Captain (Temporary Commission) Harold Edward Whittingham

Biography of Captain (Temporary Commission) Harold Edward Whittingham

Harold Edward Whittingham was born on 3rd October 1887 in Landport, Hampshire, the second son of Elizabeth Annie and William. His father was a distinguished Navy man, later to become Engineer-Rear Admiral William Whittingham. Harold would also have a brilliant career. He chose medicine and went up to begin his studies at the University of Glasgow in 1905. At that time his family resided at 9 Overdale Villas, Langside.

His undergraduate record in the Faculty of Medicine at Glasgow was quite outstanding. There was not a year in which his name did not feature on the prize list. Amongst many distinctions were medals in Practical Zoology in 1905, Surgery in 1908, Pathology in 1909 and, most prized of all, the Gairdner Medal in the Practice of Medicine, which accompanied his graduation, with commendation, in 1910. Harold’s first post was at the Royal Cancer Hospital, Glasgow, where as a pathologist and Assistant Director of Research, he worked on transplanted mouse cancers. On 11th June 1912 he married Agnes Kerr Seright, whose family came from Southend, at the Tontine Hotel, Greenock.

Harold Whittingham, like his brothers Clive and William, volunteered when the First World War began. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Flying Corps in India and Mesopotamia. He transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1918 as a pathologist and remained in that service after the war to pursue his career in tropical and aviation medicine. Sadly, his brothers were killed in action, Clive on 17th June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, and William on 30th September 1918, at Southampton where he died of the effects of gassing and exposure.

From 1921 to 1923 Harold continued his research on tropical medicine as head of the RAF’s Sandfly Fever Commission in Malta. He became Director of Pathology in the RAF from 1925 to 1930. In the interwar period he also lectured in Biochemistry at the London School of Tropical Medicine and served as a consultant in pathology and tropical medicine in the RAF. From 1934 to 1939 he was the Officer Commanding the RAF Central Medical Establishment. With such a background in both research and management he was the ideal person to become Director General of RAF Medical Services in the Second World War.

Air Marshall Harold Edward Whittingham was honoured with the conferment of a knighthood at the beginning of the war and in June 1943 he returned to Glasgow to accept an Honorary LLD. Noting that the University requested him to wear dark clothes, he wrote, ‘I assume, however, that under war conditions I may be permitted to wear my uniform.’ He wore both his uniform and the academic regalia of his old university with pride. In 1947, Norway awarded him the St Olav Grand Cross for distinguished services during the war.

His career was far from over with the ending of the war. He became medical adviser to the British Red Cross, 1946-1948. In 1948 he took on another major commitment when he became Director of Medical Services of the British Overseas Airway Corporation, a post he held for a decade and in which he made significant contributions to research on surviving air crashes. He became the Chairman of the Air Ministry Flying Personnel Research Committee from 1949 to 1967, medical consultant to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, 1956-1977 and honorary consultant in aviation medicine, RAF, 1967.

Air Marshall Sir Harold Whittingham was one of Glasgow medicine’s most honoured graduates. His contribution to aviation medicine and service to his country in two world wars was immense. He died on 16 July 1983, aged 95.



Captain (Temporary Commission) Harold Edward Whittingham
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: CH 4/4/2/2 320, 321


University of Glasgow Faculty, Registry and General Council Records

University of Glasgow Archives (GUAS Ref: ACC/013)

Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London, Survey of the Papers of Senior UK Defence Personnel, 1900-1975

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