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Josephine Hague

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 12 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4293
  1. Roger Arnold-Shrubb

Josephine Shrubb (née Hague, aka Kingston; known as “Jo”) was sent on a scholarship from her Yorkshire grammar school to train at St Thomas’, one of just half a dozen female students. She hoped to become an ophthalmic surgeon, but the arrival of a daughter redirected her career into general practice in Windsor, where she had a second daughter and a son. Her sense of adventure led from there into the Royal Air Force, where she gained a diploma in aviation medicine.

She was the first female RAF doctor to do flying training, and always sought operational tours. Her second grandchild was born while she was airborne far out in the Atlantic, rescuing a merchant sailor injured in a storm. She met with tragedy—a helicopter crashed and burned on detachment abroad, where she was senior medical officer. The six crew were all burned to death and they, and their families in UK were patients of her UK surgery. She also had triumphs. A blue baby was born in the Falklands, where she was command medical officer. Only treatment in a big hospital could save him. With Argentina still hostile, the general hospital for the colony was thousands of miles away, in Southampton, The baby would not withstand the flight at altitude. It seemed the baby would die. A long night was spent sending messages and making calls arranging political clearance, a Hercules aircraft with extended fuel, diplomatic clearance into Uruguay, and hospital admission in Montevideo. By dawn, Jo was able to carry the baby on to the plane for the long low level flight north. The Argentine president was visiting Montevideo, so the British warplane was met with armed soldiers. Jo, in uniform, but still clutching Baby Simon, swept past them.

Baby Simon thrived and is 28 now.

When Jo left the RAF, she became a member of the tribunal service, sitting all round England and Wales. She sat on the board of a military charity, the Lady Grover’s Fund, which helps serving and retired officers of the UK armed forces to meet the costs encountered as a result of illness, and was active in updating its rules to admit the mental conditions often produced by warfare. She was tustee of the Quiet Space in Poundbury. She still found adventure.

On a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in winter, she pressed on through two mountain blizzards, when parties of pilgrims turned back. More recently, while suffering from metastatic endometrioid adenocarcinoma, she went on pilgrimage to Montserrat to say thank you for a period of remission.

She described herself as a passionate knitter and knitted all round the world—on donkeys, in boats … . On one occasion, en route from Roses in Spain to Port Napoleon, she was caught out in an inflatable in a sudden storm off Narbonne. The boat made it into shelter in Agde, where a huge round lock gives access to the French canals. Jo’s crew climbed up to ask the éclusière (a formidable woman) if they could enter the canals. “Non. Pas du tout,” came the reply. “Inflatables are not permitted”. She walked to the edge to look down with contempt on the little boat. Jo was sitting there, knitting. “She came from Spain in that? She is an heroine. She shall enter my écluse.” So the journey was completed in safety. Jo always said: “We are cared for.” Many family and colleagues have knitted garments with her logo, “With love in every stitch.” She meant it. She was buried at her own request in a coffin of Yorkshire wool on the hillside overlooking her Poundbury home.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4293


  • Former general practitioner and aviation doctor (b 1943; q 1966), d 12 April 2015.

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