1940s radiology and radiography

Wartime radiology and radiography

It is difficult now to imagine what it must have been like maintaining professional activities during wartime. The war affected all aspects of personal and professional life in the UK. Many of the younger men and women were in the armed forces and many retired people had to return to active work. The radiological services in wartime were discussed in the editorial of BJR September 1941 (BJR 1941: 14(165): 294). There was no BIR Year Book published and the Mackenzie Davidson and Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lectures were not given (BJR 1941; 14(165): 295-296).

By 1939, good portable X-ray diagnostic apparatus was available and the British Army was supplied with the MX2. This apparatus could be used for both radiography and fluoroscopy and was easily crated for transportation.  Radiography had developed as a profession and many entered the forces, however numbers of staff available to work abroad were often inadequate and many units were only supplied with radiographers with no medical radiologists. In the US two radiologists were assigned to each mobile surgical hospital unit. The work would consist of fluoroscopy of casualties, foreign body localisation, general duties and radiotherapy for superficial infections including gas gangrene (this was prior to the introduction of antibiotics). Compared to the First World War the military action was considerably more mobile.


Wartime injuries

Eric Samuel, then in the Royal Army Medical Corps, wrote on the X-ray examination of air raid casualties in May 1941 (Samuel BJR 1941; 14(161): 171-174).  In December 1941 A Robinson Thompson from the Royal Navy wrote an interesting study of blast injuries to the chest (Thompson BJR 1941; 14(168): 403-406).

 1940s Wartime blast injury to the chest

Blast injuries to the chest. Source: Thompson BJR 1941; 14(168): 403-406

R Saffley was interested in the significant problem of dyspepsia in soldiers (Saffley BJR 1941 ; 14(159): 96-101).

 Table showing cases of dyspepsia in soldiers

 Table showing cases of dyspepsia in soldiers.  Source: Saffley BJR 1941 ; 14(159): 96-101

The Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture

The Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture for 1944 was given by Sidney Russ from the Middlesex Hospital (Russ BJR 1944; 17(201): 261-264). Russ gave a fascinating account of the contributions and interests of our first President Silvanus Thompson.

Donald Bradford from Southend-on-Sea wrote a belated book review of “The X-rays” written by Arthur Thornton in 1896 (Bradford BJR 1942; 15(176): 224-227) and the book is illustrated. The review is interesting and valuable.

Image of "The X-rays” written by Arthur Thornton in 1896

Image of "The X-rays” written by Arthur Thornton in 1896

Source: Bradford BJR 1942; 15(176): 224-227

Radiology Apparatus

By the 1940s the radiological apparatus was more sophisticated. E A Owen from Bangor gave the 1945 Silvanus Thompson memorial Lecture and reviewed the development of apparatus for the production of X-rays and the measurement of radiation (Owen BJR 1945; 18(216): 369-376).  The sources of risk to the earlier X-ray workers was not only the radiation but was also the risk of electrocution before the days of shockproof apparatus.


Pioneer of radiotherapy – Neville Finzi (1881-1968)

Neville Finzi

The development of radiotherapy was reviewed by Neville Finzi in March 1948 (Finzi BJR 1948; 21(243): 105-108). Finzi was a pioneer of radiotherapy.


Image of Neville Finzi

Source: Finzi BJR 1948; 21(243): 105-108


Early radiologist training

The education of radiologists was well developed by the 1940s. The development of training in radiology was reviewed by A E Barclay in December 1942 (Barclay BJR 1942; 15(243): 351-354) in his paper on the passing of the Cambridge diploma. G Stead in his Presidential Address of 1948 gave an interesting account of the influence of the physicist on radiological training with a brief comment on the training of the hospital physicist (Stead BJR 1948; 21(248): 373-379). 


The Jubilee of the Röntgen Society

The Röntgen Society celebrated its jubilee in 1947. Alfred E Barclay wrote a concise account of its growth and development in June 1947 (Barclay BJR 1947;  20(234): 221-222).  A jubilee dinner was held and the address by Sir Henry Dale is recorded (Dale BJR 1947; 20(236): 301-305).


The Douglas Lea memorial lecture

The Douglas Lea Lecture was established in 1948 as a memorial to commemorate the work of Douglas Lea in the field of physics as applied to biology and medicine, following his untimely death in 1947. The lecture was sponsored by the learned wing of the Hospital Physicists' Association (BJR 1947; 21(248): 379). The first lecture was given in 1949 (BJR 1949; 22(261): 553) and the topic had to be on an area of physics as applied to biology.  The first lecture was given by F G Spear at a meeting of the Hospital Physicists Association on the subject of the physicist and his colleagues. Spear discussed the life and contribution of Lea (Spear BJR 1950; 23(266): 74-82). 

The lecture was initially set up by the Hospital Physicists Association and, later, the Institute of Physical Sciences in Medicine, and from 1997, the Douglas Lea Lecture has become an eponymous lecture of The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine presented at either the United Kingdom Radiological Congress (UKRC) or the United Kingdom Radiation Oncology (UKRO) Conference.

A number of significant deaths occurred in the 1940s:

Alfred Ernest Barclay

ABarclayBJR22, 295-297

There are many great names associated with our Institute and one of the greatest is Alfred E Barclay. A E Barclay made massive contributions to British radiology and the profession mourned when he died in 1949 (BJR 1949; 22(258): 295-297). A personal tribute by D B McGrigor was published (McGrigor BJR 22(258): 298-299) and a memorial service was held (BJR 1949; 22(259): 406). 

A E Barclay image source : BJR 1949; 22(258): 295-297

He published in many areas and his bibliography shows his wide interests (Barclay BJR 1949; 22(259): 407-408). His paper “The Old Order Changes” (Barclay BJR 1949; 22(258): 300-308) gives an account of his life in radiology and is fascinating.

His life and contributions were reviewed by Jean Guy (Guy BJR 1988; 61(732): 1110-1114) in a lovely article that is warmly recommended.  Barclay gave his Presidential Address in 1932 (Barclay BJR 1932; 5(49): 10-20)  Following the Presidential Address Peter Kerley said that it was Barclay and his associates who during the previous twenty years “have raised the standard of medical radiology from what was formerly little more than a photographic area to one of the most important branches of medical science.”
The Institute remembers Barclay in our Barclay Medal.


Sir William Bragg

WBraggBJR 15, 177

Sir William Bragg made fundamental discoveries relating to the structure of matter using X-ray crystallography.  He had the gift of being able to simplify complex problems.  He gave the Mackenzie Davidson Memorial Lecture in 1935 (Bragg BJR 1935; 8(87): 144-154) on X-rays and the coarse structure of material. Appreciations of the many contributions were made by Major C E S Phillips (Phillips BJR 1942; 15(174): 177) and E A Owen (Owen BJR 1942; 15(175): 202).


Sir Willilam Bragg image source: Phillips BJR 1942; 15(174): 177


 Charles Thurstan Holland

Charles Thurstan Holland died in 1941 (R. E. R. BJR 1941; 14(159): 94-95) and “radiology has lost one of its brightest stars.”THollandBJR 14, 94-95


Charles Thurstan Holland image source: R. E. R. BJR 1941; 14(159): 94-95



A further appreciation appeared in April 1941 (BJR 1941; 14(160): 136-137). Thurstan Holland was President of the 1st International Congress of Radiology.


G W C Kaye FRS

GWCKayeBJR 14, 242-243

Another pioneer was G W C Kaye FRS and his obituary by Major C E S Phillips appeared in July 1941 (Phillips BJR 1941; 14(163): 242-243). Kaye worked for the National Physical Laboratory and made major contributions to standard setting and measurements such as his paper with W Binks (also from the National Physical Laboratory) on the international comparison of the Rontgen, which was the unit then used for the quantity of radiation.

G W C Kaye image source: Phillips BJR 1941; 14(163): 242-243

Kaye delivered the Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture in 1936 on forty years of radiology (1895-1935) (Kay BJR 1936; 9(98): 76-101) and the lecture is well worth reading.


Douglas Lea

Leas influential book “The Actions of Radiation of Living Cells” was published in 1946 and was reviewed in the BJR (J. A. C. BJR 1946; 19(224): 313). Sadly Douglas Lea died in a tragic accident in 1947 (L. H G. BJR 1947; 20(236): 335-337). The Douglas Lea Lecture was established in 1948 as a memorial to commemorate the work of Dr Douglas Lea in the field of physics as applied to biology and medicine, following his untimly death. The lecture was sponsored by the then learned wing of the Hospital Physicists' Association, (BJR 1948; 21(248): 379).  The life of Lea was well reviewed in the 4th Douglas Lea Memorial Lecture given by CA Coulson (Coulson BJR 1954; 28(333): 474-481) in 1954.


G Harrison Orton (1873-1947)

G Harrison Orton was the author of “The Röntgen Rays in the Diagnosis of Diseases of the Chest” which was co-authored with Hugh Walsham and was published in 1906. It was the first book in English devoted solely to chest radiology (H. C. G. BJR 1947; 20(235): 297).


Sebastian Gilbert Scott (1879-1941)

Sebastian Gilbert Scott (BJR 1941; 14(162): 214) qualified in medicine in 1904 and following his house appointments started X-ray and electro-therapeutic work at King’s College Hospital. He was appointed as a radiologist to the London Hospital in 1909 and held the post until his resignation and appointment as Consulting Radiologist in 1930.

Dr S G Scott was a pioneer radiologist particularly interested in gastro-intestinal radiology, pituitary radiology, ankylosing spondylitis and whole body radiation. He helped to develop the barium meal (opaque meal) in Britain. He was an expert on congenital variations and medico-legal aspects of radiology. He was a keen teacher and a supporter of the Cambridge X-ray diploma, the D.M.R.E.

He used wide field low dose radiotherapy for rheumatic diseases (the X-ray bath) particularly ankylosing spondylitis and believed that small doses of radiation stimulated immunity. In the period before the Second World War when many modern medicines and treatments had not been devised he believed that radiotherapy was probably of even more value for benign than malignant disease. He was on the staff of the British Red Cross Clinic for the treatment of Rheumatism (Peto Place) and was the Director of the Nuffield Wide Field X-ray Research.

He came from a family of architects; his grandfather was Sir George Gilbert Scott, his father George Gilbert Scott and his brother Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. He had many hobbies and was a keen cricket player, playing for his local team in Little Marlow.

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