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Biographical entry Priddis, Kevin Walter (1913 - 2006)

MB BS Sydney 1938; FRCS 1946; FRACS 1949.

3 July 1913
Trangie, New South Wales, Australia


Kevin Walter Priddis was a consultant gynaecologist at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, Australia. He was born on 3 July 1913 in Trangie, a small town near Dubbo in north western New South Wales, the son of Frederick Walter Priddis, a publican, and Margaret Priddis née McCarthy. There were four children in the family: Alice, Kevin, Joy and Marea. Their ancestors included a second fleet convict with the surname of Priddis.

Kevin received his secondary school education at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, Sydney. He excelled at cricket. He achieved his intermediate and leaving certificates and enrolled at the University of Sydney to study medicine. He qualified in 1938 and was a lecturer in pathology at the university in 1939. He also worked in the town of Coonabarabran and at the private Lewisham Hospital. In March 1940 he transferred to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Brisbane.

On 30 June 1940 Kevin enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps. On 1 December 1940 he was appointed as regimental medical officer of the 28th battalion and medical officer of the 2/3rd field ambulance, with the rank of captain. On 3 March 1941 he embarked for the Middle East. At one stage he encountered Field Marshall Rommel's elite troops forcing a withdrawal from Gazala to Tobruk. His unit was attacked with low-flying aircraft. 'We didn't really know how to handle the situation. We always stopped the truck, found any little depression we could lie down in and eventually got on our way again carrying any wounded we had.'

In mid-1942 Kevin was involved in the Battle of Ruin Ridge at El Alamein, a small railway town on the Egyptian coast. Rommel and his Afrika Corps virtually wiped out the entire 2/28th battalion and its supporting troops. Sergeant Basil Sutt recounted the events: 'A man whom nobody there that day will ever forget is 'Doc Priddis', a medical officer from Queensland. He seemed to have an absolute disregard for danger…he was always where he was needed most - out in front among the wounded.' Captain Priddis was reported missing in action on 1 August 1942, and was officially reported as a prisoner of war on 3 December 1942.

He was transported from Egypt to Italy by boat and then, in December 1943, to Stalag VII-A in southern Germany. He felt they were treated reasonably well, apart from towards the end of the war, when there was little food and less medicine. The conditions in the camp hospital were less than basic. 'We sterilised the instruments by flame. We put them on a dish of methylated spirits and set them on fire and that would sterilise the instruments used for any operation. But they didn't have a lot of equipment…the bandages were made of paper, and we had some plaster of Paris to make casts…and we had a little bit of sulphonamide…and we had chloroform.'

On 11 March 1945 he was liberated and was sent to the United Kingdom. He enrolled in the fellowship course of the Royal College of Surgeons, and passed his primary fellowship examination on 27 October 1945 and the final fellowship examination in November 1946. He worked at Guy's, Middlesex and Tilbury hospitals, gaining postgraduate surgical experience. He was discharged from the Army in England on 28 February 1947.

In 1948 he was appointed as a clinical assistant in general surgery at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, a position he held until 1950, when he was appointed as an assistant gynaecologist. From 1948 to 1949 he was a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Sydney. In 1949 he became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons by examination and, in the mid-1950s, served on their Court of Examiners.

He was appointed as a senior gynaecologist in 1967, a position he held until 1977, when he was appointed consultant gynaecologist. In 1962 he visited Alexander Brunschwig at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, and brought back to St Vincent's Hospital the technique of radical pelvic exenteration for advanced malignancy. He reported his experiences in the Medical Journal of Australia. ('Exenteration of the pelvis for advanced carcinoma of the cervix'. Med J Aust. 1962 Feb 17;49[1]:239-40). He also established a cancer detection clinic at St Vincent's. He was also on the staff of Lewisham Hospital in Sydney from 1947.

Kevin Priddis was a warm, somewhat reserved medical practitioner. He was conscientious and a neat operator. He was an excellent teacher. He retired from practice in 1983.

He played golf for relaxation and was a member of Royal Sydney Golf Club from 1954.

In November 1953 Kevin married Moya Quigley. They had three children. Kevin Priddis died in 2006.

Maxwell Coleman

Sources used to compile this entry: [St Vincent's Hospital, annual reports 1949-1978; The Sydney Morning Herald 27 October 1947; Freeman's Journal 28 January 1932 p18; 'Brisbane doctor at Ruin Ridge' The Courier Mail 7 August 1942 p4; Tyquin, M. Little by little: a centenary history of the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps (Loftus, New South Wales, Australian Medical History Publications, 2003); The Sydney Morning Herald 29 October 1953; The Sydney Morning Herald 28 December 1954].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England