Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Winston Churchill’s Illnesses

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, United Kingdom

Cover: Winston Churchill’s Illnesses
by A. Vale and J. Scadding.

Winston Churchill was one of the most important political figures of the twentieth century. As such, it is not surprising that he has been the subject of many biographies that have chronicled his life and many achievements, most notably the comprehensive eight-volume opus by British historian and Churchill scholar, Martin Gilbert.

Winston Churchill’s Illnesses by Vale and Scadding adds to this a definitive account of Churchill’s illnesses. The work was approved by Churchill’s great-grandson Randolph Churchill and the authors were granted access to a vast array of previously unseen archival material and original sources. The 1966 book Winston Churchill: the struggle for survival by Lord Moran, Churchill’s personal doctor from 1940-1965, was previously considered to be the definitive work on Churchill’s illnesses but was criticized for its basis in anecdotes (that may have breached patient confidentiality), rather than historically-accredited sources.

One of the authors of this work is the son of another member of Churchill’s entourage of around thirty doctors, the famous chest physician John Scadding, who treated Churchill in Carthage in 1943. This comprehensive volume is based on extensive research from the vast archive of notes and records made by the doctors involved in Churchill’s care, resulting in a more accurate and evidence-based analysis of Churchill’s illnesses from his youth until his death at the age of ninety.

Each chapter chronicles his ailments, ranging from his first bout of pneumonia in 1886 and a shoulder injury in 1896 in Bombay, to appendicitis in 1922, enteric fever in Austria, chest pain while in the US the Christmas of 1941, an inguinal hernia in 1945 in Lake Como, and attacks of pneumonia and stroke in his later years.

The authors dispel a long-held myth propagated by psychiatrist Anthony Storr in a 1969 essay that claimed Churchill suffered from severe depression, or “Black Dog” (a term coined by Samuel Johnson, creator of the English Dictionary). Churchill undoubtedly experienced low points throughout his life, but his personal doctor, Lord Moran, felt that this never prevented him from working. Churchill had a prodigious work ethic: in addition to his political achievements he was a prolific writer, publishing over forty books. The authors also conclude that although Churchill enjoyed alcohol, there is no evidence to suggest he was an alcoholic.

The text is exhaustively referenced and reflects the authors’ extensive research. Another notable feature is the inclusion of brief biographies and pictures of the medical men who attended Churchill over the years; a record of a great medical era in the UK.

Illnesses in leaders may affect their judgments and shape the destiny of entire nations. As such, this will always be a source of fascination and scholarly inquiry. Churchill’s illnesses are placed in a political and historical context in this volume, providing readers with fresh insights into this remarkable twentieth-century political giant. The authors have produced a fine work of scholarship and deserve to be congratulated for their herculean efforts in writing this volume.

Winston Churchill’s Illnesses, 1886-1965 
A. Vale and J. Scadding
Frontline Books 2020. ISBN 9781526789495

ARPAN K. BANERJEEMBBS (LOND), FRCP, FRCR, FBIR, qualified in medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham from 1995-2019. He served on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012-2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology from 2012-2017. He is Treasurer of ISHRAD and adviser to radiopaedia. He is the author/co-author of numerous papers and articles on a variety of clinical medical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology 2005 and “The History of Radiology” OUP 2013.

Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 13, Issue 3– Summer 2021

Winter 2021




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