Remembering John Alexander Sinton - Awarded the VC 100 Years Ago

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RBAI can look back with pride at the VC awarded to John Alexander Sinton, 100 years ago on 21 Jan 1916. Although born in Victoria, Canada, in 1884, his parents were of Ulster stock and he was sent hack home as a boy to be educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and finally Queen's College in Belfast where he graduated with first class honours in medicine.

His military connection began after he joined the Indian Medical Service in 1911, being appointed medical officer to the 31st Bengal Lancers, and was on active service at the North west Frontier when the First World War broke out in 1914. As part of the Mesopotamian Expedition Force he soon found his skills in treating tropical diseases in great demand as it was illness, rather than the Turks or rebel Arabs, which was claiming the most lives among his men.

But on January 21, 1916, he found himself - not for the first time as three previous occasions when he showed tremendous courage are mentioned on his medal citation - at the sharp end at Orah Ruins, Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Captain Sinton, then 31, was attending the wounded under heavy fire when he was himself hit a number of times. Despite being shot in both arms and through the side he refused to go to hospital but remained in the firing line to treat others until nightfall. 

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The citation to his VC reads - "For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Although shot through both arms and through the side, he refused to go to hospital, and remained as long as daylight lasted, attending to his duties under very heavy fire. In three previous actions Captain Sinton displayed the utmost bravery."

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He was mentioned in despatches a further four times before the war's end and again twice more for actions in Afghanistan and Waziristan on his return to India. He later achieved the rank of Brigadier (1943), was awarded the Russian Order of St George and Mentioned in Dispatches six times. In 1921 he transferred from the military to the civil branch of the IMS which he continued to serve with until 1936.

In July 1921 he was put in charge of the quinine and malaria inquiry under the newly formed Central Malaria Bureau. He was appointed the first director of the malaria survey of India at Kasauli in 1925 where he worked with Sir S. R. Christophers. He became Manson fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and at the malaria laboratory of the Ministry of Health at Horton Hospital, near Epsom.

He also became adviser on malaria to the Ministry of Health. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Sinton was recalled as an IMS reservist and commanded a hospital in India. At the age of fifty-five he was again retired, but was appointed consultant malariologist to the east African force and later to Middle East command, retiring with the honorary rank of brigadier in August 1943. He then worked as consultant malariologist to the War Office, travelling widely to Assam, Australia, Burma, Ceylon, India, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, where his expertise in malaria was invaluable. Further military decorations resulted from this period, after which Sinton returned to Northern Ireland and retired to Cookstown. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1946.

He is the only person to have had the letters VC, FRS following their name.

In his retirement he served as Deputy Lieutenant for County Tyrone and, in 1953, as High Sheriff of Tyrone.