John Bennet was born at Ratho, Midlothian, in 1893 and was educated at George Heriot’s School. He received his medical education at Edinburgh University, graduating with honours in 1916.
In the same year he was mobilized into the RAMC and was immediately posted to Salonika as regimental medical officer to the 1/3 City of London Yeomanry. With this cavalry unit he subsequently went to Egypt, and took part in Allenby’s advance through Palestine into Syria. Following the cessation of hostilities he remained in the Middle East, and from there applied for and was granted a regular commission.
In the years between the two world wars his career was typical of that of medical officers primarily interested in clinical medicine, as opposed to administration. He was at first employed in the Military Hospital, Aleppo and then spent two years in India. Returning to the United Kingdom in 1924 he was stationed at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich, where he studied psychiatry, taking the DPM, and where he also married a QARNC sister, Margaret Turner. After a few months in China he returned to the Royal Army Medical College and the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, where he qualified with distinction as a medical specialist (the equivalent of a modern registrar). Then followed six years in India during which he was successively medical specialist to the military hospitals at Lucknow, Raniket and Meerut, where he gained considerable clinical experience which proved its worth when he returned to Millbank and obtained the MD (Edinburgh), MRCP (London) and DTM&H.
In 1938 he returned to the East, this time as physician to the large military hospital in Singapore, and three years later became consultant physician to the Malayan Command with the rank of colonel. In 1942 when Singapore was overrun by the Japanese he was made prisoner, and spent three years in captivity, mostly in Taiwan, before eventually being released by the allied forces in Manchuria. For his services to his fellow prisoners he was mentioned in despatches.
After a short period for recuperation, during which he commanded a military hospital in his native Scotland, he was appointed director of medicine and consultant physician to the Army, at first as a brigadier and later as major general. At this time he was also elected FRCP.
He retired from the Army in 1951 at the age of 58. He returned to Scotland and for eight years was medical superintendent of the East Fife Hospital Group of hospitals. There he was actively concerned with the development of the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, and in the inauguration of a wide variety of new services in the hospitals under his control. He retired finally at the age of 65 and died in Edinburgh in 1976 aged 83 years. He was survived by his wife and two sons.
Bennet was small in stature and always looked younger than his years. He was a quiet, reserved, rather self-effacing man, but this gentleness of disposition rose rather from quiet self-confidence than from any weakness of character, as certain administrative authorities found to their discomfiture. He was a shrewd physician with a wide knowledge of tropical medicine and this, with his personal qualities, earned him wide respect and affection within the Service. He bore good times and bad with equal composure.
[Brit.med.J., 1976, 1, 1022]