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Biographical entry Wilkes, Frank Roger (1934 - 2006)

MBE 1964, OStJ 1990, MRCS 1957, FRCS 1966, MB ChB Birmingham 1957, LRCP 1957.

3 August 1934
Smethwick, UK
18 November 2006
Plymouth, UK
General surgeon


Roger Wilkes had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy as an officer and surgeon serving at home and at sea in aircraft carriers. In 1982 he was the senior surgeon at sea on SS Canberra during the Falklands War. Later he was surgeon commodore and dean of naval medicine.

Roger was born in Smethwick on 3 August 1934, the son of Frank Arthur and Gwendoline Alice Wilkes, who were both pharmacists. He attended Alexandra House School and King Edward IV School, Stourbridge, Worcestershire, from which he entered Birmingham University Medical School in 1952. There he played regularly for the second rugby XV, and as a student did nightshifts at Cadbury’s chocolate factory and worked as a ward orderly at Wordsley Hospiral, where he was inspired by Maurice Hershman and Sister Jarvis and her ward.

After house jobs, he joined the Navy as a surgeon lieutenant and served at sea in HMS Ark Royal in the Mediterranean and North America. Two years surgical training took place at Royal Naval Hospital (RNH) Haslar, with further service at sea to follow on HMS Victorious in the Far East, Japan, East Africa with the Fleet Air Arm. It was during this tour that he was to operate on an unusual accident which took place at sea when a naval air mechanic was trapped in a closing mechanical canopy on a fighter aircraft, and sustained a severe crush injury with a stove-in chest, which required urgent resuscitation and surgery, followed by intermittent positive pressure respiration. Nylon traction sutures gave stabilisation. The patient was then evacuated by air to Singapore. After further stabilisation the patient made a full recovery and returned to duty. Roger was awarded the MBE for his initiative and skill at sea.

His next posting was to the RNH Haslar for further surgical training, from where he passed the FRCS in 1966. He was soon at sea again on the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, serving in South Africa and Singapore. After a short tour at RNH Plymouth, he joined HMS Albion as surgeon commander. In 1970 the Armed Services Consultant Advisory Board at our College appointed him a consultant in surgery. He was given a sabbatical year at the professorial unit in Aberdeen, returning to be head of the surgical unit at RNH Plymouth as surgeon captain.

In 1982 the Falklands War saw him at sea again as the senior surgeon on SS Canberra ‘the great white whale’, for which he was awarded the Falklands medal. After hostilities ceased he returned to the UK and was appointed director of naval surgery, and in 1984 became chairman of the Defence Surgical Board, the senior surgeon of the three armed services. In 1988 he was promoted to surgeon commodore and appointed dean of naval medicine. In 1989 he became the Queen’s honorary surgeon.

Retiring from the Royal Navy in 1992, he joined the National Blood Transfusion Service, and then worked for a while in general practice. He was the guest of honour at his old school and was written up in a local journal as a ‘Black County personality’. After a very good life, he retired finally in 1996, but developed dementia with Lewy bodies and was admitted to Bickleigh Down Nursing Home in Plymouth, where he died on 18 November 2006. He was survived by his second wife Marion, a former Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service theatre sister, whom he had met over the operating table, and their daughter, Helen. There are also three children from his first marriage - Stephanie, Nicholas and Fiona.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England