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Biographical entry Watts, John Cadman (1913 - 2010)

MC 1945; OBE 1959; OstJ 1971; MRCS 1936; FRCS 1949; LRCP 1936; MB BS Lond 1938

13 April 1913
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, UK
17 December 2010
General surgeon


Colonel John Watts was the first joint professor of military surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal Army Medical College, a post he held from 1960 to 1964. Watts was born on 13 April 1913 at Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, the only child of John Nixon Watts, a solicitor, and the Honorable Amy Bettina Watts née Cadman, a teacher. He was educated at Alleyn Court Preparatory School and Merchant Taylors' School, where he joined the Officer Training Corps. His medical career started at St Thomas' Hospital, London. Here he joined 'Mitchener's Army' in the University of London Officer Training Corps. Phillip Henry Mitchener was one of the most colourful figures in surgery and a consultant surgeon to St Thomas' Hospital. John, his house surgeon, asked him for career advice. He was advised to join the RAMC as war was imminent, and in February 1938 he did.

In the run up to the Second World War, Watts served in Palestine with the Black Watch, and then with the No 8 General Hospital. Between 1942 and 1944, he was officer in charge of 41 Field Surgical Unit, in Italy. With the surgeon Robert Stephens, Watts developed field surgical teams for war. On D-day he took an airlanding field surgical team by glider to Normandy and operated under fire for several weeks. On seeing the red cross, one of the defending German soldiers attended his unit with a wound he had sustained on the Russian front which had broken down - this was properly treated and the patient evacuated. After several months, the lightly equipped field surgical team returned to the UK to prepare for the airborne Rhine crossing, by which time John had been promoted to deputy assistant director of medical services. For his gallant actions in these battles he was awarded the Military Cross and was mentioned in despatches. He was promoted to command 225 Parachute Field Ambulance, which, after training in UK in July 1945, went to South East Asia. He was again mentioned in despatches.

In 1946, in command of 195 Parachute Field Ambulance, he returned to Palestine and was awarded the third clasp. After a spell at the RAMC College, Millbank, he became officer in command of the surgical division in the British Commonwealth Hospital in Korea and Japan. He wrote articles on the treatment of war wounds and of frostbite in Korea.

Returning to the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, adjacent to the Airborne Forces Depot, he maintained his expertise in the treatment of parachute injuries. He later went to Cyprus at the start of the EOKA campaign, the nationalist struggle to end British rule, as officer in charge of the surgical division at the military hospital in Nicosia and later Dhekelia. During the Suez campaign, he was able to train another parachute field surgical team for the 3 Para drop on El Gamil airfield in November 1956. The EOKA campaign resulted in 704 British casualties and these were reviewed by Watts and presented to the RCS in his Hunterian Lecture, in January 1960. After a short tour at Iserlohn with the British Army of the Rhine, in February 1960, he was appointed as the first joint professor of military surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal Army Medical College and was promoted to colonel.

Retiring from the Army in 1965, he was appointed as a consultant in trauma and orthopaedics at Bedford General Hospital. He was a senior fellow of British Orthopaedic Association. In 1955 he published Surgeon at war (Allen & Unwin), which described his many adventures at war, but also expressed the many principles of war surgery that he had learnt and taught. Watts retired from the NHS in1976 and moved to Suffolk, where he could enjoy his lifelong passion of sailing the tidal waters of East Anglia.

In 1938 he married Joan Lilian Inwood, a nurse. They had a daughter, Stephanie Carol, and three sons (John Michael, Jeremy Christopher and Richard Charles). His wife and one son predeceased him. John Cadman Watts died on 17 December 2010.

Norman Kirby

Sources used to compile this entry: Information from: [The Daily Telegraph 7 May 2010].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England