Lives of the fellows

Forde Everard de Wend Cayley

b.1 November 1915 d.17 August 2004
MBE MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1946) MRCP(1946) MD(1948) FRCP(1971)

Forde Cayley was a former physician superintendent at Bevendean Hospital for Chest Diseases, near Brighton. The younger child of an Ealing solicitor, he was heir to a family tradition of brilliance coupled with eccentricity. His great-uncle William Cayley had been a physician at the Middlesex Hospital, where he was noted for his accuracy in diagnosis and prognosis, but also for his complete lack of bedside manner. William passed on his love of mountaineering to Forde's father, so childhood holidays were often spent climbing in the Alps. Although Forde began as a classics scholar, he changed to medicine and went to study at his great-uncle's old teaching hospital. His sister was already there, training to become one of the first physiotherapists.

He qualified in 1939. At the outbreak of the war he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was caught up in the chaotic withdrawal from France as the Germans invaded. A cousin had introduced him to his future wife Eileen Dalton at her mother's Chelsea salons, where the artistic and musical guests included the composer Roger Quilter. He gave the young couple some autographed compositions when they married in September 1941. Their happiness was brief, for within months Forde had joined the 5th Suffolk Regiment and was bound for the Far East. After the fall of Singapore he was marched to the infamous Changhi barracks and then to the River Kwai.

He was moved from camp to camp along the railway, much in demand for extracting teeth, treating cholera, dysentery and malaria as best he could. In his book The Suffolk Regiment - History 1928-46 Colonel Richardson writes, "Captain Cayley, the gallant and indefatigable medical officer, had to walk many miles each day along muddy tracks to visit all his patients". Robert Hardie, in his memoir The Burma-Siam Railway (London, Imperial War Museum, c.1983) records that Cayley had "ingenious ideas for concocting therapeutic compounds from substances locally available". Once at the 'hospital' camp at Nakhon Pathon he gave an anaesthetic for a thoracoplasty, using improvised apparatus. At one point he was ordered to give up his surgical instruments. He refused and was given a severe beating.

Eventually he was released and repatriation came. His courage and dedication was rewarded by an MBE, but those years of deprivation, beatings and disease had taken their toll. He never bore a grudge against the Japanese people, although the terrible memories never ceased to haunt him. Many years later he showed kindness and hospitality to visiting Japanese students. Near the end of his life he gave his grandson every encouragement to go to Japan to teach.

Despite his poor health, he sought medical work immediately after the war. In 1951 he became physician superintendent at Bevendean Hospital for Chest Diseases, near Brighton, where he remained until his retirement. For the first nine years most of his cases were tuberculosis. He published several papers on the subject. It was a time of new drug therapies for the disease and he was one of the first to test these. With the organising support of Eileen (because his own management of paperwork was chaotic and his handwriting could barely be deciphered), he was secretary of the local British Medical Association for many years. After retirement he continued to do locums in hospital and then general practice.

Although his commitment to medicine was intense, he did have other interests. His allotment was remarkable for its prodigious growth of both weeds and leeks. A polite gathering might be surprised by the sudden entrance of a ginger cat leading a small man in muddy boots, eyes twinkling and walrus moustache bristling with mischief, who would be clutching some enormous vegetable, while complaining loudly that his cabbages had gone septic. For 30 years he was a lay reader in his local church. His other pleasures were simple - playing the piano, walking by the sea, occasionally sailing and completing crosswords, a love that never left him. His attitude to cars, whether as a pedestrian or driver, was robust. No obstacle stood in his way. He had never had to take a test and his driving called for great fortitude on the part of his passengers.

He cared for his devoted wife in her last months, but when she died in 1997 his health and spirit began to deteriorate. After two years he requested to go into a nursing home, where he died peacefully after a stroke. All who had known him, including those who nursed him at the last, responded with affection and respect, recognising his intellect, his stubbornness and his sense of humour. He and Eileen had two sons, Charles, who also became a consultant physician, and Michael, who became a senior civil servant. The publication of his memoirs, assisted by Michael, was something which gave him pleasure in his last years.

A C D Cayley

[Brit.med.J.,2004,329,802]

(Volume XII, page web)

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