Max Leonard Rosenheim: a life in five documents

Over the course of volunteering in the RCP archives, I have been cataloguing the personal papers of Max Leonard Rosenheim (1908–1972), a physician who served as president of the RCP from 1969 until his death in 1972. The Rosenheim collection is comprehensive — from his primary school magazine (MS6268/18) to biographies written after his death (MS6272/2) — and offers an opportunity to understand his life in a great amount of depth. Here are five of these documents that are of particular interest to me, and I think reveal a lot about who Max Rosenheim was as an individual.


Copy of the Hall magazine
Copy of the Hall Magazine, 1922 (MS6268/18)


Our earliest encounter with Rosenheim is the magazine of the Hall School, Hampstead, which he attended between the ages of 7 and 14. The magazine features a photograph of a 14-year-old Rosenheim, and an announcement of his departure for Shrewsbury School. The announcement states that “Rosenheim is undoubtedly the cleverest and most reliable boy in the School. He is a real scholar and has always set an example of hard work and diligence … no boy was fonder or prouder of his school, and this affection was warmly reciprocated”. The magazine also states that “(we) hope before long we shall hear of his winning a Scholarship at one of the Universities”. This would prove to be partly correct; although Rosenheim did not attend St John’s College, Cambridge on a scholarship, he was offered one in 1929 to attend the University College Hospital Medical School.


Thesis cover page.
Bound doctoral thesis, 1938 (MS6264/5)


Rosenheim had a number of research interests, including the treatment of hypertension and renal disease, but his earliest focus was the effectiveness of mandelic acid as a treatment for urinary infections. His doctoral thesis, titled Urinary Infections, with Special Reference to their Treatment with Mandelic Acid, represents the culmination both of this work and his education, and the beginning in earnest of his career as a physician. His treatment plan of mandelic acid and ammonium chloride proved to be one of the most effective treatments for urinary infections until the advent of antibiotics.


Royal Army Medical Corps photographs, 1942-1945 (MS6270/16)


Rosenheim was an enthusiastic traveller for over 30 years of his life. He was an avid recorder of these trips, creating books of photographs and occasionally printing and binding his diaries from his time abroad. As a result, we are left with a comprehensive insight into his experiences. His photographs from his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during the Second World War are of particular interest. These photographs are often indistinguishable from regular holiday pictures, featuring images of himself and others posing at the pyramids and swimming in the Dead Sea. There are a number of photographs of military camps and the travelling hospitals in which he worked, but conflict nevertheless feels distant. Only two photographs showcase the presence of any visible danger: taken from a boat, they show something burning on the water in the distance, potentially another boat, and are captioned “our G1098 equipment. 25 July 1943”. We know this time was difficult for Rosenheim; the collection contains a letter expressing condolences following the death in action of his brother Charles (MS6271/4), as well as descriptions of the blitz: “no rockets for a week which is a nice change. We had one on Primrose [ie Primrose Hill, London] a fortnight ago which shook us up a bit”. Perhaps his adventures abroad and the overall jovial nature of his photographs represent a distraction from the reality that awaited him back in London. Indeed, in a letter from April 1945 (MS6271/4) he admits that “I am really having a good time here, and am not desperately keen on facing up to the difficulties of civilian life”.


Letter from Rosenheim supporting the NHS.
Letter to the secretary of the British Medical Association, 1945 (MS6271/5)


It could certainly be argued that Rosenheim was a member of the establishment. He was educated at prestigious private schools and Cambridge University. He was made a life Baron (MS6271/21) and Fellow of the Royal Society, and at one point he treated Clementine Churchill [KB1] (MS6271/19). However, his personal papers also reveal a dedication to public health, including a passionate distaste for the British Medical Association’s (BMA) opposition to the formation of the National Health Service (NHS). In a letter addressed to the secretary of the BMA (MS6271/5), Rosenheim writes that the BMA’s stance has “discredited the Medical Profession in the eyes of the public” and states his belief that the NHS bill is “an excellent, progressive piece of legislation…It will, undoubtedly, provide a far better health service for the public”. He ends the letter by stating that “were it not that I hope shortly to return to civilian life, where I hope I may play some part in reforming your policy, I should tender my resignation from the Association as a protest against your ill-conceived letter.”


Three figures walking.
Medical Pilgrims photographs (1960-1961), (MS6270/34)


Rosenheim’s love of travel continued long after his return from military service, and he took on temporary teaching roles in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India in the 1950s. In the 1960s he joined the Medical Pilgrims, an organisation of senior physicians from across the world who took an annual trip together to visit international medical centres. With the Pilgrims he travelled to France, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Holland, and some of his final correspondence from September 1972, less than three months before his death, is discussing potential future destinations (MS6270/22). His first two trips with the Pilgrims, to France and Ireland in 1960 and 1961 respectively, were extensively photographed by Rosenheim and provide a pleasing accompaniment to the photographs from his time in the army. The trips are even more meticulously recorded, down to typewritten itineraries, but the photographs show the same love of adventure that he demonstrated almost 20 years prior.


Recipe for cheese fudge.
Bonus: recipe for cheese fudge (MS6270/46)


Tucked inside the front cover of a diary that covers Rosenheim’s time in Asia with the RAMC after the end of the Second World War is a recipe for cheese fudge. It is not clear whether Rosenheim ever made or ate the cheese fudge, but here is the recipe in full in case anyone wishes to try it themselves:

“Required:-         1 Large Tin of Cheese,

1 Lb Sugar,

2 Tins Condensed Milk.

½ lb Butter.


Grate cheese up fine.

Melt butter over slow fire.

Pour in milk plus little water.

Dissolve in sugar.

Now Simmer.

Stir vigorously – add cheese – stir more vigorously. Just don’t boil. Stir 20 times.

Pour out into flat pan.

Allow to cool.”


Mathilda Wood, archives volunteer


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