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Biographical entry Watson, John (1914 - 2009)

MRCS LRCP 1938; MB BChir Cambridge 1939; FRCS Edin 1947; FRCS 1963.

10 September 1914
Blundellsands, Merseyside
15 January 2009
Plastic surgeon


John Watson was a consultant plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. He was born in Blundellsands, Merseyside, on 10 September 1914. His father, John Watson, a lawyer, died when he was 18 months old. His mother, Annabel Windsor Watson née Thorp, the daughter of a Quaker physician in Liverpool, remarried and moved to Sussex, where she became the first woman mayor of Hastings. John was educated at Leighton Park School, Reading. He decided on medicine as a career and entered Jesus College, Cambridge, and then Guy's Hospital. He qualified with the conjoint diploma in 1938, and gained his MB BChir in 1939.

After a resident post at Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, he joined the RAF in 1940 as a flight lieutenant and was promoted to squadron leader in 1942. He saw service in the United Kingdom, India, Burma and Malaysia, and was mentioned in despatches on two occasions for his work in tracing and rescuing crashed aircraft in the jungle.

After the war, John wanted to train in surgery, but there were many other doctors returning from service in a similar situation. He took and passed his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1947. Later, he was awarded fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons of England ad eundum for his work organising the East Grinstead Medical Research Trust.

After gaining his FRCS, he started to work for Arthur Dickson Wright at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Tottenham, London. It so happened that the anaesthetist, John Hunter, also worked with the plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe. The connection enabled John to obtain a training post at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, and he was eventually appointed as a consultant plastic surgeon there. To this was added consultant posts at the Florence Nightingale Hospital, the London Hospital and King Edward VII's Hospital for Officers.

John was secretary of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons and then president in 1969. He was also general secretary of the International Confederation of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. This was a heavy responsibility and involved much travelling to meetings abroad.

At East Grinstead he oversaw and managed the East Grinstead Medical Research Trust. This metamorphosed into the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, which continues to this day. He was also intimately involved in the planning, construction and commissioning of the revolutionary new burns unit. He encouraged research on transplantation and the development of micro surgery. The Watson skin graft knife was designed by him as a user friendly and reliable instrument for taking large areas of skin. He said he was inspired by peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink! In summary, he was a skilled surgeon, a gifted negotiator and subtle diplomat, and a polymath.

John had built his own telescope, even grinding the lens. He then built an observatory to house the telescope and researched photoelectric photometry. In 1932, aged 18, in the very early days of television, he had built a receiver, which was reported in The Times. After he retired from the NHS and his private practice, he kept busy tending his bees, raising orchids and astronomy.

In 1941 he married June Stiles and they had three daughters, Pauline, Carolyn and Charlotte, and a son, John, who predeceased him. John Watson died on 15 January 2009. He was 94.

Brian Morgan

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Telegraph 19 February 2009 - accessed 28 April 2015; Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery May 2009 Volume 62, Issue 5, Pages 569-570; BMJ 2009 338 1607].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England