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Biographical entry Wilson, James Noël Chalmers Barclay (1919 - 2006)

OBE 1996; MRCS and FRCS 1943; MB ChB Birmingham 1943; ChM 1949.

25 December 1919
2 March 2006
Orthopaedic surgeon


James Noël Chalmers Barclay Wilson, known as ‘Ginger’, was an orthopaedic surgeon. He was born on Christmas Day 1919 in Coventry, the son of Alexander Wilson, a schoolmaster, and Isobel Barbara née Fairweather, many of whose relatives were general practitioners. His parents later moved to Kenilworth, where a great friend of the family was W E Bennett, a founder member and the first treasurer of the British Orthopaedic Association. Bennett may have influenced Wilson’s later choice of specialty. Wilson was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, where he began to study classics, but switched to science, much to the disgust of his headmaster, and won the Newsome memorial gold medal for physics and a prize for shooting. He studied medicine at Birmingham University, where he passed the primary as an undergraduate, won the Peter Thompson prize for anatomy, as well as the senior surgical and Arthur Foxwell prizes, and qualified with honours.

In 1939 he was called up as an emergency dresser and lived in the General Hospital, Birmingham, until January 1940. He was one of the first students to enter Coventry after the notorious raid of 14 November 1940. This was followed a few days later by a massive air raid on Birmingham, when the hospital took in over 240 patients in one night. He qualified in 1943. After six months as a house surgeon at Birmingham General Hospital (during which time he won the Heaton award for being the best resident) he joined the RAMC. There he served as regimental medical officer, qualified as a parachutist, and was attached to the 9th Armoured Division, the 11th Armoured Division and the First Airborne Division, with whom he landed at Arromanches shortly after D-Day. In April 1945 he was recalled to the 1st Airborne to prepare for the attack on Denmark and Norway. He flew in on 9 May in a Stirling bomber, landing at Gardermoen. He remained in Norway until late August, returning in time to marry Pat McCullough, a nurse he had met in Birmingham, on 3 September, celebrating with champagne liberated from a German cache in Norway.

After the war he returned as supernumerary registrar to Birmingham and, after passing the FRCS, spent a year at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital as an orthopaedic registrar, followed by three years at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry, where he was much influenced by Sir Reginald Watson-Jones, Sir Henry Osmond Clarke and A M Henry. He earned his ChM degree for a thesis on supracondylar fractures of the elbow, written at Oswestry.

In 1952 he was appointed consultant orthopaedic surgeon to Cardiff Royal Infirmary, but after three years moved to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital London to set up the accident service at Stanmore, where he was on call three nights a week and alternate weekends. He was also consultant orthopaedic surgeon to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square. His orthopaedic interests were at first general, and he helped to develop the Stanmore total hip replacement, along with John Scales and was the first to put one of them in. Later the same team developed the method for replacement of the upper femur and hip for bone tumour. He devised his own osteotomy for the treatment of hallux valgus in adolescents, and set up the RNOH bone tumour registry, which he directed until his retirement. He established the London Bone Tumour Registry.

He described a new sign in the early diagnosis of osteochondritis dissecans of the knee, which became known in the USA as ‘Wilson’s sign’, and described two new conditions - ‘Winkle-Pickers’ disease’ and ‘the Battered Buttock’.

After retirement he devoted his energies to developing orthopaedic services throughout the third world, travelling to Addis Ababa (where he was made professor of orthopaedics in 1989), Nigeria, Ghana, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. He revised and edited the fifth and sixth editions of Watson-Jones’s textbook on Fractures and joint injuries and published more than 60 papers in orthopaedic journals. He was founder member and president of the World Orthopaedic Concern, president of the orthopaedic section of the Royal Society of Medicine, an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. In the College he was the Watson-Jones lecturer in 1988, and Jackson Burrows medallist in 1991. He was appointed OBE in 1995 for services to orthopaedics worldwide.

Among his hobbies he included his vintage Bentley, occasional golf, and making things out of rubbish. He died suddenly on 2 March 2006, leaving his wife (who died two weeks later), two daughters (Sheila Barbara and Patricia Elizabeth Jane), two sons (Michael Alexander Lyall and Richard Noël) and three grandchildren (Sam, Rosie and Alice).

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Sheila Edwards].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England