Lives of the fellows

Eric Dick (Surgeon Vice Admiral) Caldwell

b.6 July 1909 d.11 July 2000
CB(1965) KBE(1969) CstJ MB ChB Edin(1933) LRCS LRCP LRFPS(1933) MD(1950) MRCP Edin(1956) FRCP Edin(1962) FRCP(1968)

Surgeon Vice Admiral Caldwell joined the Royal Navy initially for five years in 1934, survived the sinking of not only HMS Royal Oak, but also HMS Prince of Wales off Malaya in December 1941, and reached the pinnacle of his branch as medical director-general (Naval) before he eventually became a civilian again in 1969. He died just a few days after his 93rd birthday.

Sir Dick was born in South Africa and qualified at Edinburgh University in 1933. After a casualty job for six months, he assisted his father in practice for a further six months before taking the King's shilling.

He served for two years in HMS Norfolk in the East Indies, followed by a spell in the barracks at Portsmouth and the Royal Marine Infirmary. He went on to HM Hospital Ship Maine in the Mediterranean. His next appointment to HMS Royal Oak was short lived. After a spell ashore in Plymouth he joined HMS Prince of Wales in January 1941, took part in the Bismarck action and survived his second torpedoing in December. In later years, when reluctantly talking of his survival his only remark was, in his delightful Scottish lilt - 'I lost two damned sets of golf clubs'.

The Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in 1942 saw the real start of his clinical career, but he was deemed unfit for specialist training and went firstly to Kirkwall. He went on to RN Sick Quarters Liverpool, then on to a post as medical officer-in charge of the RN Barracks Verdala in Malta. He was subsequently appointed as principal medical officer of HMS Euroclydon, a transit barracks in Malta.

He returned to Haslar in 1946 for a six months medical specialist course and then went to RNH Hong Kong from 1947 to1950 where a perspicacious senior officer said he should do well.

He returned to the more bracing climate of East Anglia as the medical specialist at HMS Ganges, a boys' training establishment, and from there to Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth (officers' training) from 1952 to 1955.

By the time he returned to Haslar in 1956 he had obtained the MD with a thesis on 4000 cases of sandfly fever in Malta, the membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and had developed into an outstanding physician and good administrator. He was promoted to surgeon captain in December 1957.

At the end of 1958 he returned to Malta to run the busy families clinic and be on the admiral's staff. Next came the Admiralty Medical Board in London (in those days a physician's appointment) in 1961 and he was eventually graded as a consultant.

The Gilbert Blane medal came in 1962, as well as promotion to surgeon rear admiral as medical officer-in-charge of the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth. He was promoted to surgeon vice admiral as medical director-general (Naval) in 1966. He retired in 1969.

From 1970 to 1979, although not adverse to a wee dram himself, he was executive director of the Medical Council on Alcoholism; during his first year in office he gave a speech in Cardiff on rum and the Navy, in which he announced that, after 300 years: 'Their Lordships decided to abolish the rum ration for good and that on the last day of its issue a rum barrel was sadly and ceremoniously buried at sea with full Naval honours'.

In 1942 he married (Margery) Lee Abbott. He was distraught when, after a protracted illness at the end of their long and loving partnership, she died only a year before they were due to celebrate their golden wedding. Throughout his life he had the loving support of his sister, Joan, his nieces, Sue and Kate and his nephew, Simon.

When they moved to Kensington Dick and Lee quickly made friends with many of their neighbours and, although devastated by Lee's death, he kept in touch and often entertained them. He was warm and friendly with a great sense of humour, a fund of anecdotes and was an avid reader.

Surgeon Vice Admiral Sir Dick Caldwell was a well-respected Naval physician who had a reputation for great attention to detail and gained the confidence of his patients and his senior officers. He metamorphosed into a talented leader and administrator.

N Baldock

(Volume XI, page 91)

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