Lives of the fellows

William Benthall Armstrong

b.20 January 1918 d.19 March 2004
BM BCh MA Oxon(1942) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1978)

William Armstrong, known always with affection as 'Bill', was a physician in Buckinghamshire. The son of a county court judge, he was born in Indore, India, then educated at Eton College as a King's scholar. Later he went to Christ Church, Oxford, and qualified at the Oxford University Medical School in 1942. In the same year he married Ailsa Young, the daughter of a major general.

Following a house surgeon post at the West London Hospital and then a position as resident surgical officer at the Royal Masonic Hospital, Bill took a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1944 and served for two years in the Far East. Ordered to learn to ride a motor bicycle, he found good use for such skills in the Malay jungle. In India he created a much envied flood drainage system beneath his tent. He came to recognise and treat tropical illnesses and also to make perceptive observations on military hierarchy. Despite the latter, he rose to the rank of major and was appointed as state medical and health officer to the state of Negri Sembilan, supervising four hospitals. All this experience taught Bill that close attention to detail and a sense of humour are invaluable attributes when needing to do several tasks at the same time yet still do them all effectively. After a final posting as a regimental medical officer in Singapore, Bill returned to Oxford as medical registrar at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

In 1948, at the start of the NHS, he went to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, as a clinical assistant, initially at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, and later at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. He stayed on and eventually rose to fulfil, simultaneously, no less than three essential roles in the hospital service - as well as being clinical assistant to the medical unit, he was also a visiting physician to the county asylum and medical officer to the nursing and residential staff of the whole hospital group. For 35 years he continued to excel in all three of these roles until his retirement in 1983. He acted for two lengthy periods as locum consultant physician, but never sought the position on a permanent basis. Whether by consultant colleagues, who regarded him unreservedly as an equal, nurses and junior doctors, who thought of him more as an uncle, or his patients, who knew his conscientious care and skill at first hand, Bill was respected, trusted and loved by all.

Bill took an interest in many things outside the hospital gates. His family, Ailsa and their two sons, Stephen and Christopher, and their grandchildren, all gave him the greatest of pleasure. He delighted in both church architecture and congenial discourse in country pubs. He was an avid explorer of the hills and countryside, especially in the Lake District. His love of gardening was typically diligent and rarely would he miss the opportunity to lift the errant dandelion. He was an artistic photographer and a writer of poetry. Yet he delighted not only in the arts but in the science of everything. Others might use things, but Bill would want to know how they worked - motor cars, yachts, railways and canals. Many enjoy drinking beer or cider - Bill would want to know how they were made. Some are just content to go through the broken gate and onward up onto the fells beyond - Bill would first have to mend the gate.

Yet Bill's overriding interest was in people. It is exemplified by his own listing of hobbies and other interests in which he placed conversation at the top of the list. This is how I and many others will remember him. Always amiable, he always made a self-effacing contribution to any gathering. He was a respected physician of immense charm and character - a scholar, polymath and doctor of great skill and ability, yet entirely without pretension.

Anthony H Knight

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List