John Frederick Wilkinson (1897-1998) was one of the founders of haematology as a clinical speciality in the UK. He was born in Oldham, Lancashire on 10 June 1897, one of two children, but his mother died when he was only two and he soon moved to Blackpool to live with relatives. He was educated at the Arnold School, Blackpool before heading to the University of Manchester in 1914 to study chemistry. His undergraduate studies were interrupted by the First World War and he went on active war service in March 1916. From 1916 to 1918 he saw active service in the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Tank Corps and was personally commended for services in operations at Zeebrugge and Ostend on board HMS Vindictive in 1918 by Rear-Admiral Carpenter and was unsuccessfully balloted for the Victoria Cross. Wilkinson was officially demobilized in 1919 and returned to his studies and was finally awarded his B.Sc. with 1st Class Honours in Chemistry in 1920 and became an Associate of the Institute of Chemistry in the same year.
From 1920 to 1921 he worked as a part-time demonstrator in physics at the University of Manchester whilst he continued his studies in chemistry, receiving a M.Sc. for research in organic chemistry in 1921. He also took up the role of Honorary Demonstrator in Crystallography at the University in 1921 as well as commencing his Ph.D. in organic chemistry, which he was awarded in 1924, the same year he became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. In 1922 he became Technical Advisor and later Technical Director to the Betol Manufacturing Co., Manchester and upon receiving his Ph.D. he also commenced work as a Lecturer in Chemistry (organic, physical and inorganic) at the Hyde Technical School, holding both roles until 1928. He also held a position within the University of Manchester from 1925-1928 as an Assistant in Chemical Physiology.
In 1923 he entered the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manchester and received his medical degree (M.B. Ch.B.) in 1928 with a distinction in physiology. At this point he took up the role of Senior House Physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) under Professor Frederick Craven Moore (1871-1944) and by the end of 1928 was appointed Director of the Department of Clinical Investigations and Research at the Infirmary as well as Lecturer in Medicine, University of Manchester. In 1931 he was awarded an MD with gold medal for research in medicine. His papers show that in November 1931 he applied unsuccessfully for the University chair of Medicine, St Thomas' Hospital Medical School, London.
He became Honorary Physician at the MRI in 1934 and a member of its Medical Board. He retained his position as Director of the Department of Clinical Investigations and Research until 1947 whereupon he became head of the newly created Department of Haematology. He was a reader in medicine and haematology at the University of Manchester from 1947 to 1962 and held honorary roles at the Christie Hospital and the Holt Radium Institute, Manchester.
Wilkinson carried out extensive research into anaemias with a particular focus on pernicious anaemia, and also heavily researched other malignant blood diseases and Addison's disease. He conducted lengthy research into the use of liver extracts in the treatment of pernicious anaemia and was pioneering in the use of nitrogen mustards in the treatment of lymphomas and chronic leukaemia. He conducted original research on the relationship between gastric carcinomas and anaemias as well as research into diseases of the endocrine system and allergic diseases. His research saw him publish a great number of original papers both in the UK and abroad.
From 1938 to 1946 Wilkinson also headed up the Manchester and Salford Civilian Hospital Emergency Blood Transfusion Service and was a regional officer for the North West Blood Transfusion Service,1939-1946. He was also involved with monitoring the health of workers during World War Two that worked in factories handling toxic materials in conjunction with the Ministry of Supply. Alongside his hospital appointments and public roles he ran a private clinic and although he retired from the NHS in 1962 he continued to see private patients well into his nineties as well as continuing several other roles. In the 1960s and 1970s Wilkinson worked with the University of Manchester Radiological Protection Service providing regular health screenings for those potentially exposed to radiation during their work and is known to have provided health checks for the directors of Turner & Newall and its associate companies.
Throughout his research career Wilkinson worked extensively with the Medical Research Council from whom he received a number of grants and conducted research into certain areas and new drugs as required. In 1952 he became the chairman of the Council's newly established Haemophilia Committee.
Wilkinson was an active member of a number of professional societies, taking on administrative roles and even helping in the foundation of others. He was a co-founder of the British Society of Haematology and also served as President of the European Society of Haematology in 1959 from which position he assisted in the formation of the International Society of Haematology where he held the position of life-councillor. He was also actively involved in the Haemophilia Society, a national organisation formed in 1950 to assist those suffering from bleeding disorders. More locally he was involved with Manchester Pathological Society which was eventually absorbed by the Manchester Medical Society where he served as President in 1956 and Honorary Editor from 1956 onwards. He was Liveryman of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and gave the Osler lecture in 1981 and as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians gave the Olive Sharpey lecture in 1948 and Samuel Gee lecture in 1977.
Wilkinson had a lifelong involvement with the scouting movement from its earliest beginnings in 1908 after reading the first instalment of the newly published Scouting for Boys. Filled with enthusiasm he and his friends immediately formed their own patrol which became part of the 1st Blackpool Scout Troop and Wilkinson became one of the first people to receive the King's Scout Award after its introduction in 1910. As an adult Wilkinson became a Scoutmaster and after an intensive training course was personally presented with the Wood Badge by Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) and is believed to be the first person to have received the award. Over the years he became District Scoutmaster and Assistant County Commissioner and served as President of Blackpool Old Scouts, Alderley District President, and Vice-President of Cheshire County Scouts. In 1992 he was presented with the Silver Wolf, the Association's highest award for good service.
Outside of work Wilkinson also had an enthusiasm for collecting old apothecaries' jars and amassed a large collection which is now housed in the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, West Yorkshire. It was his interest in apothecaries' jars that informed the topic of his 1977 Samuel Gee lecture. He was also known as something of an animal lover with an interest in tropical fish and at times served as director and vice chairman of Chester Zoo as well as working closely with Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Manchester from where he was able to source a number of different animal livers that assisted him in his early research into the use of liver extracts in the treatment of pernicious anaemia. Wilkinson also had a reputation as a keen motorcyclist and motorist and his Rolls-Royce was often observed outside his consulting wing of the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Wilkinson married Marion Crossfield, a Major in the Women's Royal Army Corps in 1964 but they separated a few years before his death. He also describes himself as being married in 1931 in his application for the University Chair of Medicine at St Thomas' Hospital, London, but it is not clear who he was married to or how long the marriage lasted. He died at his home in Knutsford, Cheshire on 13 August 1998 at the age of 101.