Educated at Hamilton Academy and the University of Glasgow, he had house jobs at the Royal and Western infirmaries in Glasgow before entering the RAMC in 1941 and serving in India, Burma, Siam and Indo-China.
His war experience was very influential in his development. In particular, it made him suspicious of parochialism. He later said: “I think that it is important to realise that many people have different ways of looking at things, different attitudes, different philosophies. I believe that my years spent with the RAMC made me personally more tolerant.”