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Biographical entry Walker, Sir Arnold Learoyd (1897 - 1968)

Kt 1966; CBE 1953; MRCS 1923; FRCS 1927; MA MB BCh Cambridge 1924; LRCP 1923; MRCOG foundation 1929; FRCOG 1938.

5 April 1897
14 September 1968
Gynaecological surgeon


Born 5 April 1897, the second son of Edward Walker, MBE, MD (Edin) who was consulting physician to the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, Arnold Learoyd Walker was always proud of his Yorkshire origins. He went to Oundle School before going up to Cambridge. The first world war intervened and he served in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery, becoming Lieutenant. He was severely wounded in the right shoulder in 1918 with the result that he was invalided out of the Army in the following year, when he went back to Pembroke College, Cambridge. He became a Senior Broderip Scholar, and won the Leopold Hudson Prize in 1923 at the Middlesex Hospital. This was a great nursery for gynaecological surgeons and Comyns Berkeley and Victor Bonney were his chiefs.

He was soon appointed to the staff of the City of London Maternity Hospital and became gynaecological surgeon to the West London Hospital, the Grosvenor Hospital for Women and the Miller General Hospital; and in the manner of those days he became the visiting gynaecological surgeon at Harrow and Wembley Hospitals.

In 1928 he and G F Gibbert were appointed assessors to examine the records of maternal deaths for the Inter-Departmental Committee on Maternity Mortality, whose report gave British obstetrics a new ideology, and lowered the maternal mortality from 4.3 per thousand in 1929 to 3.1 in 1939 and at the same time paved the way for the improved training of doctors and midwives and for blood transfusion, chemotherapy, antibiotics and improved physique to confer the maximum benefit. In 1944 the mortality rate dropped to 1.5 and by 1964 to 0.23 per thousand births. Apart from our new knowledge about Rhesus sensitisation the system of ante-natal supervision is the same in 1969 as was laid down in 1929.

Arnold Walker continued this work later, in association with A J Wrigley, on behalf of the Ministry of Health by examining the case records of each maternal death so as to draw attention to avoidable factors and to pinpoint the first departure from the normal supervision and treatment. Subsequently the Reports on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths were published every three years so that four reports covered a period of 12 years from 1952-1963.

He was able to put the recommendations of the report into practice because he was put in charge of a model maternity hospital which was built by the Willesden Borough Council under the guidance of an enlightened medical officer, Dr J F Buchan. With the obstetrician in charge living on the spot and controlling both the ante-natal care and the in-patient treatment of the patients, the Willesden Maternity Hospital was able to show a great improvement in the results. The National Health Service took over the hospital in 1948 and it became Kingsbury Maternity Hospital in the Charing Cross Hospital Group; and in it a ward had been named after Arnold Walker.

He became a member of the Central Midwives Board in 1937 and when Sir Comyns Berkeley died in 1946 he became chairman, to remain in the post for 21 years. He saw the work of midwives reach an altogether higher level than anything thought possible in the 1920's.

Clinically he was both a sound obstetrician with a common-sense approach to obstetric problems, and a first-rate gynaecological surgeon whose speed and technical skill made even the most difficult operations look easy.

Arnold Walker examined for the Diploma in Obstetrics and the Membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, for the Central Midwives Board and the Midwife Teachers Diploma. He examined on the Conjoint Board in England for three years from 1948-51 and for the Cambridge finals for a longer period.

In his early years when he was on the staff of six hospitals, he practised at 121 Harley Street and was called upon disproportionately by doctors to attend their own wives and daughters. He had the same address for 25 years; but in the later years of his chairmanship of the Central Midwives Board he was devoting so much time to the affairs of the Board and to the Ministry of Health that he gradually relinquished both private practice and those hospital appointments which he had retained in 1948 when the National Health Service was established.

Arnold married Gwenville, daughter of John Clouston of Middlesbrough, and they had no children. They had a protégé, Steven Goldsmith, whose mother was companion to the Walkers, and his success at Worksop School and in the police college gave them a good deal of pleasure. Lady Walker died in 1966 after a long illness, during which he gave up many of his social contacts to tend her and she still shared in his interests. They lived latterly at Hatch End, Middlesex.

He retired from all active work in 1967 and thereupon undertook a world tour, visiting Australia and New Zealand.

He greatly enjoyed the social contacts of medical societies. He was a liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries of London and a Freeman of the City. In the West London Medico-Chirurgical Society he was President in 1958-9 and he was a member of the West Kent Medico-Chirurgical Society for 40 years, lecturing to the Society on several occasions. He was a Vice-President of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the BMA Annual Meeting in 1949 and a member of Council of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Royal Society of Medicine for several years.

Arnold Walker's final illness was short. He had been a cigarette smoker all his life and he developed carcinoma of the lung. He died in Mount Vernon Hospital on 14 September 1968 and had no surviving close relations.

Arnold Walker's publications were not numerous; but many of the reports and recommendations of the Ministry of Health on maternal care were prepared by him.

Chemical observations on toxaemia of pregnancy, with special reference to liver function in relation to the induction of premature labour. (Jointly with Berkeley and Dodds.) J Obstet Gynaec Brit Emp 1924, 31, 20-40.
Berkeley's Handbook of midwifery, 14th edition. London, 1953.
Midwifery services in A historical review of British obstetrics and gynaecology, 1800-1850, by J M M Kerr, R W Johnstone and M H Phillips. Edinburgh and London, 1954.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 19 September 1968; Lancet 1968, 2, 738; Brit med J 1968, 3, 807].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England