The Cayley crest
1 November 1915. My father is born.
2 November 1915. His older sister takes one look at him and says, "Put him back in the cupboard!"
They did not put him back, and, contrary to all his expectations, he was over 88 when he died.
After initially studying classics in the sixth form, he decided to become a doctor, and it is a tribute to his hard work and intellect that he was able to make the switch. He qualified in 1938, working initially at the Middlesex Hospital, where many of his patients lived in dreadful poverty. In 1939 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was caught up in the chaotic withdrawal from France as the Germans invaded. In 1941 an administrative blunder sent him on a catering course, which evidently taught him nothing - he literally could not boil an egg. He married my mother [Eileen Lilian Dalton, 1916-1997] - whose affections he had lured from a cousin - in September 1941.
Shortly after, he was posted to the Far East, and was captured at Singapore. He was sent to camps on the River Kwai, where 40% of the prisoners of war died. This was a period of appalling hardship. My father was frequently very ill, and he suffered at least one major beating. He told me that he was quite willing to treat both Japanese and British. But when - as often - medicines were short, he resisted all pressure to reserve them for the Japanese. As the Japanese retreated, taking their prisoners with them, he twice narrowly escaped death from British bombs.
He never held the ill-treatment he received against the Japanese. Many years later he showed considerable kindness to some Japanese students in Hove, and he fully approved of his grandson Seth’s decision to spend two years teaching in Japan. But the memories of those awful times never ceased to haunt him.
When he returned to the UK he did not expect to survive to 50. He was severely underweight, had recurrent malaria and tropical parasites, and endured intense nightmares. Despite his poor health, with typical determination he sought medical work immediately.
A few years later he became consultant physician and medical superintendent at Bevendean Hospital, Brighton, where he remained until his official retirement, following which he did locum work for as long as he could.
His commitment to medicine was intense, to the point where he always took a heavy medical tome on holiday and, as soon as he reached his destination, found an armchair and opened it. His medical skills were strong, as were his diagnostic instincts. But his manner with patients and relatives could have been improved. I vividly remember overhearing him bluntly tell a concerned relative, in gruff and sepulchral tones, that a patient might possibly last two weeks.
At his hospital and at home he had one invariable rule. After lunch he meditated for 20 or 30 minutes. We knew he was in profound meditation when the music of his snores started to ascend to heaven.
He had two main non-work interests. One was his church, where he was a lay reader for about 30 years. My mother - not a regular church-goer - occasionally listened to his sermons, and only she had the temerity to tell him that they were often pitched well over the heads of most of his congregation.
The second interest was his allotment, notorious for its weeds. When Jay, my sister-in-law, first met him, she was a teenage medical student in trepidation over approaching this war hero, senior physician and author of learned medical papers. The front door opened and in bounced a small man with twinkly blue eyes and a ginger walrus moustache. He was very muddy, with an enormous cabbage in his hand. "Don’t know WHAT’s the matter with it," he boomed. "It’s gone SEPTIC!"
He had an impish sense of humour. At parties he would go up to a woman he did not know, gaze at her with his boyish, innocent blue eyes, and ask about her private life. He always seemed to get away with this - until he reached home and my mother read him a homily.
His pleasures were simple - the occasional noggin of beer, a walk by the sea, crosswords, and sailing a cousin’s boat while the cousin lay seasick. His love of crosswords continued to the last, and in his nursing home he and I would do the Daily Telegraph quick crossword together.
His attitude to cars was robust. As a pedestrian he would slouch out into the road without looking. He learnt to drive before tests came in, and his driving challenged one’s faith, involving heavy reliance on brakes and clutch, and many prayers on the part of any passenger. He would perform u-turns without worrying whether trees, pavements, vehicles or other impediments might intervene. When Charles and I were young, his driving of prams was no better. One of my brother Charles’s first memories is of my father pushing him in a pram on the Albert Bridge, the pram overturning, and Charles ending up in the teeth of a ravening dog.
He was prone to sneezes that were volcanic in magnitude, startling a cat which was the colour of his ginger moustache and as eccentric as he was.
He and my mother were devoted to each other, and he did all he could to help care for her in her last months. After her death in 1997 he lost his purpose, his health deteriorated, and he became depressed.
He went into care in 1999. When anyone suggested anything to make him more comfortable, he gave one of two answers: either "NO!" or, if he was feeling more forthcoming, "I don’t think so!" One of the few things that gave him pleasure in his last years was his memoirs being published and deposited in archives around the world.
At his nursing home he took an amused, if sometimes irritated, interest in the antics of other residents, many of whom had advanced Alzheimer’s. Side by side with this, he was always concerned for his grandchildren, and gleefully lapped up any information he could obtain on their achievements and romantic entanglements. The nursing home staff looked after - and teased - him with a great affection for which his family will always be grateful.
His life was a full one. Wartime brought out his courage and capacity to stick to his principles. In peacetime he dedicated his skills to others. If he was eccentric, and at times difficult and stubborn, that was part of what made him a fully-rounded human being - a real person whom his family will remember with huge fondness.
Forde Cayley on his retirement
Forde Cayley in WW2 uniform