The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 8 No 6 - December 1991

Doctor Frank K Mitchell, JCD

Doctor Frank Mitchell of Rondebosch, Cape Town, died suddenly on Sunday 14 July 1991, twenty days short of his 73rd birthday.

Frank was the son of South Africa's first Secretary of Public Health. He was born in Pretoria on 3 August 1918, educated at Arcadia Primary School in Pretoria and at Diocesan College (Bishops) in Rondebosch. He matriculated in 1935 and was awarded a Jagger Scholarship to study medicine at the University of Cape Town. He graduated in 1941 and immediately enlisted in the SA Medical Corps. He had wanted to join up earlier but as a medical student was prevented from doing so.

After a year in the Transvaal he was posted as medical officer to Prince Alfred's Guard, a tank regiment of the Sixth South African Annoured Division which served in Italy. He remained with this unit until after the war's end. He was mentioned in despatches and, it is not generally known, was recommended for a Military Cross. He did not get the decoration for purely technical reasons. Later, as a medical officer in the ACF, he was awarded the John Chard Decoration. Frank was very proud of the PAG and was the Cape Town representative for the PAG Old Comrades Association.

After demobilisation in 1946 he returned to UCT and obtained a post-graduate diploma in Public Health.

From 1947 until his retirement Frank served in several senior Public Health appointments in the Cape Divisional Council. From 1958 he was Medical Officer of Health with a population of about 400 000 for whom he was responsible. He was a man of uncompromising integrity and principles. He never sought popularity at the expense of these principles. On a number of occasions he spoke out publicly, and against his Council, when he knew things were not what they should be.

Frank and Betty were married on 7 May 1942 and had a large and very happy family. They have two married sons, two daughters married to karoo sheep farmers and thirteen grandchildren.

Upon retirement, Frank was able, despite a potentially dangerous illness, with constant help from Betty (herself a medical doctor), to live an even fuller life (if that was possible)!

His hobbies were numerous and he excelled in all. He was an internationally recognised authority on South African (and other) medals and coins. His knowledge of these was exceptional. When asked for details he would give many facts from his memory and often telephoned later with many more from his vast library. It is doubted whether there was anyone in South Africa to equal his knowledge in those subjects. His advice was frequently sought. He was always unfailingly helpful to everyone and seemed to enjoy being so.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health, a Past President and Life Fellow of the Institute of Public Health, a Past President of the Cape Western Branch and Life Vice-President of the Preventative and Community Medicine Group of the Medical Association of South Africa, a member of the National Executive of SANTA (The South African National Tuberculosis Association) and a registered specialist in Preventative Medicine.

He was an active Rotarian and had been elected a Director of the Rotary Club of Cape Town. He was a member of the Civil Service Club (now the City and Civil Service Club) and the Western Province Sports Club (Kelvin Grove).

His great interest in medals and coins led him into other connected societies. Besides being the Honorary Curator of Coins and Military Medals of the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg he was an active member of the Military History Society, the Military Medal Society of South Africa, the Cape Town Medal Group (which he founded) and the Historical Shipwreck Society.

While at Medical School he formed a friendship with Ken Gunn who became a medical officer in the South African Air Force. This friendship, and a common interest in military history, led to Ken Gunn founding the Cape Town branch of the Military History Society in 1975. Frank had always been a main pillar of the Society. He had lectured to all our branches and was well-known throughout the Republic. He rarely missed a meeting and frequently added great interest to the talks by producing unusual medals and interesting facts. Three days before his death, at the Cape Town meeting on the wreck of the Birkenhead, Frank exhibited a medal which belonged to Cpl James Henderson of the 74th Regt. He provided fascinating facts about the medal and interesting stories about the survivors.

The Society has lost more than a member. It has lost someone who never for a moment faltered in his loyalty to and interest in it. He never failed to give people help when asked and was so well known for his interest in PEOPLE never for his own benefit.

Extracts from press notices about his death testify to the esteem in which he was held.

To the Historical Shipwreck Society he was a 'learned mentor and a wonderful friend who will be greatly missed'.

To the Cape Town Medal Group 'he was a founder member of our group and played a pivotal role in our activities. He had an international reputation and was universally held in high regard for his expertise and personal qualities. Frank was a good friend to all of us and will be sorely missed'.

The South African Numismatic Society expressed 'Deepest condolences to the family on the loss of a respected colleague who will be sadly missed'.

To the Rotary Club of Cape town he was 'remembered with love and respect'.

To the South African Military History Society's Cape Town and Durban branches he was 'a learned friend, member and helper who will be very much missed'.

Frank's funeral was huge! St Thomas's Church in Rondebosch was packed with well-wishers, family and friends. The service, a cheerful one, as he would have wished it, was conducted by the Bishops Diocesan College chaplain.

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