Jock Milne

<preform>Surgeon who honed his A&E skills in war</preform>
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The Independent Online

Jock Milne was a larger-than-life surgeon, who as a young Royal Army Medical Corps major in North Africa with Montgomery's Eighth Army, and then, in the bloody horrors of the Allied advance up the spine of Italy in 1944-45, was among the hard-nosed exponents of triage - that is, recognising those victims who can be treated quickly and effectively on the field of battle, and those victims with no likely chance of ultimate survival, where extended time and surgical effort might be fruitless. As the founding National Health Service surgeon at Bangour General Hospital in 1948, serving central Scotland, Milne was a pioneer of the concept of an Accident and Emergency Unit - the development of which was a subject of considerable interest throughout the United Kingdom.

John Craig Milne, farmer and surgeon: born Edzell, Angus 1 August 1912; Senior Surgeon, Bangour Hospital 1948-78; married 1941 Ina MacGregor (two sons, two daughters); died Edzell 11 May 2005.

Jock Milne was a larger-than-life surgeon, who as a young Royal Army Medical Corps major in North Africa with Montgomery's Eighth Army, and then, in the bloody horrors of the Allied advance up the spine of Italy in 1944-45, was among the hard-nosed exponents of triage - that is, recognising those victims who can be treated quickly and effectively on the field of battle, and those victims with no likely chance of ultimate survival, where extended time and surgical effort might be fruitless. As the founding National Health Service surgeon at Bangour General Hospital in 1948, serving central Scotland, Milne was a pioneer of the concept of an Accident and Emergency Unit - the development of which was a subject of considerable interest throughout the United Kingdom.

Through his sister, who was married to John Mackie, later a Labour Minister of Agriculture, he was a personal friend of Aneurin Bevan, creator of the Health Service.

John Craig Milne was born in 1912 into a well-known farming clan - the Mackies, the Milnes, the Forbeses - who owned and worked thousands of acres in the rich and fertile countryside of Angus. After Edzell Primary School - children of farmer and farm-worker were traditionally educated together in those parts - he went to Montrose Academy, a "comprehensive" school, where lads o' pairts were given a rigorous education, and then to the Medical School of Edinburgh University. Milne used to say how much he owed to the Professor of Medicine, J.G. McCrie, and his colleagues in the Medical Faculty, and even more to the Professors of Surgery (then, as now, Edinburgh being among world leaders), J.G.M. Shaw and R. Leslie Stewart. On graduation it was natural that he should go to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he would recall that working conditions could be appalling, but the expertise of the doctors inspirational.

Volunteering in 1939 for the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was lucky to get out of Greece, avoiding Crete, on one of the last boats to Egypt. Then war took him through Wavell and Auchinleck's retreat, to Alamein, on to Tripoli, and then, via Sicily and Salerno, to the River Po.

In June 1962, a fortnight after I was elected to the House of Commons at a by-election, I went on a visit to Bangour Hospital in my constituency. At a 12.45pm lunch, I met Milne for the first time. "Laddie [a favourite term for a junior doctor, in whom he was disposed to take an interest], have you ever seen an operation?" I confessed I hadn't. "Then, you will be at the operating theatre at 2pm today to watch me operate!"

I obeyed. One did obey Milne. The operation, on a Whitburn man, turned out not to be one, as he had supposed, for half an hour, but, because of undetected cancer complications, for one and a half hours. I marvelled at the decisive way in which he gave instructions to his team. "Well," he said, "in a time of war, in a field hospital, I had to learn pretty quickly not to mess around." Milne's distinguished successor, Tony Gunn, told me that, even by the standards of great surgeons, Milne was decisive, and more often right than most, when faced with the unexpected.

At Bangour, Milne championed resources for A.B. Wallace, founder of one of the most important burns units in the world. Donald MacLeod, a leading Bangour surgeon himself in later years, pinpoints Milne's support for Wallace's 999 system of fluid replacement, calculating the exact and crucial amount of fluid required for the resuscitation of a burns victim.

In my opinion, however, perhaps Milne's greatest contribution of many was the atmosphere that he created, ever challenging received surgical wisdom, and the great and the good of European surgery, but in such a genial and good-natured way that no sensible person could possibly take personal offence.

Regularly commuting at all hours on the journey from his farm between Inverbervie, Kincardineshire, and Bangour Hospital in West Lothian (a journey of two hours for most drivers and one and a half for Milne), he was "well known to the police" for his frantic driving. On the night before the Chief Constable of the Lothians was to be the main speaker at a dinner in Milne's honour on his retirement in 1978, he was chased by police cars round lanes and byways. And, how he ever went back to work in his last years as a surgeon, after a horrendous car crash that would have killed most men, we will never know.

In retirement he devoted himself to farming, supported as ever by Ina MacGregor (a remarkable lady in her own right), whom he married on Burns Night 1941, a span of 64 years. A few weeks before he died, the medical authorities suggested that he should be taken into hospital. He would have none of it. "I know," he said, "you would be wasting your time and resources." Back to triage.

Tam Dalyell

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