Joseph Gordon Smith

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 15 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4495
  1. Janet Fricker, Hemel Hempstead
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

Medical student who ran a blood transfusion service as a Japanese prisoner of war

As a Japanese prisoner of war, Gordon Smith, who had studied medicine for two years at Edinburgh University, took the role of haematologist, microbiologist, and anaesthetist. Denied basic equipment and drugs by their captors, Allied prisoners battled to keep their men alive by using extraordinary medical creativity. Through the ingenuity and resourcefulness that accompanies adversity, Smith, with his bent for engineering, built a still for distilled water and surgical spirit, and developed a whisk to remove fibrinogen from blood.

Smith lived to 93 years and was the last surviving officer of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the Far East. He partly attributed his longevity to the dropping of the atom bomb, which derailed Japanese plans to move prisoners to a location east of Bangkok and liquidate them. “A delay of another week would have allowed the plan for our execution to be put in place,” he wrote in his memoir,1 adding that their communal graves had already been dug.

When setting up the prison hospital blood transfusion service, Smith overcame the problem of lack of sodium citrate by fashioning a device like an egg whisk. “When we started to stir this blood . . . we found that, as predicted, the fibres, which would have formed the clot, wound themselves round the ‘egg whisk’ and could be removed leaving clot free blood …

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