Obituary: Dr James Rogers MB BChir MRCS LRCP MRCP DPM FRCPsych, psychiatrist and Navy medic

Dr James Rogers. Picture: Contributed
Dr James Rogers. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 22 February, 1915 in Ullesthorpe, Leicestershire. Died: 5 April, 2013 in Dumfries, aged 98

Quoting the words of Rudyard Kipling, James Rogers described himself, no doubt tongue in cheek, as a sailor of infinite resource and sagacity.

It was an accurate assessment as far as his war record at sea is concerned: he defied enemy attacks twice, escaping the devastation of a U boat’s torpedo to help save his crewmates and surviving a bombing despite suffering dreadful injuries, including a broken back.

His resilience and courage were remarkable on both occasions. But in his subsequent life as a pioneering child psychiatrist and, privately, as an enthusiastic traveller and sailor, he also proved himself to be shrewd, wise and resourceful.

Whether it was achieving a national reputation for establishing a successful residential model for troubled children, rebuilding a treasured old camper van or facing up to widowhood, he simply adapted and got on with things.

The fourth generation of a family of doctors, he was born in the Leicestershire village of Ullesthorpe, the son of GP Walter Rogers and his wife Helen, a nursing sister.

His great grandfather had been a deputy inspector general of hospitals with the Honourable East India Company but his impoverished father had a less impressive start to his career.

He struggled for ten years, unable to afford the cash to qualify as a doctor until, in an astonishing stroke of luck, he won £10,000 in a French lottery in 1909. The money allowed him to marry and complete his training.

By the time young James was four, the family was living in Guildford, Surrey where his father ran a large GP practice from their home. The little boy was taught by a governess until attending prep school, aged nine, and then Charterhouse at 13.

Following family tradition he studied medicine, going up to Cambridge and then on to the London Hospital in Whitechapel. When the Second World War broke out he was 18 months from qualifying and found himself at the heart of the Blitz, managing his studies as London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights.

Rogers qualified in 1941 and took several training jobs before joining the Navy, in June 1942, as a medic on board the destroyer HMS Puckeridge. It was deployed on the dangerous task of convoy defence and supported the invasions of North Africa and Sicily.

During his time on Puckeridge, Rogers, who had always been fascinated by boats, acquired his watchkeeper’s certificate, enabling him to realise a boyhood dream of taking charge of a vessel. He went on to become a skilled navigator.

But on 6 September, 1943 the vessel was torpedoed by a U-boat in the western Mediterranean. It went down in little more than six minutes with the loss of 62 men. Rogers, unscathed but covered in oil, helped many of the injured survivors onto floats, attending to them until they were picked up by a Spanish merchant boat.

The uninjured should have been interned but, after Rogers produced a certificate indicating they had all been wounded, they avoided being detained and were taken instead to Gibraltar.

The following April, after a short spell on a ship repairing cables in the Atlantic, he was posted to the destroyer HMS Lawford, converted into an HQ ship in preparation for the D Day landings – his third invasion of the war.

On D Day plus 2, while operating off Juno beach, she was bombed. Luck was not on Rogers’ side this time. He suffered terrible injuries in the blast: his ankles and heel were shattered, his back was broken and a fractured rib punctured one of his lungs as he ignored his own wounds to go to the aid a fellow crewman.

As the ship began to go under he finally managed to throw himself off. After being rescued by another vessel, he eventually ended up in hospital in Liverpool where, incredibly, his broken back and ankles remained undiagnosed for some time. Only once an X-ray revealed the injuries did he spend three months on his back in plaster.

His war ended then but he continued in the Navy, serving on HMS Osprey in Dunoon, where he met his future wife, Joyce, a nursing sister.

They married in December 1946 and lived in London where he continued to add to his expertise, training at the renowned Maudsley Hospital, gaining membership of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and Physicians and a Diploma in Psychological Medicine.

His interest in psychiatry had been sparked by an inspirational professor during his general training and later in the Navy when he’d been intrigued by the psychological effects of the war on some of the crew.

In 1952 he moved to the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries as a consultant child psychiatrist – one of only three in the UK at the time – at its Ladyfield residential unit.

For the next two decades there he was utterly committed to reshaping the lives of troubled youngsters.

The unit, which also treated children from England, was unique in Scotland and its success was due, largely, to his leadership, compassion and 
collaborative approach, incorporating a multi-disciplinary team. He also had an unshakable belief in others and, under his guidance, the team transformed the lives of hundreds of children.

In 1971 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and took a post in Edinburgh running a psychiatric service at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children where he became interested in List D schools for disruptive youngsters.

He began offering support to such institutions and continued long after retiring from the hospital at 65.

He became a consultant to residential schools and a part-time senior lecturer in child psychiatry at Edinburgh University, only finally giving up work at the age of 84 and writing a book on his professional experiences a decade later.

On leaving Edinburgh he “retired” to Rockcliffe on the Solway Firth where he was a keen gardener, a member of the Solway Yacht Club and much in demand for his navigational skills.

He and his wife took an old VW van around Europe and also made trips to Fiji, Nepal and Machu Picchu. Other interests included amateur dramatics, natural history, golf, photography and reading.

When macular degeneration robbed him of the ability to read he switched, with typical stoicism, to listening books.

The will power and positive attitude he displayed through his life also enabled him to recover from surgery, including from five hip operations and the loss, in 2010, of his wife of 63 years.

He is survived by four children and seven grandchildren.