Lives of the fellows

Godfrey James (Sir) Milton-Thompson

b.25 April 1930 d.23 September 2012
KBE(1988) BChir Cantab(1954) MB(1955) MRCP(1961) DCH(1963) FRCP(1974)

Sir Godfrey Milton-Thompson was a career naval medical officer who retired as a surgeon vice-admiral and surgeon general in 1990 after 35 years of dedicated service. He was born in Birkenhead, the son of James Milton-Thompson, a vicar whose parish was just south of Cammell Laird’s shipyard on the Mersey, and May LeMare Milton-Thompson née Hoare, the daughter of a bishop. He was educated at Eastbourne College, Queen’s College, Cambridge, and St Thomas’ Hospital.

In 1955 he joined the Royal Naval Medical Service, his National Service having been deferred because of his medical training. He joined on a short service commission and his initial appointments were as an assistant medical officer in Malta and then Chatham Dockyards. This experience led him to apply for a regular commission and also to specialise as a physician. He was seconded to Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool for training with a special interest in gastroenterology, and returned to the Navy in 1962 with his membership of the Royal College of Physicians. As a specialist in medicine he was initially appointed to Plymouth, before a further spell in Malta as a specialist in paediatrics. This was followed by his appointment as a consultant physician in 1968.

In the late 1960s he worked as a research fellow at St Mark’s Hospital, establishing a productive collaboration with Jerzy Jacek ‘George’ Misiewicz, a distinguished consultant in gastroenterology at the Central Middlesex Hospital. On Godfrey’s return to the Royal Naval Hospital Plymouth they together embarked on a research programme to evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of H2 receptor antagonists, a family of gastric anti-secretory drugs newly discovered by Sir James Black [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. Using novel approaches, they documented the inhibition of nocturnal acidity with metiamide, and food-stimulated and 24 hour acidity with cimetidine. The results were dramatic and heralded a revolution in the management of acid peptic disorders.

In 1974 he was awarded the Royal Navy’s Errol-Eldridge prize and in 1976 the Gilbert Blane medal for his work on the clinical pharmacology of therapeutic agents for peptic ulcer.

In 1975 he moved to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar as professor of naval medicine, where he oversaw the training of physicians in the Navy and further developed his research, giving many trainees an enduring enthusiasm for academia.

In 1982 he was appointed deputy medical director general with the rank of surgeon commodore and in this post he played a key role in organising the medical support for land and sea forces during the Falkland Islands Campaign. Before that, in 1981, he became the first naval medical officer to attend the annual one-year course at the Royal College of Defence Studies. From 1982 to 1990 he was an honorary physician to the Queen. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1984 and became medical director general of the Navy in 1985. In 1988 he was appointed surgeon general as a vice-admiral and was knighted in the same year.

He retired in 1990 and, following a spell as chairman of the Cornwall Community Healthcare Trust, he became warden of St Katharine’s House in Wantage, where he used his extensive network of contacts to raise £1.3m to improve the fabric of this residential home run by the Anglican Community of St Mary. At the same time he was elected chairman of the governors of St Mary’s School, Wantage.

He was an active and distinguished member of the Order of St John. He was a hospitaller and then chairman of the St John council for Cornwall, and national chairman of the St John Fellowship. He also raised funds for St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, which provides ophthalmic services for Palestinians, and organised numerous group tours to gain support for the hospital, visiting historic Christian and Crusader sites in Jordan, Israel, Syria and the Lebanon. In 1989 he was made a knight of justice of the Order of St John.

Sir Godfrey Milton-Thompson was a distinguished, charming man who was responsible for giving the Royal Naval Medical Service an international reputation for research into the management of acid peptic disorders. Many who trained under him are indebted to him for his leadership, support and influence, which resulted in many achieving senior academic appointments in the UK and abroad. He was responsible for steering the Royal Naval Medical Service through very difficult times in the 1980s, when he fought to retain its facilities, aware of the important role it played both in peace time and in war, as demonstrated by the Falklands Conflict, Iraq wars and in Afghanistan. Many service hospitals closed after his retirement, but he left a reputation of excellence in clinical care and research, which persists to this day.

He was survived by his wife, Noreen Helena Frances (née Fitzmaurice), whom he married in 1952, and their three daughters, Helena, Richenda and Louisa. Since 1966 the family home has been Pool Hall, a large, welcoming residence in Menheniot, Cornwall, which has been the scene of much generous hospitality over the years.

J G Williams

[The Independent 20 October 2012; The Telegraph 28 October 2012]

(Volume XII, page web)

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