Lives of the fellows

Campion Aubrey (Sir) Rumball

b.26 December 1904 d.14 December 1975
KBE(1964) CBE(1954) OBE(1945) MRCS LRCP(1930) LDS RCS(1926) DTM&H(1937) DPM(1939) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1952)

Campion Aubrey Rumball was the third and youngest child of Frederick William Rumball, an engineer who headed the family business, and Jane (née Watson).

As a child his curiosity was boundless, encompassing all forms of engineering, chemistry and biology. He was at Dulwich College and had little interest in orthodox sporting activities though later in life he enjoyed and did well at tennis and squash. His inventiveness showed itself very early on. Examinations were never a difficulty for him. From Dulwich he went to Guy’s, qualifying first in Dentistry in 1926 and in Medicine with the Conjoint diploma in 1930. After house appointments at Guy’s he was commissioned in the medical branch of the RAF in 1932. He soon found himself serving in the Middle East and developed an interest in tropical medicine which led to his taking the diploma in 1937. Joining the RAF was a deliberate act for him; he foresaw conflict in Europe and perhaps elsewhere, and wished to be poised to give professional help. He soon became aware of the need for training and experience in psychological medicine to enable an individual to care effectively for aircrew and assist them with their problems. This led to a period of study at the Maudsley Hospital and the acquisition of the DPM.

With this background and his own personal qualities and dedicated application to this work, he was well equipped to play his part when hostilities broke out. His first wartime posting was to RAF Hospital, Matlock (designed to be an Aircrew Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre) and then in May 1940 as officer-in-charge of the Medical Division and Neuropsychiatrist at No. 2 Mobile Field Hospital with the Advanced Air Striking Force in France.

On the fall of France, as ‘Officer-in-charge of Transport’ he spent eighteen days crossing France with a convoy of vehicles, using all sorts of ruses to avoid capture and escaping eventually through Nantes. He was specialist in Neuropsychiatry at the Officers and Aircrew Hospital, Torquay, and later at Rauceby where his work brought him in close touch with Air Marshal Harris ("Bomber Harris", later Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Arthur Harris, Bt.). Harris valued Rumball’s work very highly and is said to have remarked that it was "worth more than a bomber squadron to him".

While at the RAF Hospital Cairo, he published with others a paper on sternal puncture in the diagnosis of malaria, a contribution of great value. His knowledge of tropical diseases stood him in good stead in this posting, and subsequently when his work took him to Aden, Singapore and Cyprus.

Rumball succeeded Sir Alan Rook as Senior Consultant in Medicine on 1st May 1948, the chief physician post in the Service, which he held till his premature retirement in the rank of Air Vice Marshal in 1966. His time as Consultant in Medicine was a very active and productive one, though the overall numbers in the Service were dwindling and National Service came to an end in 1959. Early on he saw the need for the artificial kidney and through his recommendation a unit was set up at Halton, one of the earliest to be established in the country. Among his other achievements was the bringing into being of the unit for investigation and treatment of hypertension at RAF Hospital Cosford.

In the College he was elected MRCP in 1947 and FRCP five years later. He was a member of the panel of examiners for the MRCP. Honours and awards came to him in good measure. He had a mention in despatches in the Palestine Rising in 1933, was made OBE in 1945, CBE in 1954 and KBE in 1964. He was awarded the Lady Cade Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1956 "for outstanding contributions to Medicine in the RAF". He was honorary physician to HM King George VI from 1948-1952 and to HM Queen Elizabeth II from 1952-1966. In 1969 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, having given invaluable service as Treasurer for a number of years. At various times he was Consultant Adviser in Medicine to BOAC and BEA, to the Air Line Pilots Association and the Ministry of Transport (Ministry of Civil Aviation) and after retiring from his post as Consultant in Medicine, Honorary Consulting Physician to the Ministry of Defence (Air).

With hair which turned white early in life, he was invariably neatly dressed whether in uniform or in civilian clothes. His patience was well nigh inexhaustible and he was always concerned for the problems of his physicians and did all he could to fit in their postings conveniently when it was possible. In retirement he lived near Hastings. He was very skilful with his hands and did much construction work in his home himself. His inventiveness was well exemplified by his axis deviation calculator. At Hastings he had a most unfortunate accident falling from a ladder while doing something to the roof. He was unconscious and damaged an ankle and the effects of this injury dogged him for some time. One of the last contributions which he made to the College was the submission of an important collection of evidence to the Committee sitting to consider the cardiovascular fitness of airline pilots. He died at his home on December 14th, 1975.

Sir Kenneth Robson

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 1, 227; Lancet, 1976, 1, 1955]

(Volume VI, page 398)

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