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Biographical entry Withycombe, John Frederic Romilly (1918 - 1994)

MRCS 1942; FRCS 1948; MB BChir Cambridge 1942; MA 1946; MChir 1951; LRCP 1942.

11 August 1918
6 February 1994
General surgeon


John Withycombe was born in Exeter on 11 August 1918. the son of Arthur John Withycombe, a barrister, and his wife Winifred Annie, née Kiddle. He was educated at Sherbome, Pembroke College, Cambridge, and the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, where lie qualified in 1942.

After only one house job at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, he Joined the RNVR as a surgeon-lieutenant and served in the navy until the end of the war. In 1943 he was attached to combined operation forces as a medical officer on LST 198 (a tank-landing ship) which involved him in a year of Allied landings in Sicily and Italy with hazardous trips to the Anzio beach-head, and later the Normandy landings at Arromanches.

In November 1944 he was posted to the Pacific theatre, serving initially in the RN hospital in Sydney where he gained valuable surgical experience, and later at sea again where he served on board a naval tanker during a massive fleet-refuelling operation off Leyte in the Philippines.

On demobilisation, he was appointed surgical registrar at Addenbrooke's Hospital and later senior registrar there, working with Vemon Pennell, Philip Ghey and Brian McN Truscott. At this time he also held a clinical assistantship in urology with Ogier Ward at St Peter's Hospital in London.

Between 1952 and 1953 he spent a year at Arm Arbor in Michigan, USA, working with Professor Reed Nesbjtt, a pioneer in the technique of transurethral resection of the prostate. On his return to England in 1954 he was appointed as a consultant general surgeon to Addenbrooke's Hospital on Pennell's retirement, but his interests increasingly lay in the field of urology, and in 1966 he was appointed full-time urologist to the newly-created urology department which he had helped design, and which was the envy of many visiting urologists.

John Withycombe was a skilful and meticulous surgeon and his operation notes and doctor's letters were frequently illuminated by excellent thumbnail sketches of his findings, which were a source of delight to his trainees. He was a member of the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and he was also senior examiner in surgery for the University of Cambridge. He was secretary of the British Association of urological Surgeons, President of the Urological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and a member of the Moynihan Chirurgical Club. He was awarded a Comyns Berkely bye-fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1953 and finally retired in 1978.

In addition to being an accomplished water-colourist he became very interested in bookbinding prior to his retirement, and learnt the techniques of sewing and paring leather, and gold-tooling. He set up his own bindery and attended master-classes, gradually perfecting these skills. In 1981 he assisted with the restoration of books and manuscripts in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, which had been badly damaged by the flood waters of the river Arno in 1966.

In 1987 he moved from Cambridge to Kingswear on the river Dart in Devon, where he enjoyed sailing and cruising with the Royal Dart Yacht Club. Because of recurring angina of effort (he had had a successful coronary artery bypass by Terence English thirteen years before) he moved back to Cambridge in 1992, and eventually died there on 6 February 1994 aged 75, from a carcinoma of the colon.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England