Obituary: Dame Janet Vaughan

MANY YEARS ago, as a junior reporter, I was sent to interview Janet Vaughan, and I have never forgotten a remarkable story she told me, writes Anne Symonds (further to the obituaries by Barbara Harvey, Professor Louise Johnson and Evelyn Irons, 12 January).

It dates back to her work in Belsen concentration camp. The war in Europe was not yet over, but rumours were seeping through about the appalling starvation in the camps just liberated by the Allied advance. The treatment of starvation was one of Vaughan's areas of research, and she was determined to see for herself. At the time, theory on how best to deal with the problem was divided, Vaughan's views conflicting with the prevailing wisdom.

She overcame all the difficulties of getting to the Continent in wartime. Dauntless, she cajoled a jeep and bodyguard out of the military authorities, who were not particularly eager to help, and was among the first to enter Belsen and see its horrors. With scientific detachment she set about putting the rival treatment theories to the test. She was proved triumphantly right; the survival rate of those treated as Vaughan prescribed was spectacularly superior. She prescribed, it seems, simple feeding with solutions of milk powder, as against an intravenous saline treatment then in vogue.

Her success in Belsen caused the War Office to alter completely the preparations then being made for the release of starving British prisoners in the Far East, expected later in the year. As a result the British authorities were ready with the necessary supplies when the Japanese capitulated. Thousands owed their lives to Janet Vaughan's ruthless determination to discover the facts about the treatment of starvation.

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