Lives of the fellows

Henry Ashbourne Treadgold

b.26 November 1883 d.15 September 1941
CBE(1936) BA Cantab(1906) MB BS Lond(1911) MD Lond(1912) MRCS LRCP(1920) MRCP(1932) FRCP(1937)

Group Captain Henry Treadgold spent most of his professional life in the Royal Air Force, where he gained eminence as an administrator and a physician. He was born at Southport, Lancashire, the second son of Dr F.C.A. Treadgold, who was a typical general practitioner of the Victorian era, and Mary Louisa, daughter of Charles Sumner. The old doctor had started as an apothecary’s assistant in Bolton, and by the time he was thirty had saved enough money to go to Cambridge to qualify in medicine. He is reputed to have had a marvellous bedside manner and to have been adored by many of the rich old ladies who frequented this popular seaside resort of the nineteenth century. Henry went from Fettes College in Edinburgh to Downing College, Cambridge, and King’s College Medical School. He was in his college May boat of 1905 which rowed over, and he was the holder of the Brickwood sculls in 1905.

On qualification in 1909 Treadgold was a house physician at the Royal Free Hospital for six months before he became Sambrooke medical registrar at King’s College Hospital from 1910 to 1912. He aspired to become a bacteriologist, and intended to study at the Pasteur Institute for a year, but he stayed only six months as he could not abide the way the French treated experimental animals. During the next two years he was assistant superintendent of the laboratory at the Brompton Chest Hospital before joining the R.A.M.C., shortly after the outbreak of World War I, and the following twenty-two years were spent in the Services.

On 1st October 1918 he transferred, with the rank of acting major, to the newly formed R.A.F, medical branch. After a short period of instruction in Medical Board work at Hampstead, he held a station medical officer post with a squadron at Donibristle in Scotland. The following year he was granted a permanent commission as a squadron leader, and was posted to the Air Ministry, where he remained from 1919 to 1922. Here, in addition to other duties, he was in charge of medical records and stores. This seemed a dull outlook, but Treadgold’s agile brain and organising ability soon found valuable work to do.

He devised the medical history envelope and forms, which have been a special feature of the R.A.F, medical records ever since. He also drew up schedules of equipment for all hospitals, sick-quarters, boards and other medical units. In 1922 he was promoted wing commander and posted to Iraq as deputy principal medical officer. On return to the United Kingdom in 1924, he became president of the Central Medical Board and retained this post until he was promoted group captain in 1934. There he did much to improve the physiological efficiency tests for flying personnel, but also found time to indulge in clinical research, particularly in cardiovascular problems and the relation of body build to functional efficiency (Lancet, 1932, 1, 277-81; 1934, 1, 1377-82). In 1934 he was made consultant in medicine, which post he held for two years before he retired prematurely in July 1936, on account of ill health.

Henry Treadgold was a man of medium height and build with Semitic type features. His head was somewhat dolichocephalic, being flattened on top and prominent in the occipital region. His face was long, thin and sallow, but illuminated by observant dark brown eyes, which were enhanced by striking, black eyebrows that remained so even after the hair of his head had greyed and thinned. His nose was prominent and had sensitive nostrils, which contracted, dilated or quivered depending on his moods. To all but his close friends he appeared to be aloof, austere, cold and detached, but those who knew him appreciated that under his cold exterior lay a sensitive nature, as was evidenced by his reactions to treatment he received at school and the effect on him of vivisection experiments in Paris.

He could not suffer fools and he detested pretence, but he admired those who were proficient and was very loyal to his friends. His work and financial transactions were his main interests, though he had many hobbies, both sporting and literary. His ability at golf and tennis was poor, but he was a very competent motorist who worshipped speed, and a keen fisherman who spent most of his holidays on deep-sea fishing off the south coast of Cornwall or in the west of Ireland. He was adept at rug making and spent many hours in this pursuit, which he found soothing as it permitted him to think over problems quietly.

He loved to have an elaborate and fine garden, but, owing to his cardiac disability, he did only the lighter work; his wife, who was very tall and had the strength of a man, did all the hard work. With his ability, clarity of thought and expression, and his drive, Treadgold could have risen to great heights as a physician in the civil sphere had he not joined the Armed Services, where he will be remembered more as an administrator than as a clinician.

In 1909, shortly after Treadgold qualified, he married Evelyn, the daughter of Walter John Landor, a gentleman farmer at Rugeley, in Staffordshire. They had a son and a daughter.

Richard R Trail

[Lancet, 1941, 2, 384.]

(Volume V, page 420)

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