Lives of the fellows

Hugh John Trenchard

b.8 December 1913 d.3 February 1988
MB ChB Birm(1936) MRCP(1940) DMR(1946) FRCP(1966)

Hugh Trenchard was born in Hackney, London, the son of an itinerant schoolmaster who settled shortly afterwards in Somerset, where Hugh was brought up. His education commenced at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, but his father - by this time headmaster at Dr Morgan’s School, Bridgewater, - thought that Hugh was not working hard enough, an accusation which could never again be levelled against him, and removed him to attend his own school so that he could keep a closer eye on him. Hard work was clearly the rule, and Hugh matriculated at the age of 14. He went on to study medicine at Birmingham University and graduated MB ChB in 1936. After house posts he spent some time in general practice but because he was convinced that war was inevitable he elected to join the RAF medical service and was commissioned in 1939.

He married Elizabeth Mallinson, who came of a farming family, in 1940, and there were six children of the marriage although, sadly, one suffered from Down’s syndrome and died at an early age. The eldest is a general practitioner.

He gained his membership of the College while serving in the RAF, and it was during this period that his interest in chest diseases was stimulated when he joined the late Richard Trail [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.437] to set up the first Mass Miniature Radiography unit (MMR). Latterly, he served in India and reached the rank of wing commander before being demobilized in December 1945.

On demobilization he was appointed registrar at the London Chest Hospital and during his tenure there he found time to study for and obtain the diploma of medical radiology (DMR). In 1947 he was appointed physician to the Harrow Chest Clinic and, on the introduction of the NHS, he felt that he could combine this post with that of assistant senior medical officer at the North West Thames Regional Health Authority - in charge of tuberculosis services. This combination of posts enabled him to see the then tremendous problem of providing beds for the care of the tuberculous. In 1949 he resigned his post with the RHA and moved to the Edgware Chest Clinic where his drive and enthusiasm soon made it one of this country’s renowned centres, attracting a constant stream of visitors and scholars from all over the world. He was in the forefront of the move to treat tuberculosis on a domiciliary basis and this, together with his constant alertness to the principles of prevention and control of infection, soon resulted in his making deep inroads into waiting lists, well before the advent of chemotherapy.

His training in radiology proved to be a great advantage in that it enabled him to have his clinic fully equipped with its own X-ray department, and it was on his advice that the use of the Odelca camera using 70mm films was introduced at a time when the provision of full size X-ray plates was becoming increasingly difficult and costly. This meant that he could continue with a programme of selective radiography, concentrating on groups at risk, a technique he showed to be cost effective when compared with MMR.

As tuberculosis waned, Hugh’s energy and enthusiasm were directed towards the problems of chronic bronchitis and bronchial carcinoma. Again he realized the importance of care within the community, with the provision of effective support from the clinic and the hospital. These things were only possible because he was such an excellent physician and, above all, because he was such a remarkable man. He would never spare himself in his efforts for others, be they patients or colleagues, and he was not afraid to fight for the things he believed in - and at times he had to fight very hard indeed, as those who served on committees with him knew only too well.

Although his main concern was always patient care, his numerous papers over a wide range of subjects, during most of his working life, are indicative of his constant search for excellence.

Medicine was Hugh’s life and after retirement he continued with locum work, and in addition he found great satisfaction in helping in his own general practitioner’s surgery - he was in fact seeing patients the week before he died. He was also heavily involved in activities outside medicine: he had inherited an interest in geneology from his father and, with more time on his hands, he was able to trace and develop correspondence with kinsmen far and wide, and he reaped infinite pleasure from each addition to the family tree. This interest extended beyond the immediate family, and he was a member of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society and a member of the Cromwell Society.

These are the bald facts of his life - none tell of his nature. It requires few words to sum up Hugh as a man; he was kind, gentle, caring and generous. Self always came last. His abiding interest was in people and how he could help those who needed it. He was especially caring for the elderly, but the young were not to be neglected and he devoted his Sundays, for many years, to teaching at his local Methodist Sunday School. He gave much and asked for little, and as a result was adored by his patients and revered by his colleagues. To have known him and worked with him was a privilege.

WC Harris

[Brit.med.J., 1988,296,869]

(Volume VIII, page 511)

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