Lives of the fellows

Malcolm William Arthurton

b.27 April 1918 d.9 January 2016
MB BS Lond(1941) MRCS LRCP(1941) DCH(1947) MRCP(1948) MD(1952) FRCP(1969) Hon FRCPCH

Malcolm William Arthurton was a consultant paediatrician in Bradford and, during the Second World War, medical officer of the 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron, which famously flew bombing raids over the Ruhr Valley in Germany.

He was born in Peckham, London, at the end of the First World War, while his 20-year-old father, Frederick William Arthurton, was missing but luckily alive as a prisoner of war. His mother was Louie Arthurton née Jelpke. He was educated at numerous schools as his father joined the Royal Air Force at the end of the war, but Malcolm’s final school years were at St Paul’s School in London, where he was a keen member of the fencing team and a good runner. He studied medicine at Westminster Hospital Medical School and, during his final year as a student, he was working regularly at night in the accident and emergency department, exposed to Blitz casualties on a regular basis, including major injuries and blast lung.

After qualifying in 1941, he did house jobs at Westminster Hospital and joined up in 1942 as an RAF medical officer. He initially carried out numerous medicals for new recruits, but was then posted in 1943 to the newly-formed 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron. The squadron was honing their low flying skills and Malcolm, like the majority of the squadron, had no idea the plan was to attack the Ruhr dams. He treated many air crew for ear problems and nausea. His flying log records him going on many training flights in different positions in the Lancaster Bombers, trying out various anti-sickness remedies. Malcolm talked little of his wartime experience until later in life. The loss of 40% of his patients who went on the raids on the night of the attack was a great sorrow to him. Later in 1943 he was posted to Bari in Italy to 627 Dakota Transport Squadron, which was working with Special Operations flying into occupied Yugoslavia to evacuate wounded partisans, including women and children. Malcolm flew regularly to treat the wounded on the return flight, which was hazardous due to the territory and the risk of typhus. For this dangerous work he was mentioned in despatches.

He returned home in 1946 along with many demobilised doctors and worked at Westminster Hospital as a supernumerary house physician to Donald Paterson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.365] and was inspired to forge a career in paediatrics, moving on to Great Ormond street in 1948 as a house physician. In 1949 he was appointed as a registrar at Hammersmith Hospital, learning exchange transfusion techniques. He was a senior registrar at Westminster Children’s Hospital from 1950 to 1953, learning cardiac catheterisation, and in 1953 he was awarded a bursary for a travelling fellowship in Scandinavia to study advances in congenital heart disease. While he was in Finland his first daughter was born.

His first consultant appointment was in Dewsbury in 1953 with a part-time post, until 1957, when he moved to Bradford as a consultant paediatrician, where he worked until his retirement in 1983. He was an excellent all-round paediatrician with an excellent rapport with children and the ability to talk with parents in a supportive and honest way. Malcolm was extremely hard-working, initially working as the sole consultant with the support of a clinical assistant and junior staff. He covered 94 acute paediatric beds across two Bradford hospitals and Keighley Hospital, and 40 convalescent beds at Wharfedale Children’s Hospital. He was especially proud of convincing his obstetrician colleagues that neonates should be cared for by paediatricians and as a result established a special care baby unit.

From 1958 he was an honorary lecturer in paediatrics and child health at Leeds University and taught students seconded to Bradford. He was a popular clinical teacher, being firm but fair with his challenges to students. He was very committed to nurse, midwife and physiotherapist training, teaching extensively on their courses. He was a great mentor to many junior doctors and took a particular interest in his overseas juniors and was still in touch with some of them up until his death.

Despite his very heavy clinical load, he found time for research, including a paper in 1967 on the ‘Paediatric aspects of the early discharge of maternity patients’ (Br Med J. 1967 Aug 26;3[5564]:517-20), which looked at 20,000 normal deliveries. This was done in collaboration with obstetrician and public health colleagues. He also wrote and lectured on child abuse, and also the issues facing paediatric departments working with a high immigrant population. He was involved in developing and supporting services for children with disabilities, including Bradford’s Child Development Centre, which opened in 1973.

One of his most testing times was the Bradford smallpox epidemic of 1962, when smallpox occurred in some of the patients and the cook at Bradford Children’s Hospital. Malcolm was heavily involved in the containment exercise over four intense days when 285,000 people were vaccinated and over 1,000 contacts traced and isolated.

He was a keen member of the British Paediatric Association and presented papers at local and national meetings.

He had a long association with the Royal College of Physicians and his account of his final MRCP viva in 1948 was published in the College’s Commentary in April 1988 (Vol.22, No.2, p.39). He recounted that, while awaiting the results of his performance, the president Lord Moran [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.407], was summoned to take a phone call in the room where he was waiting. Malcom thought he was being moved into an anteroom, but was actually shown into a broom cupboard, where he patiently waited in the dark until released to be informed he had passed his viva!

He also recounted the story of rupturing his Achilles tendon walking down the College steps in the 1970s and lying down in the Censors Room with his foot on the cushion used for the mace.

Following retirement, Malcolm used a great deal of time and expertise to help set up Martin House Children’s Hospice at Boston Spa, and continued as a director there for many years. He also raised thousands of pounds for Action Research, mostly by collecting scrap metal.

Malcolm was the nicest of men, with remarkable modesty despite his various achievements. He had a strong Christian faith and these values were clear to see to all who were privileged to know him. He lobbied in favour of assisted dying for many years.

Malcolm was predeceased by his wife Eve (née Edmonds), who died in 1995. He was survived by two daughters, one a consultant in elderly medicine, and two grandchildren, a physiotherapist and a captain in the Royal Marines.

Isabel Huggett

[The Telegraph 12 February 2016 – accessed 12 May 2016; BMJ 2016 352 887 – accessed 12 May 2016; The Westmorland Gazette 21 January 2016 – accessed 12 May 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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