Lives of the fellows

Alan Aird (Sir) Moncrieff

b.9 October 1901 d.24 July 1971
KBE(1964) OBE(1952) MRCS LRCP(1922) MB BS(1923) MRCP(1925) MD(1925) FRCP(1934) Hon FRCOG(1958) JP

Alan Moncrieff was born in Bournemouth, the son of the Reverend William Moncrieff, a Congregational Minister, and of Isabella Masterson, whose father, John Masterson, was in the army. After attending the local Council school, he went to Caterham School and then with a scholarship to the Middlesex Hospital, qualifying in 1922 with the conjoint and obtaining his MB in 1923 with honours and distinction and being awarded the University medal. He proceeded to the MD London in 1925 and MRCP in the same year.

He became a resident, first at the Middlesex Hospital in 1922 and then resident and later medical registrar at The Hospital for Sick Children, until in 1934 he was appointed to the consultant staff of both these hospitals as physician, remaining on the staff of the Middlesex until 1946 and of The Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, until 1964. He was also paediatrician on the consultant staff of Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital from 1933 until 1951 and Hammersmith Hospital 1935-1964. These appointments were temporarily broken during the 2nd World War when he served full time in the Emergency Medical Service.

Postgraduate studies included a year in Paris with the Health Division of the League of Red Cross Societies 1923-24, and a year in Hamburg and other parts of Germany in 1930-31 as Rockefeller Travelling Fellow. This year had considerable influence on his medical thinking, and his studies in Hamburg on neonatal respiratory failure and asphyxia led to his choice of subject for his Goulstonian lectures in 1935 and to an MRC report. Neonatal problems remained a lifelong interest for him, as shown by his development in 1947 of the premature baby unit at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, into the foremost of its kind in London, and his incorporation of this department into the Institute of Child Health.

His contemporaries of those early years speak of his early brilliance, eagerness and quickness of mind, but it was his ability to stimulate interest in paediatrics in his students and to make relatively dull aspects of the subject interesting that impressed those who were taught by him. It should be noted too that at this period he had little money, though married and with several children, because as an honorary physician on the staff of a teaching hospital there was no salary, and earnings in private paediatric medicine were meagre; medical journalism, for the Practitioner, and later The Times, helped financially but increased greatly the hours of work he had to do. In spite of this, he maintained his mother financially and later, pretending to be trustee of a charitable fund, subsidised the education of the children of a poorer friend.

In 1946 he was appointed the first Nuffield Professor of Child Health in the University of London and Director of the Institute of Child Health, based on The Hospital for Sick Children, the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hackney. It was in these first years after the war that his deep kindness and loyalty showed, when, busy and supremely successful as he had become, he still had time to welcome those coming back from service overseas and to help them gain a footing once again in paediatrics. The next years were spent in developing the work of the Institute, in the organisation of postgraduate paediatric teaching and at the beginning, in co-operation with the Institute of Education, in developing a department of growth and development. Frank Falkner, in charge of this department from 1953, later followed by J. Tanner, writes that the blossoming of the international coordinated study on growth (with Prof. R. Debre and the Centre Internationale de l’Enfance, Paris) was entirely due to his foresight and encouragement. Falkner also notes his ability to delegate to his juniors all minor matters, and records the well known forty minute period after lunch which he devoted to reading The Times and during which no one dared enter his office.

His policy of leading paediatrics away from the hospital into the preventive and social sphere, as expounded in his Dawson Williams (1950) and other lectures, led to close cooperation with the London County Council. He got on well with Sir Allen Daley, then Chief Medical Officer of the LCC, and with a large grant he obtained from the Province of Natal in South Africa, built the Province of Natal Centre, incorporating a comprehensive maternity and Infant Welfare and Dental Centre in association with the LCC as part of the new Institute of Child Health. This latter building was the result of his drive and determination and his brilliant control of committees, for it was perhaps as chairman of the many committees on which he sat that he showed his greatest ability. He had decided to retire from the chair of Child Health and from the Health Service when the new Institute building was completed, and this he did in 1964 at the age of 63, being awarded the title of Professor Emeritus of the University of London.

The next few years were passed in assisting in the organisation of child health services in Hertfordshire, where he lived, and in continuing his work on phenylketonuria, until he suffered a stroke in 1968 and was incapacitated from further work.

This account leaves out so far the immense amount of work done for WHO and other bodies, entailing a great deal of travel, lecturing and committee work. He was known throughout the world and was proud that wherever he went he met and remembered his ex-students. In addition he was a Justice of the Peace and his sessions on the bench of a Juvenile Court were a part of his life which he found most important, and which had priority over other engagements.

He was Chairman of the Social & Preventive Medicine Committee of the Royal College of Physicians, and of the Paediatric Committee; Goulstonian lecturer 1935 and Charles West lecturer 1952.

He was an honorary member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and of the American and Canadian Pediatric Societies.

He was a successful and highly efficient secretary of the British Paediatric Association between 1946 and 1956, at a time of its evolution and expansion from a small club into a large society, and President in 1962. He received an honorary FRCOG in 1958 for his work with the newborn, and for his services as member of the Central Midwives Board from 1950, and later Chairman.

Amongst his offices he was Chairman of the Advisory Council in Child Care, Home Office 1948; member of the Ministry of Health Medical Advisory Committee and of the Advisory Committee on Mothers and Young Children; Chairman of the Children’s Moral Welfare Committee, Holborn and Hampstead local authority. He was member of the Council of Administration of the International Children’s Centre, Paris, and British representative on the Executive Board of UNICEF, and a member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Child Health of WHO.

He was Chairman of the BMA Journal Committee and between 1934-45 co-editor of the Archives of Disease in Childhood. He was for some years temporary editor of the Practitioner. He was also editor of the very successful Practitioner Handbook of Child Health (1947 and 1952) and was co-editor of Diseases of Children (Garrod, Batten & Thursfield) (1947 & 1953) and editor of Nursing & Diseases of Sick Children, through six editions from 1930-57.

It was he who first introduced the concept and the habit of daily parental visiting to his ward in Great Ormond Street, well before the need for this became recognised, and with his ward sister published an article on Hospital Visiting for Children in 1949.

G.H. Newns, who as Dean of the Institute of Child Health knew him well, in his obituary of Alan Moncrieff wrote that he was essentially a rather shy man, not easy to know and sometimes appearing abrupt and brusque; a man of high intelligence with a clear and logical brain who could have succeeded in almost any profession. Newns also notes the devotion to him of all those who worked for him, and his own loyalty and ever available help to his own juniors.

Like most of the brilliant group who were his contemporaries at Great Ormond Street, Moncrieff was not oriented to laboratory research, but he was a very sound clinician, a brilliant teacher and a bom organiser. His interests outside work were few, although he himself notes music and squash, and certainly his lively mind engaged with enthusiasm in every new experience that came his way.

He was twice happily married, first to Honor Mary Constance Wedmore who died in 1954 and whose father, Cecil Wedmore was an author; and then to her cousin Mary Katharine Wedmore, whose father Ralph Wedmore was in business. She devotedly nursed him through the last few years of his distressing illness. He had two sons, one now a paediatrician and the other in the BBC, and one daughter. One of his sons writes to say that his father was proud to be a son of the manse and to fulfil the pattern of making good, and this is certainly true. He died at his home in Waterford, Hertfordshire.

AP Norman

[, 1971, 3, 33, 774; Lancet, 1971, 2, 323; Times, 26 July 1971; Glasgow Herald, 26 July 1971; Hoddesdon Mercury, 30 July 1971; Middx. Hosp. J., 1971, 4, 298; Medical News, 1 Jan 1965]

(Volume VI, page 343)

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