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Biographical entry Gibbons, John Robert Pelham (1926 - 1999)

MBE 1965; TD 1962; MRCS and FRCS 1960; MB ChB Leeds 1954; FRCS Edinburgh 1960; MRCGP 1962; FCCP 1982.

26 November 1926
Moseley, Warwickshire
Accident and emergency surgeon, General practitioner, Military surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


John Gibbons was born in Moseley, Warwickshire, on 26 November 1926. His father, Leonard Norman Gibbons, who had been severely gassed in the trenches during the First World War, later became legal adviser to the Birmingham Gas Board. His mother was Gladys Elizabeth née Smith, a secretary. John was educated at Moseley Grammar School and Pates' School, Cheltenham, before enlisting in the ranks of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1944. He was then commissioned in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and, while on active service with them in Palestine, he had his first experience of battlefield casualties. He later transferred to the Guards Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, leaving Palestine for Egypt by road on the last day of the British Mandate on 14 May 1948.

On completing his service, he went to Leeds Medical School, where he gained prizes in anaesthesia and clinical medicine and won the Brotherton scholarship, qualifying in 1954. He then worked as a registrar at Leeds General Hospital and also helped his brothers-in-law run their general practice. He obtained the FRCS diploma in 1960 and later, when senior registrar at the National Heart Hospital, he was one of the team who carried out the first heart transplant in the United Kingdom. He was appointed locum senior lecturer and consultant at King's College Hospital, following which he became a consultant in accident and emergency medicine at the Royal Free Hospital. This led on to his definitive appointment as surgeon to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. He managed to combine his medical career with territorial services in the Army, from 1948 to the day of his death.

In Northern Ireland he was honorary surgeon to the Army and medical officer of the 10th Battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment. He also served with the Royal Tank Regiment, the Warwickshire Yeomanry, Leeds Rifles and the Parachute Regiment, where in the late 1960s he commanded a company until it was decided he should be transferred to the RAMC. He was president of the Northern Ireland branch of the Parachute Regiment Association.

During the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, when Britain was supporting Iraq, Gibbons was asked to go to Basra to help treat the wounded and organise the evacuation of some casualties to British hospitals. He was subsequently decorated by Iraq for his work during the conflict.

He served as consultant thoracic surgeon to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast between 1977 and 1993, becoming the pre-eminent British authority on crush, blast and missile wounds of the chest. This led to the award of a Hunterian Professorship in 1984. He published widely on chest injuries and oesophageal surgery, enjoyed teaching his juniors and acknowledged the influence of Digby Chamberlain and John Goligher in both his training and in his surgical practice.

In his younger days, John had played rugby football, gaining his university colours at Headingley, and also playing for Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derby, as well as the Territorial Army. He was also interested in shooting, travelling, railways, good food and wine.

In 1952 he married Marie-Jeanne Brookes, a teacher, and they had four sons and two daughters, two of the sons being doctors.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1999 319 1138].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England