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Biographical entry Belcher, John Rashleigh (1917 - 2006)

MRCS 1939; FRCS 1942; MB BS London 1939; MS 1945; LRCP 1939.

11 January 1917
Liverpool, UK
12 January 2006
Thoracic surgeon


John Rashleigh Belcher was a thoracic surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital, London. Born in Liverpool on 11 January 1917, he was the ninth in a long line of doctors who originally hailed from Bandon in Cork. He was educated at Epsom and St Thomas’ Hospital, where he graduated at the age of 21, having asked for an early viva. At the outbreak of war St Thomas’ was evacuated to Farnham and there he met his wife, Jacqueline Phillips. It was a watershed time in medicine: on one side of the ward leeches were being applied and on the other an early sulphonamide drug (M&B 693) was being prescribed. He joined the RAFVR as soon as possible and was posted to Cottesmore. He became FRCS in 1942 and was posted to Canada. On his return he went to RAF Wroughton, where he gained huge experience from D-day casualties.

After demobilisation, he returned to St Thomas’ as resident assistant surgeon, before becoming interested in thoracic surgery. He worked at the Brompton in 1947 and became senior registrar at the London Chest and Middlesex hospitals. In 1951 he was appointed to the North West Thames region as a thoracic surgeon, a post which included the London Chest Hospital and places as far afield as Arlesey, Pinewood and Harefield. He was appointed consultant thoracic surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital in 1955.

He promoted lobectomy for lung cancer at a time when the conventional wisdom, endorsed by Tudor Edwards, was that nothing short of pneumonectomy was of any use, and he published on the treatment of emphysematous cysts. He performed over 1,000 closed mitral valvotomies, even as fourth operations, and reported on these. He was Hunterian lecturer in 1979. Unfortunately his reputation in this field was less widely acknowledged than his expertise in ‘lung volume reduction surgery’. He was a kind, supportive and tolerant boss who was always ready to praise.

He was president of the Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland in 1980. He travelled extensively with the British Council and set up cardiothoracic units abroad.

A devoted family man, he had wide musical tastes, was a compulsive gardener and an accomplished artist and photographer. Jacqueline died in 2006 and he died on 12 January 2006, leaving a daughter and two sons.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from P Belcher].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England