Lives of the fellows

Philip Henry Almroth Willcox

b.18 September 1910 d.3 January 2000
BA Cantab(1931) LMSSA(1934) MB BChir(1937) MRCP(1938) MD(1947) FRCP(1964)

Philip Willcox was a general physician in Windsor whose career extended from the late 1930s through the Second World War, to the first 30 years of the NHS. He was the youngest son of Sir William Henry Willcox [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.514], the well known toxicologist and physician to St Mary`s Hospital, London, who chose Sir Almroth Wright [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.60] to be Philip’s godfather. Educated at Oundle, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and St Mary’s Hospital, Philip also came to know Sir Alexander Fleming [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.132] personally. Soon after qualifying, he served as house surgeon to George Grey-Turner at the (then) British Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith. In 1938 he gained his membership of the College, and married Grey-Turner`s eldest daughter, Inga. They each also had medical brothers, and they subsequently had two sons who both became doctors.

From 1938 to 1939, Philip was medical registrar at St Mary’s and, from 1939 to 1942, in the Emergency Medical Service at Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke. He then joined the RAMC and served in India and Burma, reaching the rank of major; he was in the siege of Imphal. At that time, the average soldier spent about two months each year under the care of the doctors, whose contributions were therefore vital to the entire campaign. During those years, Philip saw many cases of scrub typhus, on which he subsequently wrote his MD thesis and published a report in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine.

Not only did his service give him a lifelong affection for the East: it also greatly broadened his experience, especially in infectious diseases, which remained one of his major interests. In his later years, he was one of the last doctors still familiar with smallpox, and was occasionally summoned to Heathrow to advise on suspect cases.

Philip belonged to the ‘awkward generation’ of specialists who would normally have become consultants in the early 1940s. Like many other returnees from the Second World War, he was faced with a bottle-neck in the job market. They had also expected to practise under the previous system where consultants worked about half of their time in the hospitals for no pay, and made their living from private work in the other half. In 1947, they had to adapt to the advent of the NHS, which Philip never accepted with enthusiasm. He became especially frustrated by some policies for managing patients and even staff, but his attitudes mellowed substantially after he retired.

In 1946, he was appointed as physician to King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor, and later to other hospitals in the group. In 1957, he became director of the infectious diseases unit at Maidenhead. He also consulted at Holloway Sanatorium and Broadmoor Hospital. He was elected FRCP in 1964. After retiring, he served as locum consultant in geriatric medicine at Old Windsor Hospital for about two years.

An old-style general physician, Philip was sceptical about sub-specialisation, and was particularly valued as a diagnostician. He developed interests in thyroid disease and in the use of the new drug carbimazole for thyrotoxicosis. He also contributed to the debates on domiciliary versus hospital management of myocardial infarction, and on the benefits versus risks of chloramphenicol. He was popular with junior medical staff and nurses.

Involved in the East Berks division of the BMA for several years, Philip served as president of the Windsor and District Medical Society from 1964 to 1965, when he hosted (as after-dinner speaker) his hero Field Marshal Viscount Slim, whose key role in the Burma campaign he admired tremendously. He was also master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries from 1979 to 1980. He inherited a strong interest in medico-legal affairs, and was a keen member of several related societies. Towards retirement, he wrote The detective-physician: the life and work of Sir William Willcox (London, Heinemann Medical, 1970), a readable and interesting life of his father. His other recreations included riding, skiing, tennis and observing wild life, especially butterflies. A short recitation at the internment of his ashes was interrupted by loud screeches from a passing flock of parakeets – which would have amused him greatly. He was a loyal churchgoer all his life, and a kind and much loved physician, colleague, family man and friend.

Nicholas Willcox
Christopher Willcox

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List