Lives of the fellows

John Charles Harland

b.10 Aug 1912 d.2 March 2000
MRCS LRCP(1936) MB BS Lond(1937) MRCP(1938) MD(1948) FRCP(1966)

Note: the first obituary (below) was published in print form in Volume XI; the second was received after publication of the printed edition.

John Charles Harland was a consultant physician on the Isle of Wight. He was born in Hull, the son of William Charles Frederick Harland, a general practitioner, and Winifred Kate née Halliday, the daughter of a soldier. He was educated at Worksop College in Nottinghamshire, and then studied medicine at Westminster Hospital, qualifying in 1936. He held house posts at Westminster, and then, in 1939, joined the RAMC. He spent most of the second world war in the Egyptian desert, and was later with the first casualty unit to cross the Rhine. He was mentioned in despatches.

Following demobilisation, he returned to Westminster Hospital, where he was a medical first assistant and senior registrar. In April 1950 he was appointed as a consultant physician to the Isle of Wight group of hospitals. He served the island community for the next 28 years, and was particularly proud of establishing the local postgraduate medical centre.

He was interested in history, literature and golf, and served his local church as a churchwarden. He married his wife Margaret in 1943. They had three sons – Peter, Stephen and Tim – and eight grandchildren.

Sarah Jane Gillam


John Charles Harland grew up with his younger brothers and sister in a doctor’s house in Hull, where his father was in general practice. Early in his life, before he went to school, John was found to have a heart murmur and this resulted in a ban on ordinary school games. Golf was permitted and he took this up with enthusiasm and continued with it up to the last years of his life, becoming a well-known member – and in his time captain – of the Sandown Golf Club.

From Worksop College he gained a scholarship to Westminster Medical School. He qualified in 1936, took his membership soon after and was appointed as a medical registrar at Westminster. However, the war intervened. He joined the forces immediately and was sent out to the Middle East, where for the next four years he spent most of his time in the desert. He was promoted to major and finally lieutenant colonel, and it was while he was in Egypt that he met Margaret Hallett, who had come from Australia to join the Army Nursing Service. They were married in 1943 and before they had time for the briefest of honeymoons his unit was posted back to the UK. During the next year his unit was prepared for Operation Overlord. He crossed the channel very soon after D-day and months later his unit was the first medical unit to cross the Rhine, and ultimately advanced far into northern Germany. Before the end of the war he was mentioned in despatches.

Back in civilian life he resumed his registrarship at the Westminster and over the next four years or so he worked there and elsewhere. He also studied for his MD degree.

In 1950 he was appointed as a consultant physician to the Isle of Wight, bringing his wife, Margaret and their three sons, Peter, Stephen and Tim, to Newport. To this appointment he brought high qualifications, 15 years experience in medicine, and sincere and enduring principles. He was a practising Christian: he and his family regularly worshipped at the parish church and he was for several years a church warden. He was glad to give practical help in church affairs and to charities – Christian Aid in particular.

His life was a busy one. His physician colleagues had both been on the island since about a decade before the war and they were nearing the end of their professional life. Both were gone after about another 10 years. The workload in those years must have been a heavy one. Help at that time was extremely limited – there was just one house physician at each of the two general hospitals. Besides a full share, or rather more, of the medical work, John had to supervise and take responsibility for the wards of elderly chronic sick at St Mary’s, the residuum of the former infirmary and workhouse. The geriatric service was developing slowly, but did not reach the island until the 1960s. It was natural that the medical community should look up to him (indeed at his great height, 6ft 5in, one could hardly do otherwise), and he was much in demand, both in smaller hospitals and in the community. It was also inevitable he would soon be called upon to undertake all the extras which arise, including membership or chairmanship of group and regional committees, and many sessions giving advice on administration and organisation.

In clinics and on the wards he was brisk and incisive. Some thought him on occasion abrupt or somewhat remote, but there was much to do and little time to waste, and on ward rounds he was certainly ready to listen to colleagues and juniors and to debate problems.

In committee he kept to the point and was prepared to give a firm lead. At a time when a dispute about pay was generating considerable feeling, someone piped up: “the boilermakers wouldn’t stand for it, we should strike”. His immediate retort, “I am not a boilermaker”, closed the matter.

In consultation he was thorough, friendly and helpful, though quite prepared to indicate if he believed that errors had been made. A personal recollection is of two separate occasions when he came to a local special hospital to see patients with very uncommon conditions unrelated to the specialty. He was quick to make a diagnosis and to tell us the treatment, an impressive achievement.

He had the greatest concern for continuing medical education. Before the medical school at Southampton and the postgraduate centre were opened, he organised occasional midday clinical meetings at the end of morning outpatient clinics. I can remember now, after more than 35 years, the interest and the enthusiasm they aroused.

When in 1967 the postgraduate centre was opened he was the first clinical tutor and librarian. He also found himself holding a licence to sell alcoholic liquors – someone had to take responsibility for the bar when the centre was opened. He continued coming to lectures and clinical meetings up to his retirement and after.

In retirement he played golf up to a few years before the end. His interest, apart from medicine, had always lain in history and he enjoyed visiting places of historic interest. With Margaret he visited Australia and also Canada where Peter, one of the two sons who followed him into medicine, is in practice. Sadly at the very end his heart disorder took its toll and the last year or so was a time of failing powers.

In the 28 years during which he held his consultancy he, more than anyone else, led the profession on the island through the many great changes which it experienced. There was not perhaps much time for levity, but my lasting memory of him is of a smiling face and a readiness to laugh and enjoy a joke.

Eric Laidlaw

(Volume XI, page web)

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