Lives of the fellows

Stanley Miles

b.14 August 1911 d.9 July 1987
CB(1968) MSc Sheff(1934) MB ChB(1936) DTM&H(1949) MD(1955) MRCP(1970) FRCP(1971) FRCS(1971)

Stanley Miles was born in Sheffield, the son of T C Miles, a company director. He was educated at King Edward VII School and Sheffield University, graduating in medicine in 1936. In the same year he joined the Royal Naval Medical Service and served in China, West Africa, and with the Pacific and Mediterranean fleets.

In 1952, as a surgeon lieutenant commander, he was appointed to the chemical defence establishment, Porton Down, as naval medical liaison officer and was attached to Bernard Lucas’ section, working on protection against nerve gas. Their particular interest was artifical ventilation and, following a series of experiments on monkeys, they turned their attention to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which soon superseded the traditional methods of ventilation (Schafer, Silvester) recommended in manuals of first aid, and awoke in Miles an abiding interest in physiology.

In 1956 he was appointed to the Royal Naval Medical School for duty at the RN physiological laboratory as specialist in physiology, where he investigated a number of problems connected with submarine operations and naval diving, in particular shallow water blackout -sudden loss of consciousness in assault swimmers - hitherto attributed to carbon dioxide poisoning. Miles was convinced that the root cause of the problem was cerebral vasoconstriction resulting from breathing pure oxygen and persuaded the Royal Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine to allow him to expose naval divers to G-forces on the human centrifuge to the point of unconsciousness, breathing either oxygen or air. He succeeded in demonstrating that oxygen-breathing reduced G-tolerance and concluded that his theory was confirmed.

In 1957 he was awarded the Gilbert Blane medal of the Royal College of Surgeons for his contribution to naval medical research and was made a consultant in physiology. In 1961, as surgeon captain, he was appointed medical officer in charge RN Medical School and director of medical research. His book, Underwater medicine, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1962, became the standard textbook for doctors associated with sport diving.

In 1966 he was promoted to surgeon rear-admiral and appointed medical officer in charge of the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth. Rather to his surprise he found that he enjoyed this appointment more than any he had held previously; the hospital seemed to run itself and he found it very relaxing. Out of working hours he liked to slip into the pub just outside the gate, where he could chat informally with naval ratings over a pint of beer. He regarded this as a pastoral duty and it gave him a useful insight into current thinking on the lower deck, but it came to the notice of the commander in chief, who considered such informality quite inappropriate for a flag officer. In retrospect, Miles felt that this had mitigated against his further promotion.

After retiring from the Navy in 1969, he became postgraduate dean at Manchester University, at a time when such appointments were beginning to be made nationwide. He showed himself adept at building bridges between the central teaching hospitals and the district hospitals throughout the large northwest region, a task which involved a great deal of travel, when Barrow-in-Furness was still within the region and the journey took longer than one to London. The close liaison which he helped to forge was roughly coincident with the disappearance of the Board of Governors, and it was to prove of great value when the district hospitals were called upon to play a major part in undergraduate as well as postgraduate teaching.

In 1976 he decided to exploit his experience in diving medicine by setting up Gaelic Health Guard at Aberdeen. Sponsored by Gulf Oil, it was the first medical centre in Scotland for divers working in the North Sea oilfields. Two years later, however, the premises were taken over by Offshore Medical Services, sponsored by Shell and British Petroleum.

In 1969 Miles had joined the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention and later he became chairman. In 1982 he became vice-president of the International Trauma Foundation. He retained both these interests until his death.

Miles was married in 1969 to Mary Rose, and they had a son and a daughter. He was a man of great charm, with an acute and fertile intellect and a ready wit. As a research worker he was guided more by inspiration and intuition than by scientific discipline. When he believed he had the solution to a problem he would set about devising an experimental programme to demonstrate its validity. He was not much concerned with statistics, and those subjects or results which failed to conform to the general pattern he dismissed as anomalies. This irritated his more conventional colleagues, but Miles was concerned with finding practical answers to the problems which beset divers, submariners and others who operated in hostile environments, and they generally proved to be right.

Miles will be recalled with affection by those who were privileged to hear him speak at conferences, where his enthusiasm was infectious and his communication effective. He possessed a robust sense of humour which delighted his audience at the annual Divers' Dinner; no one who heard his hilarious speech consisting entirely of quotations from the Royal Naval Diving Manual is ever likely to forget it.

He was essentially a caring doctor, who loved life and his fellow men. The diving fraternity were his chosen parishioners - and they will remember him.

Surg Vice Admiral Sir John Rawlins
Sir Douglas Black

[The Times, 17 July 1987; Lancet, 1987, 2, 347]

(Volume VIII, page 340)

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