Lives of the fellows

Christopher William Bartley

b.12 July 1920 d.? June 2012
BM BCh Oxon(1943) MD McGill(1943) MRCP(1948) DM Oxon(1956) FRCP(1969)

Christopher Bartley was a consultant physician at Lambeth and St Thomas’ hospitals in London. He was born in Mundsley, Norfolk, the third of four children of Sir Charles Bartley, a High Court judge in the Indian Civil Service, and Eileen Marjorie Bartley née Hamilton. Growing up in the Buckinghamshire village of Swanbourne, he was educated at two Sussex preparatory schools, then Stowe. He went up to Trinity College, Oxford, in 1939.

His initial clinical experience was at Chase Farm Hospital and the London Hospital, and included stretcher duties in the East End during the Blitz. From Oxford he was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship to McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and there he spent the latter two clinical years. Weekends were spent as a house guest of friends at their lakeside home in the Laurentian mountains, and winter presented opportunities for skiing. He supplemented his finances with work as a waiter in his hall of residence. In early 1943, after final exams and qualification, he sailed from Halifax to Liverpool aboard a ship laden with high explosives. The threat of U-boat attack was lessened by high seas in a bitter easterly gale, and he stood in for the usually inebriated ship’s doctor.

After springtime finals at Oxford, Chris returned to the East End for house jobs at Queen Mary’s, Stratford, and at the London (where his experiences included witnessing the hospital’s first administration of penicillin, for a case of bacterial endocarditis). He was then called up into the RAMC in 1944, to Aldershot for training, then Oxford again, where the Examination Schools had been converted into a makeshift hospital.

Trained in the use of new equipment for battlefield casualty evacuation, he joined the secretive mobilisation of thousands to the south coast before the invasion of Normandy. Despite the security of the operation, Chris and his elder brother Tony, a RAF fighter pilot and veteran of the Battle of Britain, managed to drive home to Buckinghamshire by truck for a day of pre-invasion refreshment with their father.

Joining in the treatment and evacuation of the wounded from the beaches on the afternoon of D-Day, Chris was medical officer to a tank recovery unit close behind the Guards Armoured Division. In the administrative confusion resulting from their rapid advance east out of Normandy he was mistakenly posted by his commanding officer as a deserter.

1945 found him in Bangalore, preparing for the mass casualties anticipated in the final stages of the war in South East Asia, then sailing for Malaysia as part of yet another invasion fleet, learning of the atomic bomb detonations en route, and of the Japanese surrender as his unit arrived in Port Dickson.

Next he was posted to Java, Indonesia, charged with protecting civilians under attack from insurgents, in a situation of such manpower shortage that re-armed Japanese POWs had to be deployed as guards. In 1947 he returned home via Singapore, to a bitterly cold English winter and the challenges of a nation recovering from war.

He was awarded his membership of the RCP in 1948, and, after senior house officer and registrar posts at the John Radcliffe and London hospitals (and obtaining his doctorate at Oxford on ‘The effect of emphysema on pulmonary ventilation’), he became a senior registrar at the London.

Of this time another physician has written: ‘I still remember with esteem and indeed affection his teaching of us raw new clinical students at the London – not only what he taught us, but the delightful and humane way in which he did it... I did my best to emulate him when I myself was a clinical teacher.’

Chris was appointed in 1958 to the consultant post of physician to the Lambeth Hospital. He appreciated and made good use of the clinical freedom the position gave him, co-authored two books, and was jointly involved in setting up the medical eye unit. He joined the staff of the nearby St Thomas' Hospital in 1964, when the two were amalgamated, and from 1968 onwards he gave devoted medical care to the Nightingale nursing staff. From 1971 to 1976 he was also consultant physician to the Bolingbroke Hospital in Battersea, and he served alongside Cicely Saunders [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] on the board of Trinity Hospice, where he was welcomed in his final days.

At her sister’s wedding, Chris met Madeleine, a second cousin starting secretarial work in London, and they were married in 1963. Living in Battersea, they opened their home to a sequence of people in need of asylum from the traumas of life, as well as to visiting children from local council estates. Medical students from the Christian Unions of St Thomas’ and Guy’s hospitals also enjoyed their hospitality and guidance, both at home and on residential weekends away. In 1971 their son Jonathan was born.

On his retirement in 1984 St Thomas’ Hospital paid tribute to Chris’ ‘invariable courtesy, his deep concern for the welfare of patients under his care, his common sense laced with humour and his genuine concern for the happiness and welfare of all with whom he worked.’ He is also recalled as a source of intriguing diagnostic manoeuvres and therapeutic canniness – a truly general physician, a man who combined humility with authority and compassion with resolve, all undergirded by inspirational faith.

His retirement was initially spent researching and writing the history of his beloved Lambeth Hospital. The vitality of fellow Christians, both in the local church and in the workplace, was always a passionate concern. Chris was an avid reader and thoughtful commentator, a proud and grateful father and grandfather, who took the greatest delight in his family, a wise mentor and a true friend.

Julian Churcher

(Volume XII, page web)

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