Ralph Coburn Jackson arrow_drop_down

KBE(1973)CB(1963) MRCS LRCP(1937) MRCPE(1950) MRCP(1968) FRCPE(1960)FRCP(1972)

05 October 1914 – 11 January 1992

Ralph Jackson was born at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, where his father was a bank manager. He was educated at Ascham House, Gosport, and Oakmount School, Arnside, before entering Guy’s Hospital medical school, London, where he qualified in medicine. After a series of house appointments at Guy’s and the probability of another war with Germany, he decided to join the RAF as a medical officer. It was a choice he never regretted for he loved Service life and it was obvious that ‘Jacko’, as he was known, was exactly the right type to be a doctor to the enthusiastic young men who were then joining the rapidly expanding Air Force. He married Joan Crowley in December 1939; they had four children, two sons and two daughters, and in a well known Churchillian phrase ‘lived happily ever after’.

From the start Ralph Jackson had an adventurous war. He went to France with the Advanced Air Striking Force and 18 months after his return from that disastrous campaign he was posted to what turned out to be a unique task as the senior medical officer to 151 Wing, consisting of two Hurricane fighter squadrons, which were sent by the first Arctic convoy to a base near Murmansk as support for the Russians in the critical days of the 1941 winter. There he found he was expected to advise not only on how to cope with the effects of extreme arctic conditions on health and hygiene but also on the problems associated with life in a foreign environment. It was typical of the man that his good humour and enthusiasm made for excellent liaison with the Russians, which solved many problems. As an example of the unexpected, he quoted the hilarious effect on young airmen who found that their sauna baths, arranged as a hygienic treat, were to be supervised by ancient Russian ladies who plied birch twigs on the nearest naked bodies. After his return from Russia, the Air Ministry’s typical reaction was to send him to the opposite climatic extreme -West Africa. There his hard work earned him two mentions in despatches in the next two years. In 1944, when he eventually returned to England, it was to another exacting task as senior medical officer to 46 Group of Transport Command, which was largely responsible for the air evacuation, from Europe to Britain, of no less than 76,000 British casualties. At the end of the war Ralph Jackson decided to remain in the RAF and elected for specialist clinical training as a physician. He obtained his MRCPE and served in various hospitals at home and abroad until 1957 when he was appointed clinical head of medicine at Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital, Halton. At that time the RAF medical directorate was considering the Korean war experience of acute renal failure as a frequent result of severe wounds and burns and had decided to set up a unit to assess the Kolff twin coil artificial kidney as a therapeutic process. Jackson was invited to direct this unit at Halton. It was only the third artificial kidney to be established in Britain and he seized this opportunity with enthusiasm, assembling a team of young clinicians and pathologists with whom he worked tirelessly to acquire and improve techniques and equipment that were then untried in the UK. The first dialysis was performed at Halton in June 1957 on an NHS patient in renal failure due to multiple injuries. It needed all the facilities of the nearby RAF Institute of Pathology to perform the continuous load of biochemical laboratory work that was so labour intensive in those days. The renal unit diaries show that 19 patients were dialysed in the first year, the majority being NHS patients – a trend that has continued to the present day. It was a remarkable contribution at a time when such resources were scarce and treatment of renal failure by haemodialysis was not available in the majority of areas.


Courtesy of Royal College of Physicians London, Munk’s Roll Volume IX, page 262