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Biographical entry Mawson, Stuart Radcliffe (1918 - 2008)

MRCS 1943; FRCS 1947; BA Cambridge 1940; MB BChir 1946; DLO 1949; LRCP 1943.

4 March 1918
London, UK
20 February 2008


A renowned ear surgeon, Stuart Mawson was a consultant otolaryngologist at King’s College Hospital, London. He was born on 4 March 1918 in London. His father, Alec Robert Mawson, was chief officer of the parks’ department of the London County Council. His mother, Ena Grossmith, was an actress and the granddaughter of George Grossmith, author of The diary of a nobody. Stuart’s parents divorced while he was still a boy. He was educated at Stagenhoe Park and Canford schools, and then went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, and then to St Thomas’ Hospital in London to study medicine. Qualifying in 1943, he was a house surgeon at St Thomas’ during the first years of the Second World War and during the London Blitz. He then joined the 11th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, after being encouraged to join the Airborne Forces by another St Thomas’ graduate, Charles G Robb.

His introduction to surgery began on the battlefield of the ill-fated airborne assault on Arnhem, Holland, in September 1944. In Arnhem, Stuart and his RAMC section were separated from their battalion and joined the advanced dressing station located in the very heart of the battle. The brigadier commanding the 4th Brigade, Sir John Hackett, was one of the casualties treated at the station. He survived and later wrote the introduction to Stuart’s book Arnhem doctor (London, Orbis publishing, 1981). All doctors, orderlies, dentists and padres stayed with the injured after the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division were evacuated, and all were captured.

After being liberated by the American Army in 1945, Stuart returned home. In 1947 he passed the FRCS and became chief assistant to the ENT department at St Thomas’ in 1950. The following year, he was appointed as a consultant to the ear, nose and throat department at King’s College Hospital and the Belgrave Hospital for Children, where he worked until his retirement in 1979. He took a great interest in the diagnosis and management of deafness in children. During the 1960s and 1970s, ear surgery enjoyed a renaissance initiated by the use of the binocular operating microscopes and Stuart was one of the pioneers in the adoption of these new techniques of microsurgery of the ear.

He published a textbook of ENT surgery Diseases of the ear (London, Edward Arnold) in 1963, which has become the standard British and international work and essential reading for all trainee otologists. His second memoir, Doctor after Arnhem (Staplehurst, Spellmount, 2006), described how the inspiration of his belief sustained him during his worst moments as a prisoner of war when he cared for the sick and wounded in many camps in and around Leipzig. He later wrote The devil’s doctors, a history of the Airborne Medical Services: this was not published, but a copy is held in the archive of the Army Medical Services Museum.

During his last years at King’s, he was the chairman of the medical committee and the district management team during a difficult time of change in the health service. He enjoyed the full support of his medical colleagues when he fully exercised his well-honed tact and diplomacy.

He was a member of the council of the British Association of Otolaryngology. In 1974, he was elected president of the section of otology at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Married after the war, in 1948, he and his wife, June Irene née Percival, known to many as ‘Julie’, had a happy family life, which was of paramount importance to Stuart. They had four two daughters (Judith Helen and Deborah Rose), two sons (Robert Stuart and John Percival) and 13 grandchildren. It was a joy to him that so many of them lived close to him in Suffolk.

Stuart and Julie spent their retirement years in Knodishall, Suffolk, where he sailed his own boat from the Aldeburgh Yacht Club until he felt it unwise to expect Julie to be able to rescue him should he fall overboard at sea. Ever active in affairs of the Church, he was licensed as a lay reader in 1959, appointed a lay elder in 1990, and served as a church warden at his local church, St Lawrence’s. He played golf regularly in Aldeburgh until very soon before his death. Julie had died in 2006. He died from leukaemia on 20 February 2008, just missing his 90th birthday.

His son Jock spoke at his father’s funeral service and summed up his life: “Stuart was a warm, stubborn, courageous perfectionist; forged in war, never offering less than total commitment to his country, his profession, his family, and his God.”

Norman Kirby

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 22 April 2008; BMJ 2008 336 838; Pegasus: Journal of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces, Summer 2008, 64].