Tributes to GP held prisoner by Japanese

TRIBUTES have been paid to a celebrated Horsham surgeon who studied anatomy whilst held in captivity as a Japanese prisoner of war. Alfred Nowell Peach, known as Nowell, died peacefully on January 13 at the age of 98.

Dr Peach, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, was a general practitioner in Horsham from 1954 to 1978 and carried out more than 3,000 operations at Horsham Hospital.

This week, tributes have been paid to the ‘delightful’ surgeon who will be missed by many.

The family of Dr Peach said: “The life of a GP Surgeon in the 50s and 60s was hard.

“He worked long hours during the days and was often called out at night, with only every other Sunday and one half day off a week.

“On Christmas day he would go to Horsham Hospital to dress up in his operating gown, hat, clogs and plastic apron and carve the Christmas turkey on the ward, much to the amusement of the staff and patients. He then returned home and repeated the surgical procedure on our turkey at home, still in his operating regalia.

“And recently, although my father’s old body began to fail him, his brain was as sharp as ever. He was still doing the cryptic crossword in the Telegraph when he was 98 and then only gave up because he couldn’t focus his eyes properly and his hands were too weak to write. His sense of humour never failed.”

The doctor gathered a large amount of press attention in the last ten years after sharing his amazing story of studying Gray’s Anatomy whilst subject to the grim conditions of camp Java in WW11.

He enlisted as a medical officer with the RAF Volunteer Reserve and was posted to the Far East where he met legendary Australian surgeon Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.

Dr Peach experienced appalling conditions as a prisoner of war under the Japanese for three and a half years but, thanks to a precious gift from Dunlop, he was able to study anatomy throughout.

The doctor never forgot Dunlop’s generous gift of Gray’s Anatomy, and in an interview with the County Times in 2010, he said: “When I became a prisoner of war myself I humped Gray’s Anatomy from prison camp to prison camp and read it from cover to cover.”

Speaking of his time labouring on the Thai-Burma railway, he said: “The Japanese could be quite pleasant at one moment and very cruel the next. If the lowest ranking soldier went past, we had to bow. If we didn’t, we were beaten to the ground with a rifle butt.

“We had quinine to treat malaria but there were no antibiotics. Some of the men managed to ferment fruit and vegetables for vitamins, so we were able to treat vitamin deficiencies with some success.

“I finished up in a jail made for 500 but we had 3,000 inmates. I suffered from jaundice and in the last few months I had chronic diarrhoea. Because of the conditions we thought we would be sterile but I was very lucky and went on to have five children.”

When Dr Peach came home in November 1945 he enrolled on an anatomy course for his surgical training.

“I could picture the images from Gray’s Anatomy and knew my anatomy backwards,” he told the County Times after sailing through the exam.

He retired as a GP and surgeon at Horsham Hospital in Hurst Road in 1978.

Retired Horsham GP Geoffrey Gover was in partnership with Dr Peach and worked as his anaesthetist at Horsham Hospital.

He said: “I will never forget the first day I met Dr Nowell Peach in June 1959 when I was interviewed - with my heavily-pregnant wife Ann - for the post of assistant to the North Street Partnership in Horsham.

“We all met in the Milling Room at 15 North Street where all seven partners were crowded in for the interview. After introductions, my first question was from this rather daunting and seemingly severe surgical partner who asked me if I could give anaesthetics. I soon discovered his bark was worse than his bite and gradually we became the best of friends.

“His knowledge of anatomy was second to none. It was a privilege to work with such a fine surgeon who could turn his hand to any aspect of surgery.”

Simon Dean, a senior partner at Horsham Surgery, added: “He was a lovely, delightful man.

“It’s always sad when one of our doctors from Park Surgery dies, having him around gave the surgery a very special link to the past.”