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News > Obituaries > John Nunn

John Nunn

(W. 1939-1943)
28 Mar 2024

We regret to inform you of the passing of John Nunn (W. 1939-1943) on May 9th, 2022.

The OWA extends its deepest condolences to John's family and friends during this difficult time.

In 1939 John was awarded an £80 scholarship for Wrekin College. On the  3rd September while on holiday he joined a crowd gathered around a radio set. Neville Chamberlain’s speech left everyone in no doubt the world had just changed. He duly headed to Wrekin with a small suitcase to find his Housemaster, Mr Higgs-Walker, had been called up. During his Wrekin years, his holidays were spent in North Wales, as Coventry was far from safe. In the OTC John volunteered for the signals section and became proficient in Morse and semaphore. He greatly enjoyed the metal workshop, where he built a steam engine. He continued unofficial military training during the holidays, “borrowing” his uncle’s .45 revolver.

In 1943 John passed the Higher School Certificate in Chemistry, Physics and Biology and was interviewed by Birmingham Medical School. In view of his widowed mother’s financial situation, he was awarded a free place. He passed his second MB in June 1945 and embarked on clinical training. This comprised 18 months of medicine and surgery and then brief exposure to everything else. In particular he enjoyed the practical experience afforded by anaesthesia. In autumn 1945 he joined the Birmingham University

Mountaineering Club and every weekend thereafter was spent in North Wales. This resulted in his befriending several trainee geologists. In the spring of 1948 he qualified MRCS, LRCP.

The day after graduating from Birmingham University, John and three geologists set off on an expedition to Spitsbergen. They studied the geology of the north coast of Isfjorden and the adjacent mountains from Trygghamna westwards. The early onset of winter forced an early end to their somewhat risky exploits and a hasty evacuation to Tromsö and their return home.

In May 1949, while based at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, he saw “the most beautiful young girl”, who was carrying a plate of sandwiches to the House Governor’s office. He took her to a dance the next Tuesday and on the Friday they decided to get married. Marriage meant that his National Service, two years likely in Malaya, was changed to three years in the Colonial Medical Service in Penang, the island being significantly safer than the mainland. They married in September and sailed for Penang.

His interest and practice quickly changed from surgery to anaesthesia and returning to Birmingham in 1953 John passed the Diploma in Anaesthesia and continued his higher training. He developed a practical academic interest in the effects of anaesthesia on respiration and gas transport. He obtained a research post based at the Royal College of Surgeons and in 1959 submitted a thesis for the degree of PhD.

In 1964 he was invited to become Foundation Professor of Anaesthesia at Leeds University. In 1968 he became Head of the Research Department of Anaesthesia at the newly built Clinical Research Centre in Harrow. In 1969 he authored “Applied Respiratory Physiology”, currently in its 9 th edition, whose original text was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Medicine.

John served as Dean of the Faculty of Anaesthetists from 1979 to 1982 and as Vice-president of the

Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland from 1988 to 1989. In 1991 Birmingham University awarded the degree of Doctor of Science.

In 1996 John wrote “Ancient Egyptian Medicine”, a text unique in that the author was both a medical practitioner and proficient in hieroglyphs. This was followed in 2005 by the hieroglyph version of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”, now in its eighth reprint.

John retired in 1999 and rekindled his interest in geology and model engineering. His second steam engine won a medal at the Model Engineer Exhibition and his unique scratch-built model of a Tower Bridge hydraulic engine now has a new home in the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum. John continued to publish in geology, Egyptology and climate change until 2006. Possibly his most favoured achievement was election to Fellowship of the Geological Society.

Pre-deceased by his beloved wife Sheila, and after several years of worsening vascular dementia John succumbed to acute respiratory failure. He is survived by his two daughters and the author, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.


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