Winston Churchill’s Illnesses 1886-1965: Courage, Resilience, Determination by Allister Vale and John Scadding is the definitive history of Churchill’s health from his first bout of ill-health to his terminal illness. In short chapters the authors cover the nature of each bout of illness Churchill suffered, the medical treatment provided, and a summary evaluation of the medical aspect of the illness. Although he was largely free from ill-health until he was in his mid-sixties, over his long life, Churchill suffered accidents (a fall in 1893, car accident in 1931), bouts of illness (pneumonia, strokes, hernia), and falls. As can be expected, his illnesses and the necessity for medical attention increased as he grew older. Churchill’s most famous illnesses were his appendicitis in October 1922 that occurred during his defeat in the general election (causing him to quip that he was “without an office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix”) and his stroke in June 1953 while serving his second term as prime minister. His amazing recovery from the stroke in time to address the Conservative Party Conference in October 1953 has been studied and retold in a fictionalized form in a movie. Additionally, it is commonly repeated in regard to Churchill’s heath that he suffered from depression, what he called his “Black Dog.” Vale and Scadding (along with chapter co-author Dr. Anthony Daniels) consider this question in detail and conclude that “the available evidence suggests that Churchill suffered no major psychiatric disorder.”
The authors make excellent use of primary sources, including the medical notes and clinical records of the physicians who attended on Churchill. Vale and Scadding are both themselves physicians and their training and experience is evident in the interpretations and judgements made on the medical issues discussed in the volume. Based on their series of journal articles on Churchill’s medical history, the book is extensively researched and well-written.
Winston Churchill’s Illnesses 1886-1965 is the authoritative account of the widely discussed subject of Churchill’s medical history.