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Biographical entry Fraser, Forbes (1871 - 1924)

CBE (Mil) 1918; MRCS May 10th 1894; FRCS Dec 10th 1896; LRCP Lond 1894; Exhib and Gold Medal in Physiol Intermed MB Lond 1892; Hon Col AMS.

28 May 1924
General surgeon


The younger son of Henry Fraser, of Arbroath. He passed the London University Matriculation Examination at the age of 16, and later began the study of medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he gained an Entrance Scholarship in 1889. His student career was exceptional. He won the Junior Scholarship in Anatomy and Physiology in 1890, the Harvey Prize in 1892, and the Brackenbury Surgical Scholarship in 1894. He was House Surgeon to Henry Butlin (qv). A tale is told of his remonstrating against the sharp stings of C B Lockwood's (qv) sarcastic wit, and getting the characteristic reply: "Fraser, you know whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth". But the chastening process came therewith to an end.

After leaving St Bartholomew's he was for three years in practice at Tarporley, Cheshire. Here he rose early and worked late, and thus found time to go hunting, and to win prizes in point-to-point races.

He settled in Bath in the year 1900 in partnership with T Pagan Lowe, MRCS; in 1903 was appointed Assistant Surgeon to the United Hospital. He became full Surgeon in 1909, and at the time of his death was Senior Surgeon. He was also at that time Consulting Surgeon to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Bath, Visiting Surgeon to the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, Bath, and Consulting Surgeon to the Hospitals at Chippenham, Frome, Malmesbury, and Shepton Mallet.

During the War (1914-1918) he joined the Duchess of Westminster's Hospital as Surgeon in May, 1915, and did much active work at Le Touquet till 1917, when he took up special work at No 10 Casualty Clearing Station at Rémy Siding. This centre was used as a research station to test the methods of primary suture of wounds. Fraser was placed in charge with the rank of Captain, and the immediate and decisive success which attended his organization and conduct of the research opened a new and happier chapter in the history of wounds of the war. As director of the research at his CCS he embodied the results obtained by him and his colleagues under the title of "Primary and Delayed Primary Suture of Gunshot Wounds", which appeared in the British Journal of Surgery (1918-1919, vi, 92). These results were afterwards published in the first volume of The Official Surgical History of the War in connection with the excision of infected wounds associated with gunshot fractures.

He worked at various Casualty Clearing Stations before returning to Le Touquet in 1918. The advent of his surgical team was always welcome where active fighting was in progress. The strain of battle surgery never ruffled him; in a tired, overworked operating theatre he radiated energy, good temper, and contentment. These qualities, combined with a sound knowledge of surgery and rare judgement, led to his appointment as Consulting Surgeon to the Second Army. After the Armistice, in 1918, he was with this force in Germany, and became Consulting Surgeon to the Army of the Rhine. Here he was able to criticize without giving offence and to do valuable work as a consultant.

Back once more in Bath, he devoted himself to linking up well-equipped cottage hospitals and hospitals in the smaller towns with the Royal United Hospital. Only lack of funds retarded the carrying out of his plan, but none the less, on May 16th, 1924, HRH the Duke of Connaught was able to declare open the Royal United Private Hospital and the Orthopaedic Hospital, built on the site of the Bath War Hospital at Coombe Park, Bath - a site that was acquired by the Managing Board of the Royal United Hospital, which afterwards carried out the intention of transferring the whole hospital there. The buildings gave hospital accommodation for paying patients who could not afford nursing-home fees, and a ward for the treatment of crippled children. The first patient was admitted to the Orthopaedic Hospital on the day of Forbes Fraser's death.

In order to commemorate Fraser's work as virtual founder of the Hospital at Coombe Park, Bath, it was decided in June, 1924, by the committee of the hospital, that the institution should in future be connected with the name of Forbes Fraser, and that an X-ray Department, such as he desired, should be started there when the necessary funds had been subscribed.

He founded various surgical clubs, such as the Country Surgeons' Club and the Bath and Bristol Surgical Club, and thus worked assiduously in the cause of professional union. He had been President of the Bath Clinical Society, and was a member of the Committee of the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Society. During the two years before his death he had arranged courses of post-graduate instruction at the Royal United Hospital, which were well attended. In 1912-1913 he was Chairman of the Bath Division of the Bath and Bristol Branch of the British Medical Association, and had been recommended by his colleagues as President-elect of the Bath Meeting of 1925, a recommendation approved by the Central Council.

In appearance Forbes Fraser was tall and spare, with clear blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. His manner was unassuming, so that his modesty sometimes passed for diffidence, but behind this lay great self-reliance and unswerving determination to get the best out of himself and everyone round him. The enhanced repute of Bath owed not a little to his powers of organization and straightforward dealing. In the War, as the testimonies of his numerous eulogists show, he proved a born leader. He was a good physician as well as surgeon, and outside his profession a keen salmon-fisher and motorist, a witty raconteur, and a man of much charm.

He died on May 28th, 1924, after a long and painful illness beginning in December, 1923, when he pricked his thumb at an operation for osteomyelitis. He was survived by his widow - his second wife - and her daughter, and by two sons and three daughters of his first marriage. His elder son was at the time a student at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

In addition to the work mentioned above, Fraser also wrote:
Article on "Gunshot Wounds of Joints" in Barling and Morrison's Manual of War Surgery, 1919.
"Acute Osteomyelitis of the Vertebral Column" (with Thomas McPherson). - Lancet, 1911, ii, 1543.
"Volvulus Coincident with Strangulated Hernia." - Ibid., 1912, I, 573.
"Successful Operation for Strangulated Epigastric Hernia in a Centenarian." - Ibid, 1913, ii, 799.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1924, I, 1187, with portrait. Brit. Med. Jour., 1924, I, 1031, with portrait.St. Bart.'s Hosp. Med. Jour., 1924, xxxi, 146].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England