LIEUTENANT GENERAL RC MENZIES CB OBE
MB ChB FRCPEdin FRCPath FFPH DMJ(Path)
Soldier and Pathologist
Lieutenant General Bob Menzies was the United Kingdom’s Surgeon General, the professional head of the Medical Services of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, based in the Ministry of Defence in London.
General Menzies was born in Glasgow and attended Kilmarnock Academy from 1956 to 1961. Writing of his schooldays in February 2009 he recalled:
“I was not an outstanding pupil by any manner of means and was made to repeat First Year because of academic failure. Despite this, I secured enough Highers and Lowers to be accepted for university entrance at the age of sixteen at the end of Fifth Year, so either the school or I (or both) must have been getting something right!
Detailed memories are mixed. The Rector was, of course, Dr “Rab” McIntyre whom I think I met only three times in almost six years - once on admission, once when I won the Rector’s Essay Prize (when we were both equally amazed) and once hurrying down a corridor (when we avoided each other successfully)!
On the positive side, I enjoyed especially English Literature (Mr “Lochie” Mann), followed by science subjects (Mr “Geordie” Banks), mathematics, music, history (faces, but sadly no names!) and Latin (Mr “Tommy” Laing and a very pleasant young man with red hair who was inevitably referred to as "Carrots" by his pupils). I also enjoyed rugby (Mr “Smudger” Smith), the Debating Society and the annual school production at the Palace Theatre, most notably The Mikado in 1961.
Most of the negative memories have faded but an overall impression of the discipline of the day persists. It varied from ‘relaxed’ to ‘Draconian’, and could be erratically and even whimsically enforced. Corporal punishment (the belt applied to the outstretched hand) was the norm for both major and minor transgressions and was administered generously.
Looking back over my career, however, I retain a huge sense of gratitude towards Kilmarnock Academy and its staff. My time there was much more than a period of technical training designed to pass future examinations. The Academy provided me with a true, lasting and rounded education which fostered attributes such as intellectual rigour, curiosity, and an interest in past and present culture. It thus encouraged the development of critical appraisal which was to become so important to me, both professionally and personally.”
General Menzies subsequently qualified as a medical doctor (MB ChB) in 1967 from the University of Glasgow.
He had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as a Medical Cadet in 1964 and, after becoming qualified, specialised in Pathology, particularly Histopathology and Forensic Pathology. He served as a pathologist in the United Kingdom, West Germany and the United States of America and became Professor of Military Pathology jointly at the Royal Army Medical College and the Royal College of Pathologists in 1985. As a practising academic, he taught, undertook and published research, and held other related academic posts.
During this phase of his career, General Menzies was involved in several high profile forensic cases. In 1977 he was part of a team which worked on the identification of the victims of the Santa Cruz de Tenerife air crash. Two Boeing 747 aircraft collided on the runway as one was taking off and this caused the deaths of some 583 people, the highest accidental death toll in aviation history at the time. He undertook a similar task in 1987 for those killed when the cross channel ferry Herald of Free Enterprise capsized and sank in Zeebrugge Harbour resulting in 193 deaths, the worst maritime disaster involving a British registered ship in peacetime since the First World War.
Also in 1987, he was one of two pathologists who undertook the post mortem examination of Hitler’s Deputy, Rudolph Hess. Convicted of war crimes after the Second World War, Hess had been held in Spandau Allied Prison in West Berlin by the wartime Allies - Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union - since 1946. He finally committed suicide aged 93.
In 1989 General Menzies was invited to join the senior management of the RAMC and, after appointments as a Commanding Officer with both Regular and Reserve units, he became Senior Medical Officer to the Field Army. Throughout this time he was heavily involved in military operations, particularly in the Balkans. In 1999 he was promoted to the rank of Major General and became Director General Army Medical Services.
After less than a year in that post, he was again promoted, this time to the rank of Lieutenant General, the highest rank available to a Medical Officer, and he became the United Kingdom’s Surgeon General. The responsibilities of this post included membership of one of the most senior management boards in the Ministry of Defence,
delivery of policy for the Defence Medical Services, including operational policy, ownership of four Defence Agencies and a major commitment to NATO, requiring much international travel to represent the United Kingdom at high level meetings.
After retirement in 2002, he worked as a volunteer in the National Headquarters of St John Ambulance in England, serving as Chief Medical Officer from 2003 to 2005. In that year he became Acting Chief Commander, a post which he relinquished for family reasons in 2006. He still undertakes some voluntary tasks for The Order of St John, particularly relating to St John Ambulance activities in India.
General Menzies has been appointed to three British Royal Orders of Chivalry. He was made an Officer in The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1989, a Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in 2002 and a Commander of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in 2006.
In retirement (at least in theory), he now lives in North London.