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Henry Martyn McGladdery

Many of the more senior doctors in Singapore and Malaysia will be saddened to hear that Henry McGladdery died at St Luke’s Hospital, G’Mangia, Valetta, Malta, on 19 February 1998.

He was born the seventh son of a tenant farmer in Bangor County Down in 1911 and moved to England in 1920. He was one of six medically qualified siblings and trained at Bart’s.

Henry McGladdery joined the Malayan Medical Service 1937 and was stationed in Kuching on secondment for two years before working in the then Federated Malay States. In 1941, he was co-opted into the Army Medical Service and was captured and interned by the Japanese following the fall of Singapore. Like many British expatriates, he was interned at Changi, Singapore, for three and a half years, surviving by the the narrowest of margins.

When the war was over, he returned in 1946 to work as head of the surgical unit of the Singapore General Hospital. McGladdery will be fondly remembered as an outstanding teacher by many of those who graduated from medical school in Singapore in the 1950s. He was not given to pedantic teaching. On the contrary, he underrated book-learning and impressed on his students that medicine is an art and an apprenticeship, and the only place to learn it is at the bedside of patients and at the feet of practitioners. His ward rounds were very popular with students, for what he taught was not in surgical textbooks. It was all about practical common-sense surgery. He did not believe in heroic cancer surgery, preferring palliative procedures and generous doses of morphine in advanced cases to make the patient comfortable. A highly competent general surgeon, he took a special interest in thoracic surgery. His bedside teaching of the surgical treatment of empyema was a classic description of the fundamental principles of surgery.

During the Maria Hertogh racial riots in Singapore in 1950, while trying to get to the hospital to treat victims of the riots, McGladdery himself was caught up in the crowds and was badly assaulted. He suffered injuries, including one to his left hand, which required the amputation of the terminal phalanx of his little finger. Fortunately, it had no lasting effect on his surgical skills.

In 1958, he left Singapore to take up the appointment of chief surgeon to the Lady Templer Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, which was set up for the treatment of patients with pulmonary tuberculosis who required surgery. He also pioneered closed heart surgery at Lady Templer Hospital, where he remained until he left on retirement for the West Indies. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services to thoracic surgery. During his stay in Malaysia, he also served as editor of the Malaysian Medical Journal for many years.

Never one to rest on his laurels, he took on the less onerous post of Chief Medical Officer to the goverment of the Cayman Islands in 1969, finally retiring in 1976 when he chose to live in Malta. There he continued to teach anatomy to the medical students of the University of Malta.

He had a long and happy marriage with his beloved Nora for fifty-eight years, separated from her only by his internment during the war and by her death in 1995. There were no children.

He was a keen, in inexpert, golfer and bridge player and an avid reader. His nephew, John McGladdery, confirms that he was the family archivist and was very good company. He is remembered with great affection by his twenty-two nephews and nieces, three of whom are doctors. Two great nieces of the next generation have also qualified.

Henry McGladdery was a modest gentleman, almost shy, with a quiet sense of humour. He was a gentle, caring, meticulous surgeon who formed a natural bond with all his patients, often holding a patient’s hand while teaching at the bedside. He will be remembered with affection by all those who knew him. K