Lives of the fellows

Leslie Nancekievill

b.2 November 1914 d.25 July 2012
MRCS LRCP(1938) MB BS Lond(1939) MRCP(1946) MD(1947) FRCP(1969)

Leslie Nancekievill was a consultant physician in Wallsall, Sutton, Lichfield and Tamworth. He was born in Great Torrington, Devon, where his father, Thomas Nancekievill, was a headmaster. He was educated at Barnstaple Grammar School, where he excelled both academically and on the sports field. Aged 17, he obtained a Devon county scholarship to university, but was tragically involved in a road traffic accident in Hampshire. His mother, Laura Ann Nancekievill née Moulton, was killed instantly, and he and his father were seriously injured. He was unable to take up his scholarship but, undaunted, he re-sat the exam and gained a new one the following year.

In 1933, he left Barnstaple Grammar as head of school and captain of rugby to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London. He was an accomplished student, and was offered the opportunity to take a year out to obtain a BSc. Unfortunately, Devon county would not provide the funding, and his father was not in a position to support him. He was always regretted not being able to take up this opportunity. He qualified in 1938, having gained the gold medal in surgery, with an expectation of pursuing a career in that specialty. However, the Second World War was to thwart that ambition.

In 1939, just after the start of the war, and whilst working at Guy’s as Russell Brock's [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.62] house surgeon, he met and married Dorothy Hesslegrave, Brock's ward sister. In 1940, following further house jobs at Guy’s, he volunteered, as a doctor, for the RAF and was admitted as a flight lieutenant, subsequently rising to the rank of squadron leader.

He left England for the Middle East in 1941, leaving behind his wife and young son, and was not to return until 1945, by which time his son was five. During the war, apart from his routine medical duties, he developed a strong interest in chemical pathology, and set up several improvised laboratories in the deserts of Libya. On one occasion, his unit woke to find themselves surrounded by German troops. Once it was established that they were non-combatants, the Germans let them go with the understanding that they take and care for several severely wounded German soldiers; a very human exchange that seems less likely in today’s warfare.

On his discharge from the RAF in 1946, he was appointed as a supernumerary registrar in medicine at Guy’s. He then pragmatically obtained a definitive medical first assistant post (senior registrar) in medicine to T E Gumpert [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.215] in Sheffield, it being apparent that training in surgery at this stage would take too much time.

In 1949 he was appointed as the first NHS consultant physician to the Walsall Group of Hospitals and, in 1962, obtained additional sessions at the Sutton, Lichfield and Tamworth Hospitals Group. Leslie rapidly gained a reputation with local GPs as an expert diagnostician, but also as an easily approachable person who never talked down to them and was always willing to be called out at any time, day or night. His genial manner, coupled with his formidable diagnostic skills, soon established a strong bond of trust with them, so much so that they started to send their private cases to him, rather than to Birmingham. As a result, many captains of industry from this industrial part of the world developed life-long friendships with him.

Leslie became very active within the British Medical Association (BMA), and was appointed as chairman of the Walsall and Lichfield division (from 1957 to 1959) and chairman of the Staffordshire branch (from 1958 to 1959). As such, he was co-opted to the Birmingham regional consultants’ and specialists’ committee, which he chaired from 1965 to 1966. He was then appointed as the Birmingham regional representative on the BMA central committee of hospital medical staff. For this work, he was made a fellow of the BMA in 1969.

Leslie had developed an interest in chest and cardiac medicine and, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, saw the importance of creating a coronary care unit (CCU) in Walsall. This was ahead of its time for a district hospital, and money was hard to come by. Undaunted, he set out to woo the burghers of Walsall by giving after-dinner speeches to charitable organisations on medical matters. Meanwhile, his beloved Dorothy started giving highly amusing talks on her travels, gaining her an enviable reputation as an after-dinner speaker. She never claimed any fee or expenses, but did expect a donation towards the cause! By these means, the Nancekievills raised thousands of pounds to purchase equipment.

In 1977, he was honoured to receive the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal for services to medicine.

Following his retirement, in 1979, he moved back to his home county of Devon, where he concentrated on gardening and increasing his expertise in ornithology. As Dorothy became more disabled, he also learnt to become a very proficient cook and carer.

He continued to live on his own after Dorothy’s death, three months before their diamond wedding anniversary in 1999. Although he became increasingly frail in his later years, he kept his amazing memory for distant events: shortly before his death he was able to recall all the names of his classmates at primary school. His stories of the war were legendary amongst his friends, family and carers. He was survived by his three sons, two of whom are retired consultant anaesthetists, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Martin Nancekievill

(Volume XII, page web)

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