Tribute to leading Norwich vet

Michael Pollitt, obituaries editorA leading Norfolk veterinary surgeon, Jimmy Phillips, who was twice mentioned in dispatches in the second world war, has died aged 92.Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

A leading Norfolk veterinary surgeon, Jimmy Phillips, who was twice mentioned in dispatches in the second world war, has died aged 92.

He served in Burma, where he was responsible for looking for mules, then the only effective beast of burden in the intense behind-the-lines fighting against the Japanese.

Born in Aberdeen in 1917, he never knew his father, who had been killed during the closing stages of the first world war. He went to the Royal Veterinary College, Edinburgh, in 1933. After qualifying in 1938, he joined a practice in Darlington, looking after pit ponies.

After Dunkirk, he tried to join the army but working vets were not allowed to volunteer. After persuading his senior partner to sack him, he spent his first 18 months in the Royal Artillery manning a gun on the south coast.

By then the army was desperate for qualified vets. When his name came up, he was 'volunteered' and immediately sent to the Far East by troopship to serve in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. However, he insisted on a 48-hour pass before embarkation to the Far East. It was more than four years later that he first saw his son, James. And ironically his mother and stepfather returned home from India at the same time by ship.

He was demobbed as a captain in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and joined the Norwich practice, then headed by Harry Standley in Orford Place. When petrol was still rationed, he kept a horse in the yard and was often seen riding out along Ber Street on his rounds.

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He later succeeded the late John McLintock, himself a senior partner, as the practice had expanded in 1963 into new premises in Chapelfield. Always a large animal vet, he was president of the Eastern Counties Veterinary Society and during his two-year term, the profession's national congress was held in Norwich.

Aged 65, he retired as senior partner in 1982 and then became official veterinary surgeon to Bernard Matthews until forced, by advancing age, to retire. As the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreaks spread across the country, he volunteered again but the ministry of agriculture was reluctant to take on a retired veterinary surgeon in his mid 80s, even with first-hand experience of the disease.

He enjoyed racing, and even more so when a filly in his syndicate, Torgau, owned with friends Peter Charlton, won the Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket. He also took up golf, where he was a president of Eaton Golf Club.

A talented piano player and ballroom dancer, he was always lively company with a fund of stories. In recent years, he was a companion of Betty Barrett, of Felthorpe. And, close to his 90th birthday, it gave him enormous pleasure with Mrs Barrett to win the prize at the Royal Norfolk Show as one half of the best-dressed couple in 2007.

His son, James, who was the chief veterinary officer of the RSPCA, and wife, Ena, both predeceased. He leaves a grandson and daughter, and three great grandsons.

A funeral service will be held at the City of Norwich Crematorium, Earlham Road, on Thursday, January 28, noon.

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