Lives of the fellows

John Hirwaun Thomas

b.11 April 1917 d.28 March 2007
MRCS LRCP(1940) MRCP(1950) DCH(1950) FRCP(1975)

John Hirwaun Thomas (‘J H’) was a consultant physician in geriatric medicine to the Mid-Glamorgan Health Authority from 1962 until his retirement. He was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales. His father, William John Thomas, was a tailor who was killed serving in the medical corps in 1918 in the First World War. J H attended a local council primary school and then grammar school in Cardigan. He studied at the Welsh National School of Medicine and gained the conjoint diploma in 1940.

Immediately after qualifying, he worked as a general practitioner for five years in Whitland, west Wales. In addition to his responsibilities as a doctor, he was also a keen boxer and even taught boxing to young people in the area – in later years his interest in boxing waned due to the growing recognition of the danger of the sport. It may have been his boxing skills that led to his recruitment into one of the Auxiliary Units, Churchill’s secret guerilla army, which was to be deployed in the event of a German invasion of the UK.

J H’s career path led him to hospital medicine, first as a junior doctor at St Martins Hospital in Bath (from 1945 to 1947), and then as a junior hospital medical officer and medical registrar at Oldchurch Hospital in Romford, Essex. His next career move was to Swansea, where he was appointed as a senior medical registrar, until he became an assistant chest physician, again in Swansea, in 1952. While at Swansea, J H published an article on hematemesis and melena in a provincial hospital in the prestigious journal Gastroenterology (‘Hematemesis and melena: a survey in a British provincial hospital Jan 1938-July 1951’ Gastroenterology. 1954 Feb;26[2]:260-7). Some of the 435 patients written about in the article underwent rigid endoscopy as part of their assessment and the overall mortality was 10%, although within the timespan of the study (13 years) the mortality declined.

In 1959 J H was seconded to the Federal Government of the West Indies as a physician and medical adviser. In the West Indies J H travelled from island to island, advising the government on diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. He was also instrumental in setting up a new hospital in St Lucia.

Returning to Wales in 1961, he spent a year as a consultant general physician at Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen, before his substantive appointment as a geriatrician in Bridgend. He was presented with a medal by the British Geriatrics Society inscribed to ‘Dr J H Thomas 1947-1997 For services to Age Research and Geriatric Medicine’.

In addition to providing acute and chronic facilities for the care of the elderly, he continued to publish on medical topics. In 1971 he published (with D E B Powell) Blood disorders in the elderly (Bristol, John Wright), and also wrote papers on blood disorders in peer-reviewed journals.

He wrote two volumes in Welsh – Ar ynysoedd yr haul (or Islands in the sun) (Y Bala, Llyfrau'r Faner, 1972), in which he described the scenery and customs of the islands of the West Indies, and Yng nghwmni'r meddyg (or In a doctor’s company) (Abertawe, Ty John Penry, 1990), a volume of medical essays on common and not so common diseases

He also lectured and published on historical topics. When the Welsh National Eisteddfod was in Bridgend, he spoke on James Ebenezer Bicheno (1785-1851), a fellow of the Linnean Society. On the death of Bicheno’s wife in childbirth, he moved into the Bridgend area, where he was elected to the Board of Guardians, became a JP and was involved in setting up the Glamorgan Constabulary. J H’s study of Bicheno’s life led to an interest in workhouses, which culminated in the publication (with W E Wilkins) of a definitive history of the workhouse in Bridgend-Cowbridge (The Bridgend-Cowbridge Union workhouse and guardians, Cowbridge, D Brown & Sons, 1995). The former workhouse developed into the Bridgend Hospital, and was only replaced by the Princess of Wales Hospital in 1985.

In 1942 J H married Enid Elizabeth Davies (‘Lon’) and they had a son (Vyvyan) and a daughter, who survived him.

John S Morris

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List