Correction and clarifications for the obituary of Sir John Peel
As executor and trustee of our former B.M.A. President, the late Sir
John Peel, whose obituary was published in the BMJ on 11th February, I
write to refer to some statements which need correction, especially in the
final paragraph which has caused some distress.
Sir John was in fact born in Surbiton, Surrey. The son of a Methodist
minister, he was educated largely at home with tuition by his father and
gained a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, where he excelled in
Classical studies, as did his brother, Alfred, who was killed in the First
World War. John, therefore, went to Queen's College, Oxford to read
Classics. Having changed his mind at Widnes railway station (as he told
me), he was allowed to read Medicine instead and obtained first class
honours in his final B.A. examination. He then gained a scholarship to
King's College Hospital, which he subsequently served with constant
loyalty and devotion. He was appointed consultant in Obstetrics and
Gynaecology. During the Second World War he also had responsibilities for
the emergency surgical services during the blitz, which included brain
surgery. Working alongside Sir William Gilliat, he later succeeded him as
Surgeon-Gynaecologist to the Queen and was knighted after the birth of
Prince Andrew in 1960.
His contribution to Obstetrics was enormously important, especially
his pioneering work with Dr. Robin Lawrence and Dr. Wilfred Oakley, in
reducing maternal and perinatal mortality in diabetic pregnancies.
Apart from his duties as President of the Royal College of
Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and President of the B.M.A. he also
served for six years on the European Economic and Social Committee at
Sir John did indeed steer the Committee of the Royal College with
great skill and diplomacy during the difficult debates concerning the 1967
Abortion Reform Law. His main motivation was to bring about an end to the
tragedy of maternal morbidity and mortality associated with so-called
'back-street' abortions. However, Sir John had his own reservations about
the subsequent working of the Act and was a staunch supporter and Patron
of the British Section of The World Federation of Doctors Who Respect
Human Life, with the motto: Vita Humana Semper Verenda.
With regard to the final paragraph, some corrections are necessary.
His first marriage was of short duration and ended in divorce. In 1947 he
remarried. His second wife, Freda, had been ward sister at King's. She was
the perfect partner for him, providing unstinting and devoted support
throughout his very active professional life.
When Lady Peel died from cancer in 1993 Sir John was devastated, causing
considerable concern to his many friends and not least to me as the family
doctor. He seemed to be physically and emotionally "shipwrecked". However,
he was mercifully rescued by Miss Sally Barton, a cousin who had been
devoted to Sir John and Lady Peel, who were her Godparents. She took care
of him and then they were married at Richmond in 1995. There followed ten
wonderfully happy years together including Sir John's centenary
celebration at both King's and the Royal College, both holding lunches in
In the last months of his life, especially as he reached his one
hundred and first birthday, he was cared for devotedly by Lady Peel while
slowly dying from cardiac failure. He finally passed away at home on New
It was typical of him that in his Will he requested no memorial Service.
The funeral service took place at Salisbury Cathedral on 16th
January. Both H.M. The
Queen and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales sent representatives. The Tribute was
given by his close friend and colleague, Mr. J. Michael Brudenell.
I should be grateful if space could be found to make some corrections
to the obituary of 11th February.
Frank Collings, M.B.B.S., M.M.S.A., D.C.H.
Competing interests: No competing interests