Lives of the fellows

Wilfred Danvers Brinton

b.19 July 1911 d.10 April 1985
BA Oxon(1933) LMSSA(1938) BM BCh(1938) MRCP(1946) DM(1950) FRCP(1967)

Wilfred Brinton was of a distinguished medical family. His paternal grandfather was William Brinton MD FRCS FRCP who died in 1867 [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV p.76]. His maternal great-grandfather was Sir William Bowman Bart.,FRS FRCS (1816-1892) of capsular fame. His brother was Denis H Brinton DM FRCP (q.v.) former dean of St Mary’s, with whom Wilf kept up a weekly correspondence.

Wilfred’s mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and he held that he was conceived because her physician advised that another pregnancy might at least alleviate her affliction. He was born and educated at Eton College, where his father was an esteemed housemaster (retired 1924, died 1941) whose pupils continued to meet annually until 1979. His education continued at New College, Oxford, and Guy’s Hospital. He had many additional interests: archaeology, early Scottish history, Italian art, an intense and rather pedantic interest in the use of words, and natural history - one holiday, before the war, he spent largely dissecting a stranded whale. These interests may have delayed his progress as a medical student but they enriched the remainder of his life.

Wilf married Barbara Lyall, a fellow Oxford graduate, in 1940. They both had strong personal attributes, but the fundamental bond was firm and lasting. Their two adored, and indulged, daughters have matured to responsible professional careers.

Wilf joined the RAMC in 1939 and was posted to Cairo late in 1940 where he was first MO to CSDIC, and then to hospitals in Tripoli and Southern Italy. Barbara was also in the Middle East from 1942 and worked for three years there in civil supplies. In 1945 Wilf returned to Guy’s as senior registrar. He was particularly interested in congenital heart disease and heart lesions. On Tuesday afternoons he conducted a teaching round at one of the satellite hospitals, which was very well attended by junior staff who appreciated his interest in his patients and his subject, and his fresh and lively presentations. His publications were principally on congenital heart disease. In 1950 he was appointed consultant physician to the Winchester Group of Hospitals, with the special interest of cardiology. He served town, gown and country with equal dedication. His rounds were extremely well attended. His duties included visits each week to Basingstoke, Alton, and Andover hospitals. For many years he served the College as examiner in pathology for the Membership examination.

Though both husband and wife were ‘good mixers’ neither had time, nor inclination, for the social life. Real friends became members of an extended family. To this, before my time, belonged Angus the fisherman at Morar who taught Wilfred everything he knew about the sea. Those in Winchester certainly included Mr Benham the gardener, and Mrs Harris who skilfully ran her own home and also managed the Brinton’s. ‘Old Nan’, Wilfs nannie, was of the family in England and in Scotland. There was also his old friend and neighbour at Traigh: VSS in Arisaig.

Devoted as he was to his birthplace, Wilf was more attached to Morar and Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland. Here, from 1885-1924 the Bowman family had rented, but never bought, a house. Their many guests were never expected to stay for less than a fortnight in view of the arduous journey to get there. Barbara has transcribed and edited the ‘Journals’ of those summers. It was here that Wilf spent his boyhood, his last nine years, and many times in between.

In his youth Wilf was active in climbing mountains. He also sailed the unpredictable seas of the Hebrides to Eigg, Canna and Loch Brittle. In his fishing he followed the advice of his old mentor, Angus: ‘Any time I being dead, Master Wilfred, this is where you’ll get the fish.’ The trick was to transform red lugworms into red raspberries in 12 hours. We rose early to dig the lugworms at low tide and, after a quick kipper breakfast, hurried to the boat house to thread the bloody worms onto the murderous hooks of the long line. The line was placed so that it could be played out from the boat without a tangle. Then a long row to the mouth of the Morar river where the line would be played out on the bank indicated many years before by Angus. Back to the boat house for marmalade sandwiches, usually in pouring rain, then the long row back to the line. Hauling in the line requires the skill of the hauler and yet more skill of the oarsman to keep the boat in suitable trim. The fish came in: plaice, starfish, skate, and hopefully no congers. Back to the cottage to gut the fish to the cries of raucous hungry gulls. Then a platter (aschet) of fresh fish to VSS, which she rewarded with a plate of raspberries. Hey presto! Red lugworms to red raspberries in 12 hours.

On retirement Wilf made no delay in returning to a skilfully rebuilt 'Old Mary's Cottage'. Too little time was given for these last happy and contented years. In his final brief illness Wilf made light of his constraints. He even said that he enjoyed hospital food. His skilful and compassionate physician, however, allowed him to return home to Arisaig. He watched the ever changing colours and lights over the sea and the islands, he fingered his books, he heard again his favourite recordings. So his last days had a tranquillity comparable to that of the Strauss 'Last Four Songs'.

HE Holling

[Lancet, 1985,1,1172;Guy's Hosp Gaz May 1985]

(Volume VIII, page 43)

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