Winston Churchill's Illnesses

Published by Frontline Books

Allister Vale and John Scadding have written the definitive account of Churchill's illnesses and document all Churchill's major illnesses, from an episode of childhood pneumonia in 1886 until his death in 1965.

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Meet the Authors

Allister Vale and John Scadding have written the definitive account of Churchill's illnesses and document all Churchill's major illnesses, from an episode of childhood pneumonia in 1886 until his death in 1965. The authors have published previously some of their meticulous research on his illnesses in the medical press, and these papers have met with acclaim in the medical community. As a result of their research the authors have corrected many repeatedly perpetuated errors.

Allister Vale

Allister Vale is Consultant Clinical Pharmacologist and Toxicologist at City Hospital, Birmingham and holds an honorary chair in the University of Birmingham. He is a former Censor of the Royal College of Physicians and was awarded the Presidents Medal. He has been elected President of professional societies in the UK, Europe and the US. He was Chairman of the Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee.

John Scadding OBE

John Scadding is Honorary Consultant Neurologist Emeritus to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, and was formerly also its Medical Director and Chairman of its Medical Committee. He was Academic Dean of the Royal Society of Medicine. He is Chairman of the Independent Medical Expert Group at the Ministry of Defence and formerly Vice-Chairman of its Research Ethics Committee.



Why Read This Book?

Sir Winston Churchill was arguably the greatest statesman of the twentieth century. His political life spanned more than sixty years and he held high office for much of this time. He is generally regarded as the man through whose military and political skill, diplomacy, inspiration and powers of persuasion the Second World War was won.

This carefully researched new book on all Sir Winston Churchill’s major illnesses during his long life, is already widely acknowledged to be the definitive work on the subject. From an episode of childhood pneumonia in 1886, a description and analysis of all his major illnesses is included, including his head and orthopaedic injuries, cardiac problems, repeated episodes of pneumonia, abdominal emergencies and multiple strokes.

Much has already been written about Churchill’s health, though little that has been published is evidenced based. For example, the authors have addressed the often-assumed and cited concerns about Churchill’s alcohol consumption and his "black dog". By meticulous analysis of the evidence, both alcoholism and depressive disorder are debunked in this volume.

The authors have adopted a rigorous evidence-based approach throughout, accessing all existing published sources and identifying a wide range of new sources of written but previously unpublished evidence. They have assembled the many medical and nursing commentaries of the distinguished physicians, surgeons and nurses who cared for Churchill, and amalgamated these with the contemporaneous documented observations of his family, friends, international political leaders and domestic politicians.

Vale and Scadding have produced a wonderfully rounded account, setting Churchill’s illnesses in the context of the geopolitical turbulence of the twentieth century. It is written in a style that makes it equally accessible to both medical and non-medical readers.

This book is not simply an account of Churchill’s many illnesses, but also, through the citation of so many written and spoken words, it presents a broad and affectionate picture of a remarkable man, emphasising his resolute and indefatigable determination, his sense of right and wrong, his sparkling intellect and his extraordinary ability to express himself in the English language. What also come across so clearly are his often waspish but always relevant and succinct wit, his emotional responses to world events, his vulnerabilities, and his personality. In short, it presents both an objective medical analysis and an affectionate portrait of the man.

It will be essential reading for all Churchillians and for all those, the majority born long after Churchill’s death in 1965, who wish to understand the enormous contribution of this unparalleled long-serving political leader, who shaped world affairs both before and during the second World War and in the decades that followed.

What People Are Saying

“Allister Vale and John Scadding have written the definitive account of Churchill's illnesses. Their expertise as physicians has been brought to bear on the interpretation of the evidence, much of it available for the first time…Vale and Scadding have produced a well-researched and highly readable book that will be essential reading for Churchillians and other historians of the period, as it provides so much new material and many new insights. Clinicians and general readers alike who wish to understand the impact of illness on arguably the greatest leader of the twentieth century will also find the book of great interest.”

Randolph Churchill From the Foreword

“In this meticulously researched volume, Allister Vale and John Scadding provide a uniquely comprehensive and readable account of Churchill’s many medical problems, from childhood to his terminal illness, set in the context of his life as one of the greatest statesmen of the twentieth century. Pneumonia threatened Churchill’s life on several occasions and in his later decades he suffered multiple strokes; his ability to continue in high office during these illnesses was exceptional, aided by some of the most distinguished specialists of their time. Drawing on many medical and non-medical sources, the clinical, political and personal aspects of his many illnesses are woven seamlessly together. A superbly rounded account of the great man emerges in a most engaging narrative.”

Andrew Roberts Author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny

“Much has been written about Churchill’s health and much has been rumour and speculation. This is the definitive work on the subject, written by experts and grounded in the evidence.”

Allen Packwood OBE Author of How Churchill Waged War

Writing about Churchill's health: ethical aspects

A great deal has been written about the ethical aspects of reporting, in the public domain, about the health of any individual. The difficulties of balancing confidentiality and the public good were exemplified by suppression, during their lifetimes, of the degree of President Roosevelt’s disability resulting from polio and the fact of President Kennedy’s adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease).

The opprobrium expressed at the time by members of Churchill's family, his closest colleagues as well as medical colleagues is balanced by the view that a man as great as Churchill could not have any privacy, but that "he belongs to the world, alive or dead, and anything related to him, especially his health problems, are of universal interest." 1 On this view medical disclosures made after the death of an individual, in order to set the historical record straight, are justifiable.

In his defence, Moran wrote: "I believe the obligation is absolute in the life-time of a patient. I would, however, submit that it is not applicable to a great historical figure, such as Sir Winston Churchill, after his death, since it is inevitable that his illnesses will be described in detail by the laity." 2

Lord Brain, another of Churchill's physicians, clearly pondered this dilemma in regard to his own medical case notes: "I doubt if there are any absolute ethical rules and sometimes there is a conflict of obligations. The main thing is to see that no avoidable harm is done, and that there may well come a time after Churchill himself is dead, when publication of this account of his health may do no harm to anyone and actually be of some historical importance."3

Fifty-five years have now passed since Sir Winston Churchill's death. Vale and Scadding convincingly demonstrate that after this interval it is both timely and relevant to review his illnesses again in detail, in an attempt to produce a definitive account. Their goal has been primarily to set the record straight. They have sought and obtained the blessing of the Churchill family in their documentation of Sir Winston’s health and they pay tribute in particular to Randolph Churchill, Churchill's great grandson, who has supported their endeavours throughout the book's gestation.

This account of a supremely accomplished and gifted world leader not only amplifies what has been published previously but also undoubtedly dispels some myths and sets the record straight.

1. Robitscher JB. Doctors' privileged communications, public life, and history's rights. Cleveland-Marshall Law Review 1968; 17: 199-212.
2. Lord Moran's Diaries. Letter from Lord Moran. The Times 25 April 1966.
3. Brain WR. Encounters with Winston Churchill. Med Hist 2000; 44: 3-20.

SOME OF SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL'S DOCTORS AND NURSES

Lord Moran MC (1882-1977)

Charles Wilson was appointed Dean of St Mary's Hospital Medical School, London, in 1920, a post he held until 1945. He became Churchill's doctor on 24 May 1940 and remained his personal physician until Churchill's death in 1965. Wilson was knighted in 1938, created Baron Moran of Manton in the County of Wiltshire in 1943 and was President of the Royal College of Physicians from 1941-1950.


Lord Brain Bt FRS (1895-1966)

Russell Brain was a Consultant Physician at the London Hospital and Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London. He was President of the Royal College of Physicians from 1950 to 1956, succeeding Lord Moran. Brain was knighted in 1952, made a baronet on 29 June 1954, and on 26 January 1962 was created Baron Brain of Eynsham in the County of Oxford. In March 1964 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Brain first assessed Churchill at Moran's request on 5 October 1949 and then on multiple occasions subsequently including Churchill's final illness in 1965.







Sir John Parkinson (1885-1976)

John Parkinson was appointed Assistant Physician to the London Hospital in 1920, Physician in 1927, and Physician to the Cardiac Department in 1933. Parkinson had first assessed Churchill in February 1942 and did so on multiple occasions subsequently and for the last time in 1953. He was knighted in 1948. Churchill told Parkinson: 'You were a great comfort to me during the War in regard to my heart and heart consciousness.' © Elva Carey














Professor Sir Herbert Seddon CMG (1903-1977)

Seddon was the first Professor of Orthopaedics in the University of London. Seddon treated Churchill after he had suffered a fracture of his fifth thoracic vertebra in November in 1960 and was the leader of the surgical team responsible for treating Churchill's hip fracture in 1962 and he also treated Churchill again in 1963 for a disorder of his lower limbs © NPG (185200)





Nurse Pugh who nursed Churchill in February 1943 and August/September 1944. By permission of Stephen Rubin OBE

Nurse Doris Miles who nursed Churchill in February 1943 © Jill Rose

MEDICAL PAPERS ON CHURCHILL’S ILLNESSES WRITTEN BY THE AUTHORS

Allister Vale and John Scadding have published 17 medical papers on Winston Churchill's illnesses, which can be accessed via the websites of the journals below.



Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

Click to view papers.



Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

Click here to view papers


Journal of Medical Biography

Click here to view papers


Other Winston Churchill websites of interest

Below are a selection of Winston Churchill websites that may be of interest:

  • Churchill Archives Centre-Churchill College
  • Churchill Archive
  • Churchill blog
  • Churchill Society of New Orleans
  • Churchill Society of Tennessee
  • Churchill Society of Wisconsin
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Hillsdale College Churchill Project
  • International Churchill Society
  • National Churchill Museum
  • Richard Langworth
  • Winston Churchill Society of Michigan
  • Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa