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Biographical entry Rogers, Norman Charles (1916 - 2011)

MRCS 1939 and FRCS 1949; MB BS London 1939; LRCP 1939.

Born
14 October 1916
Long Acre, London, UK
Died
19 February 2011
UK
Occupation
Accident and emergency surgeon and General surgeon

Details

Major General Norman Rogers was the director of Army surgery, and during his career encouraged the training of Army surgeons and the study of military wounding at the research establishment at Porton Down. He was born on 14 October 1916 in Long Acre, central London, the only child of Charles William Rogers, a wing commander in the RAF, and Edith Minnie née Weaver. He was initially educated at Mostyn House School in Cheshire, but, with his father's posting to Egypt, he moved to Victoria College, Alexandria. Finally, he was schooled at Imperial Service College, Windsor. He then studied medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he was awarded the Brackenbury scholarship in surgery.

Immediately on qualifying, he volunteered to join the Royal Army Medical Corps and was soon posted to join the British Expeditionary Force in France, Belgium and eventually the beaches of Dunkirk, from where he was evacuated to the UK. For his work with the wounded at Dunkirk he received his first mention in despatches. In 1941 he joined the 4th Royal Tank Regiment and served in North Africa, Tobruk, and the battle of Gazala. During this battle they were surrounded and came under heavy shellfire. When the crew of an anti-tank gun was hit, Rogers collected the wounded in his truck and, whilst moving them to the field ambulance, he was intercepted by a German armoured car and taken prisoner. He was sent to a prisoner of war camp in northern Italy at Fontanellato near Parma. In this camp were 600 prisoners with a wide variety of characters and abilities. He wrote that there seemed to be experts on everything from physics to forgery, and the personalities ranged from the straight laced to the raffish. The student could learn fascinating details about low-life east of Suez or the Danish system of pig farming. He also was involved in a discussion with an Italian doctor about whether the novel Don Quixote is a comedy or a tragedy: later he was able to discuss the same problem with his grand-daughter when she was studying the same book at university. In September 1943, after the Italian Armistice, the camp commandant opened the gates and allowed the prisoners to march out.

Norman joined up with Captain Arthur Jones, later an MP, and they decided to walk south to meet the Allied Forces who were 400 miles away near Naples, they believed. Other prisoners, Eric Newby and Richard Carver, the stepson of Field Marshal Montgomery, made the same walk and wrote books about it. Norman and Arthur skirted La Spezia, crossed the river Arno east of Florence and trekked along the Appennine ranges. They used sheep tracks, knocked on the doors of isolated houses of shepherds and peasants. They slept in barns and dodged the German patrols who were furiously seeking the escapees. The Italians fed, sheltered and sometimes clothed them. However poor they were, they always shared with them what little they had. They were voluble, occasionally unreliable, but generous, kind and brave. As they approached the Volturno river, near Venafro, the Germans were establishing a new defensive line and blowing things up. At Raviscanina the village was empty - they were in no-mans land. There was a castle on the high ground being shelled. As they went towards it along a narrow alleyway, an old woman shouted at them - the path was mined and had killed a boy the night before. Following in her footsteps, they got through the minefield and reached the crest. They were eventually met by an astonished GI of the 36th Texas Division.

Rogers considered that they had covered 400 miles as the crow flies, but his maps and diary indicated that the tortuous route they had actually walked had taken them more than twice the distance. They gave the Americans a lot of useful information, but then were moved under armed escort to a British intelligence officer for more debriefing. They were flown to Algiers and then repatriated on a troopship. Norman woke his parents at dawn on Christmas Eve. He was later mentioned in despatches for the second time. He then wrote his personal diary of his escape - it was for his family, not for publishing.

In June 1944 he was the resident medical officer of the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch in the Normandy landing and served in North West Europe. He was wounded in the leg and evacuated to the UK. After surgery, he rejoined his regiment and served with them to the end of the war. He was mentioned in despatches for a third time. On 31 March 1945 he was released, unemployed, from the Army.

His experience of treating battle casualties during the Second World War led to his desire to become a surgeon. Following his demobilisation, he commenced training in surgery, starting as a house surgeon at Bart's and then as a casualty and surgical registrar in Norwich hospitals.

He passed his FRCS in November 1949 and was subsequently appointed as a senior registrar at the Birmingham United Hospitals in 1952. It was there that he met and married Pamela Marion Rose, a doctor, in 1954. They had three children, Charles, now a car designer, Emma, a dentist, wife and mother, and Richard, a consultant paediatric anaesthetist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.

He rejoined the RAMC in 1956 and was soon designated a consultant and officer in charge of the surgical divisions at the British Military Hospitals in Chester, Dhekelia in Cyprus, Catterick in the UK and Iserlohn in Germany. He was promoted to brigadier and appointed as a consultant surgeon to the British Army of the Rhine in 1967. In 1969 he was appointed as the director of Army surgery and honorary surgeon to the Queen. He was promoted to major general on 23 March 1969 and retired from the Army in May 1973.

Returning to the NHS, he became the consultant in the accident and emergency department at Guy's Hospital, London, and was soon appointed as clinical superintendent, dealing with the many changes to which the NHS is subject.

On retirement from his distinguished career at Guy's, he returned to the Army as a civilian consultant surgeon at the British Military Hospital at Iserlohn in Germany.

His main hobbies were gardening and walking, and he loved the countryside. But his abiding love was books. His knowledge of history, both military and political, was enormous. He finally retired to Kidlington, and became a familiar figure to residents, walking into the village every morning to collect his paper. A religious man, he attended St Mary's in Kidlington every week until his last illness. He died from porocarcinoma on 19 February 2011. He was survived by his wife Pamela, their three children and five grandchildren. At his funeral, his grand-daughter, Ruthie, gave a eulogy, emphasising how grateful he had been for the kindness and generosity of the Italian peasants during his trek across Italy. It was 'the most important lesson that he wanted his family to learn from his experience'.

Norman Kirby

The Royal College of Surgeons of England