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Biographical entry Vellacott, Hugh Douglas Sempill (1914 - 1987)

MRCS 1939; FRCS 1947; MA Cambridge 1936; MB BCh 1941; LRCP 1939.

12 November 1914
24 April 1987
General surgeon


Douglas Vellacott was born on 12 November 1914, in Stoke, Devonport. His father, Harold Fitz Vellacott, MC, FRCS, was a consultant surgeon in Plymouth. His mother, Josephine Sempill, SRN, had been a sister at Poplar Hospital, London. He was educated at Sherborne School, Dorset, then for a year at King's College, Strand, (part of London University) before going up to Cambridge. His medical training was completed at the London Hospital, Whitechapel.

At school he distinguished himself as an all-round athlete. He was a first-class gymnast, boxed for the school and was a member of the Shooting VIII. At King's College he won the feather-weight and light-weight boxing championships in the same year, 1933, and was awarded a half-purple. While at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he won the University light-weight title in 1934-35, and was awarded a half-blue. He also played tennis and squash, and enjoyed riding: anything from ponies to cart-horses.

He qualified MRCS, LRCP, in 1939 and held posts at the London Hospital as house physician, house surgeon and casualty officer before working for a year in the Emergency Medical Service. In 1941 he took his MB, BCh, at Cambridge and married Lorraine Freda Tibbs, a nursing colleague at the London. In 1942 he joined the RAMC, and was posted to 95 General Hospital in Algiers. There he took part in the early trials, initiated by Florey, of penicillin powder in open wounds. The results were disappointing. He was then posted as a graded surgeon in charge of No.2 Field Hospital in the Italian campaign, and was mentioned in despatches. In 1973 an article by him entitled Twelve months experience with a field surgical unit in Italy, 1944-1945 was published in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps (vol.l 19, No.4, 209-223). At the close of hostilities he was one of the surgical specialists chosen to remain for a year to work in Vienna. This was a difficult time, as half the city was under Russian control and many of the local population were starving.

In 1946 he was demobilised with the rank of Major. He was then appointed as a surgical registrar in Bristol under Professor Milnes Walker. He took his FRCS in 1947, and was proud to have followed in his father's footsteps. He was even more pleased when later one of his sons achieved the FRCS, a member of the third generation of Vellacotts trained at his beloved "London", to become a surgeon.

In 1948 he was appointed senior surgical registrar in Plymouth, and consultant surgeon there in 1952. He worked at Devonport Hospital for some years until he moved to Greenbank Hospital, where he remained until he retired. He was also visiting surgeon to St Barnabas Hospital, Saltash, and later to Tavistock Hospital and also to the Psychiatric Hospital at Moorhaven. He was a general surgeon of wide experience and dedication to all his patients, but his main interests lay in gastroenterology and in diseases of the breast. He worked on a review of treatment of carcinoma of the breast during his retirement.

Douglas Vellacott was active in the Plymouth Medical Society, of which he became secretary and later President, and also in the BMA of which he was made President of the Plymouth Branch. He was a Fellow of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland and of the Royal Society of Medicine, and member of the Surgical Club of the South-West, but much of his time was devoted to hard but less recognised work. For eleven years he served on the Regional Dental Advisory Committeee and for twenty years on the committee of the Pearn Trust - a charitable organisation running a home for the infirm.

He enjoyed nearly ten years of active and happy retirement in Tavistock, playing golf, painting, travelling, writing and serving on local committees such as the Tavistock Postgraduate Education Committee and the Hospital League of Friends. He was a modest and unassuming man, devoted to his family and a loyal friend and helper to his professional colleagues. He died on 24 April 1987 after a long illness borne with characteristic fortitude and interested detachment. He was survived by his wife and two sons, Lt Col Richard (OBE), and Keith David (FRCS 1977) a consultant surgeon in Newport, Gwent.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1987, 294, 1426 with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England