RCOG Heritage 7: Solving a mystery!

Followers of this blog may remember that back in January I got rather excited about some ‘treasures’ found in the College safe, which found their way to me. One of these treasures was a First World War ribbon bar, and I explored through this blog the medals which belonged to these ribbons, and the possible recipient. I am indebted to Patrick McDonnell for his comment as a British ribbon bar collector and his advice that we did not in fact have a Victoria Cross ribbon after all! But through his advice, I have narrowed down the search for the owner of these medals, and it seems that I have found my man!

Colonel Vivian Bartley Green-Armytage FRCOG (1882-1961)

Vivian Bartley Green-Armytage was born in Clifton, Bristol in 1882, the son of a solicitor. He graduated from the University of Bristol in 1906, and was commissioned in the Indian Medical Service in 1907, having won the Montefiore Surgical Medal while at the Royal Army Medical College. As a resident doctor and surgeon at the Eden Hospital, Calcutta, he is said to have received ‘his gynaecological baptism’ in the ‘constant and ever-flowing stream of sick and diseased women’,1 and to the time he left India in 1933 as Professor of Midwifery and Gynaecology at the Calcutta University, he drew his clientele from all over the continent, such was his reputation.

The Indian Medical Service was one of the military medical services, which also had some civilian functions, in British India. It served during the two world wars, and was in existence until the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. Many of its officers, who were both British and Indian, served in civilian hospitals, and Green-Armytage was in good company with Sir Benjamin Franklin (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2359003/pdf/brmedj07089-0035c.pdf) having once served within its ranks. Green-Armytage served with distinction during the First World War, being mentioned in despatches three times, and receiving the Mons Star, the Croix de Chevalier, and the French Legion of Honour, a high-ranking honour of which he was justly proud.2

Green-Armytage

On returning to London in 1933, Green-Armytage joined the honorary staff of the West London Hospital and built up a successful consulting practice in Harley Street, becoming ‘an important part of the London scene in obstetrics and gynaecology’.3 Although he was absent in India during the foundation years of the British College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, he had however been a recipient of one of the original invitations to join as a Foundation Fellow in 1929, and he served the College with great vigour as Chairman of the Indian Reference Committee between 1931 and 1933, retaining the links between the College and its Fellows and Members in India. He later served as College Vice-President between 1949 and 1952, under the presidency of Dame Hilda Lloyd, and doubtless used his international sympathies to great effect as Overseas Officer. In 1957 he was assigned the task of introducing Isidor Rubin to Honorary Fellowship of the College, an American contemporary, known for his lifelong investigations of fallopian tube function.

Green-Armytage’s skills as a surgeon and teacher are well-documented, but his legacy continues within the RCOG through the bequests that he gave during the last twenty years of his life. The Green-Armytage Short-term Travelling Fund was established as early as 1947, although discrepancies relating to the donor’s insistence that it should be awarded only to Fellows and Members of ‘pure British descent’ together with limitations on travel imposed by the value of the fund meant that it was not awarded to until 1953.4 An earlier scholarship fund was bequeathed in 1942 by Green-Armytage, with £1000 3½ per cent War Stock invested for award to a Member judged to have advanced the science and art of obstetrics and gynaecology; again in 1944, £1050 was invested for an Anglo-American lecture, to be awarded alternately to British and American obstetricians and gynaecologists for the purpose of giving lectures on sterility and sub-fertility.5 Just prior to his death, Green-Armytage also called for the College, on the occasion of its move to new accommodation in Regent’s Park in 1960, to adopt a ‘patron saint’ in the manner in which the Physicians had William Harvey and the Surgeons had John Hunter. He proposed that Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870), renowned physician and obstetrician, should be celebrated with an annual ‘Simpson Oration’, for which he was willing to provide an Honorarium of £1312.10 consolidated 4 per cent stock for a lecture on any aspect of gynaecology and/or obstetrics, containing in its theme and substance reference to J Y Simpson. The earliest record of the Simpson Oration within the College Archives are recordings of Leslie Williams’ address entitled ‘Simpson – the teacher and those who follow him’, which he delivered in November 1962.6

Upon his death in April 1961, Green-Armytage bequeathed to the College the proceeds of a policy he held with the Imperial Life Assurance Company of Canada, which he hoped could be used to establish an annual dinner for Fellows on the occasion of the J Y Simpson Oration.7 He also left two silver candlesticks with the instructions that they were to be engraved with his name and placed upon the Council table, and a ‘cabinet containing ivories’, no doubt a souvenir of his eastern travels. A memorial service for Green-Armytage was held by the College at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London on 26 May 1961, and among the many words of eulogy expressed at his death, the phrase which seems to epitomise his life is this: ‘Right to the end, the uniqueness of his character displayed itself…’8

The medals represented on the ribbon bar are probably the Mons Star, the Croix du Chevalier, the French Legion of Honour, and Coronation Ribbon, together with Mention in Despatches – all of which were awarded to Colonel Green-Armytage, and which probably explains why the bar was in the possession of the College.

Penny Hutchins, Archivist

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