Lives of the fellows

James Armstrong Gordon Carmichael

b.28 July 1913 d.28 January 1990
CB(1978) MRCS LRCP(1935) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1972)

James Carmichael was the son of Donald Gordon Carmichael, who retired to take up general practice after service in the RAMC as a lieutenant colonel, and his wife Eileen Mona Armstrong, whose father James Armstrong served in the Indian Medical Service with the rank of colonel Carmichael's paternal grandfather also retired as a colonel IMS and an uncle served in the RAMC. His wife Nina was the daughter of Edmund Ashton Heape who was a regular Army officer. With such ancestors and family connections it was not surprising that he chose military medicine as his primary career and that he served in the RAMC with great distinction. He was born in Manchester and educated at Epsom College and Guy’s Hospital.

At Guy’s he quickly became one of a small band of friends who remained tightly knit together throughout their student days and, insofar as circumstances allowed, in the years to follow: W N Mann, J R Forbes, C A Lillicrap [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.293], and M A Partridge [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.372] - all of whom became Fellows of the College - together with J E Spalding and J H Mayer, who became surgeons and Fellows of the RCS. After the second world war, survivors of this group formed a luncheon club which met annually at one or other of the members’ houses. Carmichael was a very popular member, not least for his cheerful good humour and unchanging and generous disposition.

On qualifying at Guy’s, as one of the youngest doctors ever, he joined the RAMC in 1935, following a house appointment at Hospital St Cross, Rugby. He was awarded the Ronald Martin prize on the junior officers’ course at Millbank and was then posted to India. It was about this time that he married Nina Heape. During the period 1936-39 as staff doctor, Ahmednagar, he showed his skill as a physician and his particular interest in tropical medicine and gained the post of medical specialist, British Military Hospital, Secunderabad.

Early in the second world war large Indian forces were being sent to the Middle East and Carmichael joined 23 Combined General Hospital which soon proceeded to Iraq. On the move of the 4th Indian Division to the Western Desert he had become second in command of 26 Indian Field Ambulance. In February 1942, with the disastrous defeat and retreat of the 8th Army before Rommel’s counter attack, his unit was overrun and he was captured and sent to Italy as a prisoner of war. He had just become an acting lieutenant colonel a couple of months before and, of course, held the rank for the duration of the war. This was the first misfortune affecting his military career since, in the great expansion of British and Indian forces, many younger and less able men overtook him and reached higher rank - which he would undoubtedly have achieved and was denied.

When Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943 he escaped and, after many adventures, reached Evadé in Switzerland where he was interned until 1944, when he was reported to be safe in Allied hands. On return to duty he had a spell as officer commanding troops in the hospital carrier St Julien before proceeding on the senior officers’ course at Millbank, where he was able to get back to clinical medicine and complete his training as a physician. On this course he gained the Ronald Martin gold medal for tropical medicine and in 1948 he achieved membership of the College. He held posts as medical specialist and as officer in charge of medical divisions in hospitals at home until 1949 when he became command adviser in medicine, Austria, for three years. In his next tour overseas he was in charge of the medical division in the British Medical Hospital, Singapore, from 1952-53, and consultant physician Middle East Land Forces 1953-55.

On return home he was successively in charge of the medical division Cambridge Military Hospital Aldershot and Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank. His final service post was as consultant physician and professor of tropical medicine at the Royal Army Medical College, Millbank, since it was during his tenure of this office that he had a myocardial infarct which resulted in his being invalided from the Army in 1958 as a full colonel. This was the second blow to his military career as he was well on course to become the consultant physician to the Army with the rank of major general, and it was a great loss to the Service.

James Carmichael was a fine, practical physician, a competent administrator and an excellent teacher. Probably his best work was done at Millbank when he was responsible for the training of new entrants to the RAMC in tropical medicine and - for the more senior graduates - towards membership of the College. For this latter group, through his connections with Guy’s he gained entry to the teaching sessions and clinical rounds of the senior staff members. Thus he ensured a vital widening of experience and an excellent pass rate for the consultants of the future in the RAMC.

After his enforced retirement from the Army, he joined the medical service of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in 1958, which was later to become the Ministry of Social Security and subsequently part of the Department of Health and Social Security. During his early years with the Ministry he served in the regional office at Leeds and the central office at Newcross, Blackpool. Promotion through the grades of the service came rapidly and he was transferred to the Ministry’s London headquarters, becoming deputy chief medical adviser (Social Security) in 1971.

He succeeded to the office of chief medical adviser in 1973. In the latter post he led a team of 150 full-time doctors and about 3000 part-time, who were concerned in the adjudication of claims to benefit and the assessment of disablement. He had the responsibility of advising the administration on medical issues affecting social security benefits of many kinds. As the welfare state expanded more benefits were projected and judicial decisions had their effect on the processes of adjudication. James Carmichael’s formal comments were always erudite, relevant and instructive.

His less formal verbal comments, to those of his own profession privileged to be working in close contact with him, were often pungent, irreverent and entertaining. He retired from the Civil Service and from further professional activity in 1978 and was appointed CB in the Birthday Honours of that year.

Sadly, his retirement - which should have given him so much pleasure and enjoyment - was shattered by the death of his wife Nina m 1981, which broke his heart. He was incomplete without her, perhaps a weakness and yet a reflection of his love for her. In 1988 he moved to Harrogate to be near his two sons and some of his old liveliness returned. He was very proud of his family history of service in military medicine, and of his two sons and one daughter-in-law who are all doctors, and he adored his four grandchildren. He had a remarkable life and made lasting friends wherever he went.

Sir James Baird
D F Rice

[Brit.med.J., 1990,300,1072]

(Volume IX, page 75)

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