Born: June 22, 1956; Died: June 1, 2019
SURGEON Vice Admiral Alasdair Walker, who has died aged 62, was a doctor and military surgeon who served with distinction in many troubled and war-torn areas. He was involved in the Falklands conflict and the Gulf War and served as a military surgeon in Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.
A military surgeon with both the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, he also served with the UK army and American Forces. He led Commando Forward Surgical Group 2 during the Iraq War in 2003, treating coalition and Iraqi casualties, and conducted a clinical tour in Afghanistan. After that period of service, he was promoted to surgeon commodore and became medical director at Joint Medical Command in 2009.
From 2015-18, he was surgeon general, which is the senior medical officer in the British Armed Forces. The post dates from 1664.
Alasdair James Walker was born in Glasgow. His father was a GP and his mother a teacher. The family – Walker had a brother and two sisters – lived in Cardonald but in 1969 they moved to Pollokshields and Walker attended the High School of Glasgow from 1965-74. He was captain of the school in 1974, played for the 1st XV and won the London Club Prize and Donaldson Quaich for public speaking. The rector remarked when Walker left that his pupil was a good leader, had initiative, was well adjusted and academically grounded.
Walker then fulfilled his ambition to follow his father into the medical profession and read medicine at Glasgow University, graduating in 1979 and serving as a junior doctor at both the Western General and Southern General hospitals.
During these years he volunteered for work with the Air Ambulance Service and enjoyed many years as a sea scout with the 29th Glasgow Scout Group in Newlands. Raymond Williamson, a fellow Scout, recalls, “Alasdair was a keen and enthusiastic sea scout becoming, in 1971, patrol leader of Heron Patrol, a position he held until leaving the unit in 1972.”
Walker was then selected by the Royal Navy as a medical cadet with the rank of surgeon sub lieutenant. He attended a medical course at Dartmouth passing out in 1980.
After tours of duties, he joined HMS Plymouth as Squadron Medical Officer. The Plymouth joined the task force in the Falklands in 1982, playing an important part in the conflict spending all its time in the treacherous San Carlos Water (‘Bomb Alley’).
Plymouth was involved in the retaking of South Georgia – the surrender of the Argentine forces in South Georgia was signed in Plymouth’s wardroom – but the frigate was also severely damaged in an attack by the Argentinian Air Force which started a fire. Walker stabilised the five casualties and evacuated them ashore.
Promoted to surgeon lieutenant, Walker carried out further training at naval hospitals and spent two years in the early 1990s at the vascular unit of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He then returned to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in Porstmouth for service as a consultant during the Gulf War.
He was transferred to the Derriford Hospital in Plymouth where he was the first military consultant appointed to a clinical management unit and fulfilled various senior appointments.
Walker conducted a clinical tour of Afghanistan and then led the Commando Forward Surgical Group 2 during the Iraq War in 2003 treating all the wounded with the same care and attention.
In 2015 he sailed with HMS Argus to Sierra Leone to support the medics fighting the deadly Ebola disease. The mission established medical treatment centres across the country and helped to move vital equipment and food packages to remote areas of Sierra Leone – often in inaccessible areas.
In 2016 Walker was involved in the creation of specialist medical facilities at Longbridge which treats injured military personnel at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. At the opening of the facility, he praised the improved care it would give the wounded.
“It will provide a focal point that will develop and maintain a sense of belonging and teamwork in support of the essential medical work we undertake every day,” he said. “Patients are our priority.”
Walker, who died from brain cancer, published over 40 papers relating to military medicine, surgery and trauma and was appointed OBE in 2005 and CB in 2017. Immediately prior to becoming surgeon general, he sat on the Council of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
Apart from a life-long passion for the sea and medicine, Walker enjoyed rugby, gardening and genealogy. He and his wife were keen breeders of Bergamasco puppies – a rare breed of herding dog originally from the Italian Alps.
His first marriage in 1986 to Sheena Handley was dissolved and in 2006 he married Chris Parker. She and his two sons from his first marriage survive him.