Lives of the fellows

Thomas Patrick Hubert McKelvey

b.6 May 1913 d.22 February 2003
MB BChir Cantab(1937) MRCP(1954) FRCP(1971)

Tom McKelvey had the foresight and good fortune, having qualified at Cambridge and Charing Cross, to join the Royal Army Medical Corps Territorial Army. When the Second World War broke out, he was given the status and seniority of a regular officer. This meant that during the war he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, while many of his contemporaries served as captains.

His early hospital appointments with distinguished individuals, including Gordon Holmes [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.195], followed by a year as resident casualty officer, ensured that by September 1939, when he was called up for service, he was highly suited to his army role. Had the war not intervened he had ambitions to be a neurologist, no doubt inspired by Gordon Holmes.

In 1939 he was medical officer to the 1st Battalion the Queen's Own Royal West-Kent Regiment and accompanied them in the British Expeditionary Force to France. He therefore had invaluable experience of front line soldiering and battle casualties. After the disastrous retreat of the army from the continent, and one month in the UK, he was posted to the Middle East Forces. His administrative ability was soon noticed and he was selected for staff duties in 1943, at the General Headquarters Middle East Forces. By 1945 he had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His appointment to GHQ meant that he was stationed in Cairo, living a pleasant and most comfortable existence.

A number of his contemporaries had, during the same period, endured the disagreeable and dangerous environment of the Western desert. There was considerable jealousy of Tom's life of luxury, but we had to admit that, quite apart from his seniority, he had earned it by his administrative ability and dedication, which none of us could equal.

After the war Tom attended the Staff College, for which very few doctors were ever selected, and was well thought of. It seemed his future career would be in field and administrative army medicine: he passed the examination with high marks. However, he felt that he had missed out on clinical work and wished to return to this branch of service. This meant reduction in rank, attendance at the senior officer's course at the RAMC College Millbank in 1949, secondment to teaching hospitals and study for membership of the College. He returned to clinical work in various military hospitals, but always felt that he lacked the experience of some of his contemporaries.

Tom and his lovely charming wife Jean were a handsome couple, kind and hospitable and were very good company socially. Tom was an excellent golfer, playing to a very low handicap. He was a difficult man to beat, not only for his skill but for his combative spirit and will to win. In Singapore he won nearly all of the trophies available during his two tours there.

His main appointments were at the British Military Hospital, Singapore, and the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital Millbank, London. His further posts in a senior capacity were as consulting physician in Far East Land Forces, and later as consulting physician, British Army of the Rhine.

He was a valuable second opinion, always respected by his team of consultants. They found him a hard taskmaster however, as he insisted that staff duties and administration were carried out carefully and conscientiously. But this was often necessary since young physicians were then notoriously adverse to 'paper work'.

During his term in Singapore and Malaya from 1966 to 1969 he became involved in very important work concerning chloroquine resistant falciparum malaria when this was first discovered in Malaya. This was work of great value, since at that time there were a large number of troops fighting in the jungles in Malaya where falciparum malaria was rife. His papers and publications were among the earliest on this subject.

His life, however, was shattered by the tragic death of his wife Jean, as the result of a dreadful traffic accident and he never really got over or made any sort of recovery from this disastrous affair.

In 1971 he was appointed director of army medicine and also a Queen's honorary physician. In the former post he held the rank of brigadier - the first ever to do so. All his predecessors had been promoted to major general. He himself could not be so promoted, since he had only two more years to serve and major generals had to be able to serve at least four on appointment. Furthermore, his wide experience and abilities seemed to fit him for the top position of director general of the army medical services with the rank of lieutenant general. But he and many of his friends were bitterly disappointed that this did not come about. He was embittered by these failures and retired two years later.

In his long period of retirement he suffered from chronic ill health and disability. This made it impossible for him to keep in touch with his many colleagues and friends in the RAMC.

Sir James Baird

(Volume XI, page 368)

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