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Medicine and the sea were the themes of Ivan Nelson's life: a distant relative of the pioneering anaesthetist Sir Ivan Magill, he joined the Royal Navy after qualifying in Belfast, serving first with the 11th Battalion, Royal Marines, in Sri Lanka and India, then as medical officer on the destroyer HMS Faulknor. The ship, at the time under the command of Commander C F H Churchill (no relation to Winston), was part of the naval force at D-Day, and carried Lieutenant General B L Montgomery to the beachhead on D+1. After demobilisation Ivan became assistant medical officer of health (MOH) in Ilford, where he survived a potentially lethal poliomyelitis infection, spending months in an isolation ward. In 1949 he moved to Dewsbury as deputy MOH and in 1951 to Brighton as deputy MOH.
In 1957 he was appointed MOH of Barrow-in-Furness, where he dealt with the consequences of Britain's first major nuclear accident, the fire at what was then called Windscale. Ivan had to stop local dairy farmers selling their milk: it had become apparent that the bovine digestive system concentrated the radioactive iodine which was emitted after the reactor fire was extinguished with sea water. West Cumbria's notoriously rainy climate ensured the radioactive iodine was deposited widely on dairy pastures. Later in Barrow, when Vickers announced they were building Britain's first nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought, Ivan's advice on potential nuclear incidents was sought by a number of local councils. At this time he was still in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), attending frequent courses on the medical issues associated with introducing nuclear power.
Always interested in the links between nutrition and health, he was one of more than 400 doctors and dentists who signed a public declaration calling for more research into “the relationships between soil, plants, animals and man” and expressing “deep concern” at the chemical and mechanical treatment of food in January 1957 (Lancet 1957;i:152-3).
Moving to Gosport, Hampshire, as MOH in 1963, Ivan soon realised that the large naval married quarters estate being built at Rowner would be a community health challenge: under cost pressures the large estate was built without regard to community facilities. He set up one of the first community health centres in Hampshire at Rowner to meet the needs of the naval families, many of them with young children and husbands away at sea for long periods.
Ivan's long association with the Royal Navy was maintained as a lecturer in community medicine at the Royal Navy School of Medicine in Gosport. After the reorganisation of the NHS in 1974, he moved to the Hampshire Area Health Authority at Winchester as specialist in community medicine until his retirement in 1979. After retirement he continued to help the Hampshire Red Cross as a part time lecturer on their industrial courses. He was also a medical referee at Portchester crematorium right up till his death.
He leaves a wife, Davida; two sons; and three grandchildren.