Lives of the fellows

Wilfrid Gerald Harding

b.17 March 1915 d.5 March 2010
CBE MRCS LRCP(1941) DPH(1949) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1972) FFCM(1972)

Wilfrid Gerald Harding (originally Hoffman) was a consultant physician in community medicine at University College Hospital, London. Born in Berlin, he was the son of Ludwig Ernst Emil Hoffman and his wife, Marie Minna Eugenie née Weisbach, whose father Valentine Weisbach was a banker. His father was the chief town architect of Berlin and some of his buildings remain, including two hospitals and one town hall. Educated in Berlin and Bavaria, he thought about becoming an architect himself, or a lawyer. He came to the UK in 1933 on a three month study trip and decided to stay after finding out that the authorities were accusing his mother of having Jewish connections. Initially he attended Wookbroke School in Selly Oak, Birmingham and then he decided to follow a medical career and enrolled at London University and University College Hospital (UCH). He qualified in 1941, in spite of being twice interned as an enemy alien, once when war broke out in 1939, and also the following year.

After house jobs at UCH in 1941 to 1942, he spent a period as assistant medical officer of health at the Isolation Hospital in Oxford. In 1943 he enlisted with the RAMC while still a German national – an interesting situation as one of his brothers was chief of staff of the Luftwaffe night fighter group and was shot down by the RAF and another lost a leg fighting for the Nazis on the Russian Front. His surname was anglicised from ‘Hoffman’ to ‘Harding’ a few weeks before he took part in the Normandy landings. He was wounded in Caen soon after D-Day. In 1947, having reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was seconded to the Allied Military Government and Control Mission for Germany and put in charge of the civilian health services for the Ruhr district. It was a difficult posting as most of the qualified medical practitioners were disqualified from practising as they were Nazis. He wrote up the experience in a paper ‘Reorganization of the health services in the British Zone of Germany’ (Lancet, 1949, 2, 482-4).

Demobilised in 1948, he returned to the UK and took out British citizenship. Working in public health for the London County Council and several boroughs, he took the DPH in 1949 as he said ‘to qualify myself for the job I was doing’. In 1965 he was appointed medical officer of health for Camden, staying there until 1974. While there he introduced many innovations in the fields of mental health and family planning (Camden had family planning clinics two years before they were legally required) and promoted multidisciplinary health centres.

He was the author of several important papers on community medicine and, in 1971, was appointed honorary physician in community medicine to his alma mater, UCH. Supported by Sir Max (later Lord) Rosenheim [Munk's Roll, Vol.XII, web], he initiated the founding of the Faculty of Community Medicine in 1972 and became its president three years later. Convinced of the harm caused by tobacco since reading a report on the subject in 1955, he was a founder member of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health).

When he retired in 1979, he threw himself into local government in Farningham, becoming a parish councillor and then chairman of the parish council and being instrumental in preserving Farningham Woods as a nature reserve. For many years he served as an independent member of Sevenoaks District Council and was its chairman from 1977 to 1978. While at UCH as a student, he had captained the Rifle Club and throughout his life he very much enjoyed theatre and music.

He had three sons by his wife, Britta, from whom he was divorced. When he died at his home, after several years of cerebrovascular disease, he was survived by his second wife, Hilary, an artist, his sons, two stepchildren, 10 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2010 341 7312 - accessed 16 April 2015; The Hampstead and Highgate Express 2 July 1971 and 10 September 1971]

(Volume XII, page web)

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