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Biographical entry Walkey, Gilbert Benjamin Rowland (1916 - 2009)

MRCS 1941; FRCS 1948; MB BS London 1947; DCH 1947; LRCP 1941.

27 June 1916
Marazion, Cornwall, UK
2 March 2009
General surgeon


Gilbert Benjamin Rowland Walkey - known as 'Ben' - was a surgeon who spent most of his working life in India. He was born in Marazion, Cornwall, on 27 June 1916. His father, Oliver, was a clerk in holy orders. Ben was one of seven children. He had an older brother, Sam, and five younger brothers and sisters - Lucy, Josephine, Barbara, Jack and Richard ('Dick'). Ben went to Wallingbrook School in north Devon and Truro Cathedral School, as well as being home-tutored, together with his brothers and sisters, by his father, a strict disciplinarian. Ben often used to reminisce wryly about his father's rule that each morning the boys should have a dip in the icy stream running through their garden.

Ben set his heart on studying medicine, and his father, who by this time was working in India, eventually agreed. It was made financially possible by his generous benefactor, Maude Heaton, whom the Walkey family had got to know in Cornwall. Ben studied at King's College, London, from October 1935 until September 1938, and went on to Westminster Hospital to finish his medical training. He qualified in 1941 and, after a year of internship, joined the Indian Medical Service in February 1942. He served as a lieutenant colonel in the Burma Campaign with the 14th Army and took part in the occupation of the Malay peninsula after the surrender of the Japanese in August 1945. He was twice mentioned in despatches. He was demobilised in 1946.

After leaving the Indian Medical Service, he worked in the West Middlesex Hospital until 1948, and passed the FRCS whilst there. In later years he recorded his excitement at leaping up the marble staircase to receive his diploma from the examiners who included Stanford Cade from the Westminster.

In 1950 he joined the Dohnavur fellowship, a Christian missionary organisation, in India, where he stayed until 1963. During this time he married Margaret Pauline Craig - 'Peggy' - and they had a son, Martin Rowland, who, tragically, lived only a few hours. Ben contracted polio soon after arriving in Dohnavur, but was very relieved that it did not affect his violin playing, though he was left with a limp.

After Dohnavur, Ben worked at the Catherine Booth Hospital in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, and in 1966 moved on to the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore. He worked alongside Paul Brand, developing techniques for the surgical reconstruction of hands, feet and eyes deformed by leprosy. Ben also taught in the department of surgery at the Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore. During this time Ben and Peggy became mission partners with the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship - now Interserve.

Ben's last six years in India were spent working in Bethesda Leprosy Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, which he described as being professionally the most fulfilling.

He left India in April 1982 and worked as a locum general practitioner in Tamworth, Staffordshire, until he retired at the age of 79 in 1995. He and Peggy spent their final years in Pilgrim Homes, Evington, Leicester. He died on 21 December 2009.

John Blandy

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Meriel Vincent].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England