Captain (Temporary Commission) John Smith Knox Boyd

Biography of Captain (Temporary Commission) John Smith Knox Boyd

John Smith Knox Boyd was one of a generation of very distinguished doctors who graduated from the University of Glasgow just before the First World War, men who fought, survived and went on to do remarkable things. He was born at Largs on 18th September 1891. His father, also John Knox Boyd, was a bank agent who worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Largs. His mother, Margaret Wilson Smith also hailed from an old Ayrshire family, full of strong characters. He recalled a very happy childhood in a harmonious family, and a school life that was not remarkable for its academic distinction. He did, however, scrape the entrance qualifications he needed for university, and went up to Glasgow in 1908 to study medicine, his fees funded by the Carnegie Fund, a sum he repaid with his first earnings. It took him a few months to settle but he became a very enthusiastic student and it became clear that he was also a brilliant one. He was deeply influenced by Sir Robert Muir and Carl Browning. He won class prizes and medals, including the Asher Asher gold medal for his work in Diseases of the Nose and Throat, the Gairdner medal in Practice of Medicine and the Cullen medal in Clinical Medicine. He was awarded the John Paterson Bursary of £20 a year for attaining the highest marks in the first two professional examinations. When he graduated MB ChB in April 1913, it was with Honours, and the Brunton medal as the most distinguished graduate of his year.

After house jobs at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, he took a job as a ship’s surgeon, and sailed for Rangoon, with the intention of taking a break before beginning his next post at the Infirmary as a house surgeon. Returning in July 1914 it was a matter of days before the war began. In August 1914 he applied to the War Office for a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In December he left for France and was bound for Flanders. In the coming months at Ypres he had to learn all about the effects of gas attacks, and organised crude protections against it as ‘gas officer’ for his brigade. In May 1915 a very depleted 27th Division was transferred to Armentieres for re-fitment, and on to the Somme, at that time peaceful. The Division was then despatched to Salonika. John became Medical Officer to the Divisional Engineers. He encountered malaria and dysentery on an epidemic scale, and for the rest of the war his efforts were centred on the treatment and prevention of these diseases. After further training in bacteriology he was put in charge of a Mobile Laboratory, but also acted as a full-time anaesthetist during times of military action. Towards the end of the war he was transferred to the General Hospital in Salonika as a pathologist, but in September 1918 he contracted ‘Spanish Influenza’ and was brought home in December.

He recovered, married Elizabeth Edgar and accepted a regular commission in the RAMC. After a period running laboratories in India, he took up a post in the Royal Army Medical College at Millbank, where he became an assistant Professor of Pathology. He went back for another spell in India, rising to become Assistant Director of Hygiene and Pathology at the army headquarters in Simla. He loved India and was able to enjoy the lifestyle and the country as well as developing his academic interests. His main interests were in the dysenteric diseases and malaria. In 1936 he returned to Millbank, in charge of the Vaccine Department. In 1937 he was awarded the Leishman medal (Leishman was another Glasgow graduate and one he greatly admired) and in 1938 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. His most distinguished medical service came in the Second World War, when he organised a blood transfusion service for the Middle East and took responsibility for pathology in the region. Mentioned in Despatches (MID) in 1941, he was promoted to Brigadier, and in 1945 became Director of Pathology for the War Office. He made an enormous contribution to the health of the troops.

His distinguished career was not over. After the war he became Director of the Wellcome Laboratories of Tropical Medicine, and later a trustee and deputy chairman. He was President of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (1957-59). He graduated MD with honours from Glasgow for his thesis on bacillary dysentery and the university conferred an Honorary LLD in 1957. Among many academic and civic honours, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) (military) in 1942, was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951 and knighted in 1958. In his long life he loved golf, music and wildlife. Sir John died on 10th June 1981, a bacteriologist and soldier of distinction.


Captain (Temporary Commission) John Smith Knox Boyd
Rank: Captain (Temporary Commission)
Regiment: Royal Army Medical Corps
Degree: MB ChB
Awards: N/A
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A


The University Registry, Faculty and General Council Records.

Biography: P O Williams, Boyd, Sir John Smith Knox (1891-1981), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Biography: L G Goodwin, John Smith Knox Boyd, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol 28 (November 1982), pp27-57.

Obituary:, The College Courant , Vol 67, (1981), p37.

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