Public and Community Health, Epidemiology
Designatory Letters: 
MB Camb 1938, MA Camb 1943, MRCP Glasg 1965, FRCPS Glasg 1967, FRCP Edin 1969, FFPHM 1972

[Contributed by Iain S Macdonald and Michael Smith]

John Smith was born in Glasgow and educated at the High School of Glasgow and Sedburgh School. At Christ’s College, Cambridge he read for the Natural Sciences Tripos in pre-clinical medicine, graduating BA in 1935 and MA in 1943. After clinical studies at Glasgow he graduated MB BChir (Cambridge) and MB ChB (Glasgow) in 1938.

When war broke out he was in the Royal Artillery (TA) and was called up as a Gunner officer, transferring six months later to the RAMC. He was briefly a Company Commander with a Field Ambulance before being appointed to a staff post. Rapid promotion followed. As Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS), 2nd Army, he wrote the medical orders for the D-Day Landings. As ADMS of 21 Army Group he planned, with his staff, the move of 34,000 hospital beds, plus infrastructure, from France to Belgium.

In April 1945, at age 31, he was youngest full Colonel in the RAMC and as Deputy Director of Medical Services (Operations and Planning) he was responsible for disbanding the Wehrmacht Medical Services in the British Zone. He was mentioned in dispatches and appointed OBE in 1945. Belgium’s highest honour, Officier de l’Ordre de Leopold I, followed in 1947.

His war experiences gave him an interest in medical administration. And so, when the Department of Health for Scotland wanted a medical officer to strengthen their hospital services team preparing for the coming health service he applied and took up the post in 1947. Apart from a brief secondment to the Glasgow Victoria hospitals he remained in the Scottish Office until retirement in 1975. From the beginning he established good relations with administrators, based upon mutual confidence and respect.

He assumed a wider remit when he became Deputy Chief Medical Officer in 1963. Shortly after this Sir John Brotherston joined the Department as Chief Medical Officer, and there was an influx of new medical staff. Dr Smith’s experience of the Department, and his knowledge of the civil service, smoothed the paths of the newcomers. He was able to maintain cohesion and ensure an effective medical contribution to the work of the Department. He was always courteous and tactful and gave sound and encouraging advice to junior colleagues.

He retained a personal involvement in the work of the Advisory Committee on Hospital Medical Establishments, charged with maintaining a balance between training posts and likely consultant vacancies, on which Hospital Boards, Universities, professional bodies, and the Department were represented. Although interests sometimes competed Dr Smith was able to reconcile them and the arrangements worked well. A related concern lay in the work of the Scottish Council for Postgraduate Medical Education established in 1970.

He had a lifelong interest in rifle shooting and a love of hills, even climbing Ben Nevis on his 75th birthday. The church was important to him and he was an elder and Session Clerk. In 1942 he married Elizabeth Wylie. Predeceased by her and by one son, he is survived by three sons and a daughter.