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Biographical entry Miles, William Ernest (1869 - 1947)

MRCS 30 July 1891; FRCS 8 February 1894; LRCP 1891; TD; Hon FACS 1930; FRCSI 1934.

15 January 1869
24 September 1947
Colorectal surgeon


Born 15 January 1869 in Trinidad and educated at Queen's Royal College, Port of Spain, of which his father William Miles, BA Oxford JP, was head master; his mother, Amelia Sarah Bailey, was of Irish descent. He was their only son. He took his clinical training at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he served as demonstrator of anatomy, and then house surgeon at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and at the Metropolitan Hospital, London, and St Mark's Hospital for Diseases of Rectum under David Goodsall. Miles was appointed assistant surgeon to the Royal Cancer Hospital in 1899, and became surgeon in 1903 and eventually consulting surgeon; with his colleague Sir Charles Ryall he did much to raise the prestige of the hospital and establish a tradition of first-class surgery there.

He was particularly interested in the surgical treatment of carcinoma of the large intestine and rectum, and after prolonged anatomical and pathological research into the mode of spread of cancer of these organs he introduced in 1907 the abdomino-perineal operation known by his name, which revolutionized this branch of surgery and established his reputation as a supreme scientific and operative surgeon in his chosen field. He clarified the pathological anatomy of haemorrhoids, by emphasizing the distribution of the terminal branches of the superior haemorrhoidal vessels; while his complex classification of fistulae revivified the work of Peter Thompson (J Anat vols 33-35), and inspired that of E T C Milligan, FRCS, and C Naunton Morgan, FRCS (see Lancet, 1937, 2, 1119).

Miles paid much attention to the training of his assistants, many of whom rose to distinction, and he perfected the team work and technique in his theatre so that without any appearance of hurry everything went forward with the utmost speed and smoothness. Three of his distinguished pupils died shortly before him: Cecil Joll, Jocelyn Swan, and Cecil Rowntree. Miles also devoted much time and work to the Gordon Hospital for Diseases of the Rectum, both as surgeon and in promoting its development from a small collection of converted houses to an up-to-date special hospital. He was also consulting surgeon to the Royal Hospital, Richmond, and to the West Hertfordshire Hospital.

He was a keen territorial soldier and won the Territorial Decoration. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he went to France with the British Expeditionary Force, and at first commanded No 7 Red Cross Hospital for Officers. He was appointed in 1916 Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services in the 58th Division, and in 1918 was in command of the 56th General Hospital; he was consulting surgeon for the Etaples area in 1919, retiring as lieutenant-colonel, RAMC (T). He was consulting proctologist to Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital, Millbank.

Miles contributed to the professional societies several important records of his work, particularly to the annual meeting of the British Medical Association in 1910 and to the Medical Society of London in 1923, where his Lettsomian lectures surveyed the whole problem of rectal cancer. He served as president of the sub-section of proctology in the Royal Society of Medicine. He was an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and of the American Proctological Society, and a foreign associate of the French Academy of Surgery. He served on the National Radium Commission and the executive committee of the British Empire Cancer Campaign. He was the defendant in a legal action brought against him in 1930 for negligence in an operation; although he could have claimed the technical protection that the action was brought more than seven years after the alleged negligent act, he preferred to defend his reputation by contesting the action, and was successful. He had a very large private practice.

Miles was a keen player of games, excelling at tennis in younger days and later at golf. Horse racing was his chief amusement, and he liked to entertain colleagues and old patients in his box at Ascot; he had many friends in all sections of the racing community, owners, trainers, and riders. A man of real originality of mind, he was also possessed of uncompromising drive and perseverance, and was somewhat irascible, but a staunch friend. Miles was twice married; his second wife, whom he married on 16 August 1944 was Janet Mary, daughter of Ernest Robert Loxton; she survived him. There were no children of either marriage. He died at 106 Hallam Street, W1 on 24 September 1947 after a period of failing health, aged 78. The funeral was at Golders Green crematorium, and a memorial service was held at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, on 8 October, at which Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor gave a valedictory oration. He had formerly practised at 82 Harley Street, at 14 Park Crescent, and at Fitzroy House, 16 Fitzroy Square.


Diseases of the anus and rectum, with D H Goodsall. London, Longman, 1900-05. Part 1, 311 pages; part 2, 271 pages.
A method of performing abdomino-perineal excision for carcinoma of the rectum and of the terminal portion of the pelvic colon. Lancet, 1908, 2, 1812.
The radical abdomino-perineal operation for cancer of the rectum and of the pelvic colon. Brit med J 1910, 2, 941.
Cancer of the rectum, Lettsomian lectures. Trans Med Soc London 1923, 46, 127-198.
Diseases of the rectum, in R Maingot's Postgraduate surgery, 1936, 1, 1261-1480.
Rectal surgery, London, Cassell, 1939; 2nd edition, 1944. Dedicated to the memory of his old master, David Goodsall, FRCS.
The problem of the surgical treatment of cancer of the rectum. Amer J Surg 1939, 46, 26-39.
Miles was a member of the editorial committee of the British Journal of Surgery

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 25 September 1947, p 6d, 9 October 1947, p 6b, memorial service, and p 6e, appreciation by Michael Smyth, FRCS; Brit med J 1947, 2, 550, with portrait, and eulogies by Frank H. Lahey, MD, FACS, of Boston, Michael Smyth, Cuthbert Dukes, MD, FRCP, and A Lawrence Abel, FRCS, and p 633, funeral oration by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor, and p 893, will; Lancet, 1947, 2, 527, with portrait and eulogies by C E Dukes, M Smyth, P Daniel, FRCS, and A Lawrence Abel; Brit J Surg 1947-48, 35, 320, by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor, unsigned, with portrait; information from Mrs Miles].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England Library