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Sir John Batten
11th March 1924 - 7th October 2013
On Friday 17th January, at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving for the life of Sir John Batten was held at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street.
The Venerable David Meara delivered the bidding:-
We are gathered to celebrate the life and honour the memory of Sir John Batten, Physician to Her Majesty the Queen, from 1974 until 1989, and Head of Her Majesty's Medical Household. He was also physician to a number of companies, and was responsible for launching many new treatments, and for the setting up of the first clinic for adults with cystic fibrosis.
We remember a man of immense charm and energy, a devoted family man, married to Anne for 57 years, until her death in 2007, a man who also enjoyed a wide range of interests including music, walking and sailing. John was also a loyal and devoted member of this church, and a long-standing member of the Guild of St Bride.We celebrate today a man of strong Christian faith, an outstanding Physician, a man of warmth and wit and good humour, who gave exemplary service to medicine and to His Sovereign. As we celebrate his life today, and all he meant to us, so we commend him to Almighty God, and give thanks for the privilege of having known him.
Sir Richard Thompson
Professor Harold Lambert & Reverend Michael Jackson
John had a very distinguished career with many notable achievements. But I would like to talk about the personal qualities which endeared him to all of us.
John and Anne were very kind and generous people. We first got to know them 57 years ago, when I was on my way to Cornell where John had worked two years before and they helped us tremendously with information about life and work in New York.
Later we became colleagues at St George’s , and on one occasion when my wife had been seriously ill, John and Anne scooped up our then very small children and took them to Lion Gate Gardens so that Joan had a chance to find her feet again.
A thing people often noticed and mentioned about John is that he was a very courteous person. the reason people noticed this, whether or not they articulated the thought, is because they knew that his courtesy was genuine. And what is genuine courtesy ? It’s the belief that the person you’re talking to is worthy of your attention.
John paid attention to everyone, duke or dustman, rich or poor, young or old, and that, of course, is one of the many qualities which went to making him such a good doctor.
Lest all this make him sound a bit too serious, one of John’s other qualities was than he had an acute sense of humour and I particularly relished the slightly sideways twinkle in his eye when something amused him, and his uproarious laughter.
So I must tell you about John’s short second career as Father Xmas. This came about because when John retired he became very active in work at Kew Gardens. In fact I think John was a founder friend and volunteer and he entrained Joan and me into the group as well.
The volunteer force at Kew is now enormous, does all sorts of things with a professional staff, but in those days we were a very small group and we ran most of the activities ourselves.
One thing we did was the Xmas event for children, which was held in a grotto-like space in the Princess of Wales greenhouse, which we decorated with relevant plants and plant products.
There was a little talk by Father Xmas for each group of children and their parents as they came in. You couldn’t do this non stop, so there were two Father Xmases, John was one and I was the other. Well, as you know, there is only one Father Xmas, so the one who wasn’t doing the talk had to hide behind a screen.
Well, on this occasion it was John’s turn and I was in hiding. John had got to the point in his talk about gold, frankincense and myrrh when a little boy in the audience, he was about 6 or 7, began jumping up and down in excitement, and holding up his hand; I could see what was going on from behind the screen.
John stopped his talk and said to the child in his kind way “I think there’s something you would like to tell us about”. The child said “Yes yes we’ve got a poster on the wall in our kitchen and it says Never mind the myrrh fetch the midwife”.
John then said, “Perhaps your mummy is a midwife” and the proud little boy nodded vigorously and said, "Yes she is".
There you have it. One empathetic and quick witted eminent physician got up as Father Xmas, and one very happy small boy.
It did strike me when I remembered this episode, that it said a lot about John’ s character, devoid of pretension, sensitive to the feelings of others, and as ready to engage with a small boy as with any more important mortal.
It was a bittersweet thing that, in the depths of his John’s distressing illness, his qualities, his humour and his courteous concern for others, were still there and would sometimes shine through, so that his family, his friends and his lovely carers knew that the old John was still there.
So he was a kind considerate and humorous man, devoid of affectation and pomp and I think, for all his well merited distinction, a rather modest and self effacing person.
It seems trite to say that we are privileged to have known John but the trite remark can also be the true one and we are privileged to have known him.
In my part of this second address I want to share two aspects of John’s life as I have known him, and I should say that I have known him all my life.
John was one of my father Ian’s closest friends, if not the closest. Had my father been alive, I know he would have dearly wanted to have spoken in tribute today, even though he dreaded any form of public speaking. I feel myself, therefore, very much speaking on his behalf in the first part of what I want to say. For I want to speak of that friendship.
Friendship is something we can take for granted, but I do not think that ever applied to John and Ian. They met as medical students at Barts, and when my father was married at St. Bartholomew the Less, it was John who acted as my father’s best man, and best friend John remained. My father struggled a bit to get through medical exams whereas John glided more effortlessly through them. He was the clever one my father used to say, and as we heard in the first address, John used his abilities wonderfully well. My wife Diana can attest with gratitude to his skill and attentive care as a physician when he had occasion to treat her.
Although their paths diverged, John to St. George’s and my father remaining at Barts, they maintained regular contact over 60 plus years. Although borne out of medical camaraderie, it was a friendship which deepened when John and Anne asked Ian to be godfather to their second daughter Sarah. Her death at the age of two from a brain tumour was a devastating blow to John and Anne, and I know that the friendship deepened as Ian shared those challenging days and months in the aftermath of Sarah’s death. John and Anne remained regular visitors to our house over the years, and I know that my father hugely valued the qualities in John outlined so well by Harold. The Roman poet Horace once wrote that the greatest blessing is a good friend. My father was but one among many who today will acknowledge how much they were blessed by John’s friendship.
Although my father’s role as a godfather to Sarah was cruelly cut short, that happily was not the case in John’s role as my own godfather. If there is a key quality a godparent can provide to a godchild, it is to build relationship so as to offer guidance down the years beyond the godchild’s parents. That John did for me wonderfully well. This is about much more than the remembering of birthdays. From a very early age when I received cards and notes from John, I knew that he was an adult who was taking a genuine interest in me as a person.
In the early 1970s between school and university I worked for nine months as a Community Service Volunteer with an immigration welfare body at Heathrow airport. When problems developed early on over my accommodation, John and Anne invited me to stay with them. I can therefore speak today as someone who has experienced life with the Battens from the inside. Time does not permit more than one vignette from then, and that is my fond memory of John regularly chasing Lizzy, Mark and Clare into action for the school run.
A bleary-eyed Lizzy would generally make it to the car first, but there would then be a series of increasingly dire deadlines bellowed by John from the front door to the twins who were always late, warning them that if they did not come immediately he would leave them behind. The main problem in that was that the twins saw through this and knew he was just too nice to ever carry out the threat! Anne meanwhile would serenely prepare the coffee which she and I would enjoy together when, after more bellowing from John, everyone was aboard and peace once more reigned.
On a more serious note I can, though, attest from that time to the love and warmth that John and Anne created for the family, and the fundamental cornerstone that their marriage was in each of their lives.
Those months living at Lion Gate Gardens cemented the relationship with John as my godfather. We spoke of many things then between us, political as well as religious. John was brought up a Baptist, but declined baptism in his teens. Years later as he retired and also faced the challenge of Anne’s leukaemia, he took a conscious decision to seek to be baptised and confirmed here in this Church. That was therefore a very considered commitment on his own journey of faith. Some ten years later I found myself on my own faith journey responding to a personal vocation to the priesthood.
It was a real thrill to me that John, my ever supportive godfather, was there at my ordination. He wrote to me afterwards with huge warmth and pleasure at a ceremony which he said had moved him deeply. It touched me in turn that he should have remained so interested and involved throughout my life.
In his great commandment Jesus taught us to love one another. In a long life of service we can be assured that John, whose kindness, warmth and love we remember today with gratitude, was drawn ever closer to God his creator to whom he is now in death restored.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
Professor Margaret Hodson read Ecclesiasticus 38: 1-12
12 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Tom Lewis read Cornish Cliffs by John Betjeman
Those moments, tasted once and never done,
Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun.
A far-off blow-hole booming like a gun-
The seagulls plane and circle out of sight
Below this thirsty, thrift-encrusted height,
The veined sea-campion buds burst into white
And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside
Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide
To where the slate falls sheer into the tide.
More than in gardened Surrey, nature spills
A wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills
Over these long-defended Cornish hills.
A gun-emplacement of the latest war
Looks older than the hill fort built before
Saxon or Norman headed for the shore.
And in the shadowless, unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.
Nut-smell of gorse and honey-smell of ling
Waft out to sea the freshness of the spring
On sunny shallows, green and whispering.
The wideness which the lark-song gives the sky
Shrinks at the clang of sea-birds sailing by
Whose notes are tuned to days when seas are high.
From today's calm, the lane's enclosing green
Leads inland to a usual Cornish scene-
Slate cottages with sycamore between,
Small fields and tellymasts and wires and poles
With, as the everlasting ocean rolls,
Two chapels built for half a hundred souls.
Robert Attenborough read Revelation 21: 1-7 by
21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
The choir & organist of St Bride's performed the following anthems and songs:-
Fantasia in C Minor (BWV 562) - Bach
Hymn to the Virgin - Britten
Locus iste - Bruckner
Soave Sia Il Vento from Cosi Fan Tutti - Mozart
Linden Lea - Vaughan Williams
I Know That My Redeemer Liveth - Handel
Fantasia in G Major (BWV 572) - Bach
Lord Of All Hopefulness
Jesu, Lover Of My Soul
Eternal Father, Strong To Save