Dr D. G. C. Whyte


Colonel Desmond Gilbert Cromie Whyte, who died earlier this year in Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry, aged 84, graduated from Queen's University Belfast in 1937, and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps with a regular commission in 1939.

After serving in Persia and Iraq, he was appointed commanding officer of the 11th Indian Field Ambulance. He flew into the Burmese jungle by glider with the Second Chindit Expedition in 1944. Working behind the enemy lines, he rendered outstanding medical service under conditions of extreme deprivation and danger. His fellow officer Richard Rhode James wrote in his book Chindit that "he used to go about clad only in the briefest of loincloths and carrying his carbine. I half expected him to take to the trees until I saw him handle his patients and then I realised where he belonged." His commanding officer considered him to be "the one man who had kept the brigade going, not dashing out to rescue one wounded man but 200 over 100 days".

Desmond Whyte was awarded an immediate DSO for outstanding gallantry and leadership in the face of the enemy. He was originally recommended for a VC by his brigadier, John Masters, the author, who was very angry when it was downgraded to DSO, but Desmond was quite indifferent.

His character and personality, moulded by experience in the Royal Army Medical Corps, in which he trained as a radiologist and passed the FFR examination in 1952, made Desmond Whyte an excellent choice to undertake the organisation of radiology in the north-west of Ireland. He was appointed consultant radiologist to the new Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry, after his retirement from the army in 1957. He established a modern department of radiology with the state-of-the-art equipment and worked single-handed tirelessly for many years providing an outstanding radiological service to Derry and the adjacent counties, including Donegal. He was never known to leave his department, no matter how late the hour, until all the radiographs of the day had been reported.

He was responsible for organising a postgraduate medical centre and library followed by a school of radiography. The development of the school of radiography with Tom Lee, the superintendent radiographer, was one of his greatest achievements. It was run on military lines, particularly with regard to punctuality, turn-out and decorum, especially in relation to patients. The radiographers of his school were very successful in their examinations. They are renowned as being highly trained and competent and have been appointed to many hospitals throughout the UK and Ireland. Dr Whyte's flair for superb organisation was seen as chairman of the North of Ireland Cancer Research Campaign and chairman of the St John's Ambulance Brigade. He was an active member of the Ulster Radiological Society and its president in 1973.

Desmond Whyte was invited to become a member of the 25 Radiology Visiting Club just after its formation in 1960. He was a regular contributor and never failed to make stimulating presentations resourced from his huge practice. These were delivered with his renowned style and erudition punctuated by a disarming slight stutter. He was most generous in providing a loan or copies of some magnificent cases for teaching files.

It is very much regretted that due to his hospital and other local commitments he was unable to make a greater contribution to the Faculty of Radiologists of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, but for many years he was a regular attendant at the annual meeting and dinner, at which he was very popular with his many friends.

Col Whyte made many outstanding contributions to the community, especially in his own city. He was a Knight of the most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem. He served as justice of the peace and High Sheriff for the county borough. He was scrupulously non-sectarian in a deeply divided community. He enjoyed music and gardening and he and his elegant wife, Patricia, his lifelong companion by whom he is survived, derived considerable pleasure from browsing around antique shops in London and Dublin.