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Biographical entry May, Sir Arthur William (1854 - 1925)

CB 1911; KCB 1914; MRCS July 27th 1876; FRCS (elected as a Member of twenty years' standing) April 2nd 1914; LRCP Lond 1877; DL and JP County of Cornwall.

18 June 1854
General surgeon


Born on June 18th, 1854, the son of the Rev Henry Thomas May, Fellow of New College, Oxford, from 1833-1851, and Vicar of St Petherwin, Cornwall, from 1850. He went to Sherborne School, then to King's College Hospital, and after that passed into the Royal Naval Service, the first of his batch. He served on board HMS Achilles during the Egyptian War of 1882, receiving the Medal and the Khedive's Bronze Star; on the Suakin Expedition; and on the Nile Expedition for the relief of General Gordon. May's gallant conduct on the Sophia before Khartoum in January, 1885, was noticeable, and he was mentioned in dispatches for his attention to wounded under fire. Promoted Staff Surgeon in 1890 and Fleet Surgeon in 1898, he was Principal Medical Officer on HMS Britannia from 1901-1904. From 1905-1909 he served as Deputy Director-General of the Medical Department of the Navy. After being Medical Officer in charge of the Royal Naval Hospital at Chatham he was made CB in 1911, appointed Medical Director-General at the Admiralty with the rank of Surgeon Vice-Admiral, and became KCB in 1914, succeeding Sir James Porter, KCB, KCMG.

He was responsible for the Naval Medical Services during the European War until 1917, and for the very prompt and considerable expansion of the Naval Medical Services by the enrolment of temporary Surgeons RN, and the calling up of Surgeons RNVR, as well as the commissioning of hospital ships, and other emergency measures. The good bill of health of the Navy owed much to his constant supervision. He gave most loyal support to advice received from civilian consultants when cerebrospinal fever broke out early in 1915, and he formulated measures to obviate its spread, and as new knowledge was obtained, modified them accordingly. Circumstances and his inclination required a high standard; he naturally expected much from his subordinates. On the other hand, being rather highly strung, he suffered from inability to save himself labour by delegating work. In June, 1917, his term of office came to an end, and he retired to Tremeer, St Tudy, Cornwall, where he took a prominent part in Red Cross Activities, was Deputy Lieutenant and JP for the county. A keen sportsman all his life, he had been an athlete in his youth. He was seized with paralysis a year before he died at his Cornish home on April 20th, 1925.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit Med Jour, 1925, I, 862].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England