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Family tribute to Major General Jack Coull of Ballater, 89

The decorated Aberdeen-born doctor was honorary surgeon to The Queen.

Major General Jack Coull.
Major General Jack Coull.

The sons of retired Major General, Jack Coull, of Ballater, have paid tribute to the man they describe as humble, selfless and devoted to both his family and his country.

The former honorary surgeon to The Queen passed away aged 89 in Aboyne.

Aberdeen upbringing

John Taylor Coull, known as Jack, was born in Aberdeen on March 4 1934. The only son of fish merchants John and Ethel Coull he attended Robert Gordon’s College.

His first day coincided with the declaration of war in 1939 – perhaps a signs to come for the future Major General.

Jack and Mildred on their wedding day in Aberdeen.

While attending Holborn West Church Jack, met Mildred Macfarlane. Both Sunday School volunteers and Mildred a member of the choir, they began courting before marrying in 1958. The couple would go on to have three sons: Stephen, born in April 1960, Gordon in May 1962 and Andrew in May 1965.

Army life

After considering an engineering career Jack decided to become a doctor instead. Through National Service he had a taste of the military and later signed himself up to the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) combining medicine with serving his country.

A favourite story of Jack’s was about his interview to become a surgeon, held by the director of surgery – an army general.

On arriving Jack realised he was second last in a queue of 15 others. As each candidate took their turn he became more and more nervous, especially as each interview only lasted 20 seconds.

Proud of his distinguished career is Major General Jack Coull and his wife Mildred.

Finally his turn, the officer barked, “What do you want, laddie?”
On replying that he hoped for a trainee job in orthopaedic surgery, the general asked if he was Scottish.

“Yes Sir,” Jack replied.
“Are you an Aberdonian?” he went on to enquire. To which Jack told him he was.
“And did you go to Gordon’s College?”
When Jack confirmed he was indeed a former Gordon’s pupil he was told to “sit doon” while the interviewer confirmed he was successful for the role of general surgeon “with no need for fancy subspecialties”.

Esteemed career

Posted to Singapore and Germany, as well as the south of England, Jack moved up through the ranks and in his spare time volunteered as club doctor for Charlton Athletic.

Over a service career that spanned more than 40 years, Jack achieved rank of Major General. In addition he was honoured to become director of army surgery and honorary surgeon to Her Majesty the Queen.

Jack Coull, left, meeting HRH King Charles.

For services to military surgery he was made Companion of the Order of the Bath. The prestigious honour is awarded to just 1925 “companions”. He was invested by the late Queen herself, a source of huge pride for Jack and his family.

In his book, The Centenary History of the Royal Army Medical Corps, John Blair summed up Jack’s career.

He wrote: “He (Jack) ranks as the greatest full career army surgeon and director of army surgery of the second half of the 20th century.”

Humble and innovative

Despite his professional achievements and distinguished career it was Jack’s humility that most impacted his family.

Stephen Coull, Jack’s son, said: “My father was an inspiration to myself and my brothers. He was humble to the point of demure and always more interested in learning and listening to others. When he did offer advice and guidance it was always with humility and care.”

“He was a great example to us, his daughters-in-law and his 10 grandchildren,” added son, Gordon. “Never about self-promotion or ego. He was all about helping other people, making a difference, not accepting the status quo if something better could be achieved.

“Dad was an innovator, making the seemingly impossible, possible.”

One example of this was his invention of the Coull Fixator. An external device to enable stability, recovery, and long-term success with complex tibia and fibula fractures, he  invented in the 1990s and it’s still being used today.

Ballater life

In 2006 Jack and Mildred moved “back home” to Ballater  from Surrey. They fell in love with community life. Jack became chairman of Ballater Royal Deeside (BRD) where he played a key role in supporting Ballater after devastating floods in 2015. He was also chairman of Ballater Probus, which Mildred was also part of.

Jack Coull, who retired to Ballater.

Jack and Mildred both loved being part of Glenmuick Church, forming friendships within the church community. They were especially grateful for the support of Rev David Barr and his wife Lorraine.

Within the life of the church, Mildred played the organ for many years. When she found it hard to see what was happening behind her as she played Jack’s inventiveness came to the fore again. He fitted a car reversing camera and rear-view mirror allowing her to see and better judge her timing.

In sickness and in health

In late 2022 both Jack and Mildred became ill with cancer.

Jack’s only intention was to stay true to the vows he made to Mildred on December 27 1958, and love her through sickness and health.

Putting his own health challenges aside, Jack nursed his wife, with the help of close friend Eileen Gauld, until the moment she passed away on June 4, earlier this year.

Devoted to one another for more than 60 years, Mildred and Jack Coull.

Only after Mildred died did Jack tend to his own cancer, which was then advanced.

“Once mum died he simply did not know what to do and where to turn. It’s not an exaggeration to say it was a broken heart, loneliness and a desire to be back with his wife of 64 years that ended dad’s life, as much as the cancer,” said Andrew.

Together again

Jack spent his final days in Aboyne hospital and on Wednesday September 27 Major General (Retd) John Taylor Coull, CB, OStJ, QHS, FRCS, FRCS Ed, L/RAMC passed away peacefully.

His funeral took place at Glenmuick Parish Church and he is now resting with Mildred in Tullich Cemetery, Ballater.

The family wish to pay tribute to the “outstanding support and compassion” offered by Aberdeenshire Care Team and ARCH whose service to Jack and Mildred allowed them to stay at home for as long as they did.

You can read the family announcement here.