Canada’s three chairs of military medicine
By Dr. Jonathan Meakins, OC, MD, FRCSC
In honour of Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, the following vignette was written by the Royal College’s History and Heritage Committee. This vignette was written not only to recognize the important contributions of physicians during the war, but also to honour all those who have made sacrifices for our freedom.
Between 2012 and 2014, the Canadian Forces established three chairs of military medicine, each one named after medical researchers who served as military medical officers and who contributed prominently to both military and civilian health research and leadership during the Second World War and beyond.
These chairs are named for: major Sir Frederick Banting (chair in military trauma research), group captain G. Edward Hall, AFC, Royal Canadian Air Force (chair in military critical care research), and brigadier Jonathan C. Meakins, CBE, RCAMC (chair in military mental health).
Major Sir Frederick Banting chair in military trauma research
Lieutenant-general Andrew McNaughton was president of the National Research Council (NRC) in the years leading up to the Second World War. Foreseeing war with Germany and a need for medical research on the physiological demands of new technologies since The Great War, lieutenant-general McNaughton established the NRC’s Associate Committee on Medical Research (now CIHR) and asked Major Sir Frederick Banting (a devoted RCAMC reservist medical officer) to be chair.
At the onset of the Second World War, Banting’s committee’s focus migrated from a typical civilian medical mandate to an exclusively military medical research commitment. He established and chaired the Committee on Aviation Medical Research in 1939 and in 1941 the secret Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) 1 Clinical Investigation Unit was created. The investigation unit obtained the first human centrifuge, and helped Wing Commander Wilber R. Franks design the Franks Flying Suit. Banting, known as the Father of Aviation Medicine in Canada, faithfully led national medical research efforts in support of the Canadian and allied war efforts until his death in 1941 while travelling on a military medical research mission.
The Canadian Forces Major Sir Frederick Banting chair in military trauma research (established July 2012) was first awarded to colonel Homer Tien, medical director of Sunnybrook’s Tory Regional Trauma Centre and senior specialist adviser to the surgeon general.
Group Captain G. Edward Hall, AFC, RCAF chair in military critical care research
Group Captain G. Edward Hall was appointed research associate in the department of medical research at the Banting Institute in 1935. By 1939, he was a full professor of medicine. An army reservist in the Governor General’s Horse Guards and later in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) reserve before the Second World War, he served full-time once the war started. He led the RCAF’s medical research program and, following Banting’s death, served as commanding officer of 1 Clinical Investigation Unit. His dedication and innovation in the development of helmets, oxygen delivery systems, decompression illness and problems in high altitude flying, contributed greatly to the protection of Canadian and allied aircrew.
He was decorated with the Air Force Cross, usually awarded for acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty while flying. While serving in the armed forces, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and was made an officer of the United States Legion of Merit. After the war, Hall’s commitment to the armed forces did not wane. As dean, he reserved the first two classes of Western University’s post-war medical school class for veterans, continued to serve on the Defense Medical and Dental Services Advisory Board, and later as the chair of the Canadian Forces Medical Council until the 1960s.
The Canadian Forces Group Captain G. Edward Hall, AFC, RCAF chair in military critical care research (established 2013) was first awarded to captain (Navy) Raymond Kao, an accomplished pre-clinical and clinical researcher, chair of the Canadian Forces Pharmaceuticals and Therapeutics Committee, and senior critical care adviser to the surgeon general.
Brigadier Jonathan C. Meakins, CBE, RCAMC chair in military mental health
Brigadier Jonathan C. Meakins was one of the world’s first researchers on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during The Great War. At that time, shell shock was the commonly used term. He identified the physiologic expression of PTSD as an irritable heart in young men with normal hearts, which became known as “soldier’s heart.” The physical expression of psychologic distress subsequently became of great interest and a prominent theme expressed particularly in the 6th edition of his textbook, The Practice of Medicine.
During the Second World War, brigadier Meakins served as deputy director general of the Medical Services (i.e. Canadian Army deputy surgeon general). He was highly involved with recruiting standards, as well as addressing the problems of returning service men for which he received a CBE. In retirement, Dr. Meakins remained active as chair of the Assessment and Rehabilitation Board of Veterans Affairs Canada, founding president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and president of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The first recipient of the Brigadier Jonathan C. Meakins, CBE, RCAMC chair in military mental health (established 2014) was awarded to colonel Rakesh Jetly, Canadian Forces chief psychiatrist, leader of the mental health research block within the Surgeon General’s Health Research Program, and senior mental health adviser to the surgeon general.
Canada.ca, First Chair in Military Critical Care at Lawson Health Research Institute Appointed. Last retrieved May 2020 from: https://www.canada.ca/en/news/archive/2013/01/first-chair-military-critical-care-research-lawson-health-research-institute-appointed.html.
University of Toronto. (1924). Major Sir Frederick Banting [Digital image]. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://insulin.library.utoronto.ca/islandora/object/insulin%3AP10103.
Western University. Captain G. Edward Hall [Digital image]. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.lib.uwo.ca/archives/virtualexhibits/historyofmedicine/Deans/e_hall.html.