voluminous correspondence with Liddell Hart, Colin Gubbins, J.F.C. Fuller and others less famous.

On returning from the war he became medical registrar at the London Hospital. His main interest then was cardiology and he worked with Sir James Mackenzie, for ever afterwards his hero, and Sir John Parkinson, almost equally revered. He was appointed physician to the Metropolitan Hospital, the Mildmay Mission Hospital and New End Hospital, where he was consulting physician to the London County Council Goitre Clinic. Thereafter the thyroid gland became his main interest. He founded the Thyroid Club, of which he ultimately became an honorary member. He published many papers on the treatment of thyroid disorders.

Linnell had a complex and often contradictory character. A convinced Christian and the kindest of men, he could be uncompromising in his judgements; an athlete who just missed several blues at Cambridge, he was an expert on art and had a pretty facility for light verse; a man of peace, he loved soldiering and accompanying his friends at Scotland Yard on an occasional dangerous assignment; a highly intelligent man learned in many subjects beside his own, he was wholly lacking in logical thinking; because he had seen South African troops fighting with great bravery in 1916, nothing that the South African government did a half-century later could possibly be wrong; he combined an intolerance of authority with the most extreme right-wing political views; he loved pretty women, but was a puritan and a life-long bachelor.

He was not a handsome man. He looked rather like a smaller and fatter caricature of Kruschev, made still less beautiful by the Bell’s palsy from which he never recovered, so that in moments of emotion he wept from his left eye and didn’t bother to mop up the tears. His dentures never fitted and in moments of excitement he would shoot them out beyond his lips, producing thus a most terrifying effect contradicted by the unvaryingly benign look in his intensely blue eyes. He never needed spectacles.

In extreme old age he became weak in the legs but never weak in his mind. He read with enviable speed and when over eighty would read a scientific paper as quickly as most men could read one page, and immediately discuss it with clarity and understanding. He had a genius for friendship and always seemed to know the real expert on anything that was happening in the furthest corners of the world and always to have had a letter from him that morning, which he would abstract from one of his voluminous and shapeless pockets. His dress was far different from that of most consultant physicians of his day; on the most formal occasions he looked as though he had just been rat-catching.

His death occurred at Pavenham, where he was born, on Dec 2, 1967.

Raymond Greene

[, 1967, 4, 686, 751 & 1968, 1, 124; Lancet, 1967, 2, 1372, 1425; Times, 25 Mar 1968]

(Volume VI, page 294)

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