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Biographical entry Wilkie, Sir David Percival Delbreck (1882 - 1938)

KB 1936; OBE 1919; MRCS 13 June 1918; FRCS 13 June 1918; MB ChB Edinburgh 1904; MD 1908; ChM 1909; FRCS Edinburgh 1907; Hon FACS 1926; FRS Edinburgh.

5 November 1882
Kirriemuir, Angus
28 August 1938
General surgeon


Born at Kirriemuir, Angus, on 5 November 1882, the third child and second son of David Wilkie, manufacturer, and Margaret Forrest Mill, his wife. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Royal Infirmary, and University, where he gained the gold medal at the ChM examination in 1909. At the Royal Infirmary he held the posts of house physician and house surgeon, and at the Chalmers' Hospital for Sick Children he was house surgeon to Sir Harold Stiles. Having filled these resident appointments, he took postgraduate courses at Bonn, Bern, and Vienna, and then with some idea of settling in the Dominion visited Canada. Returning to Edinburgh he acted as private assistant to Francis Mitchell Caird, who was afterwards professor of clinical surgery at the University of Edinburgh. Caird was a devoted disciple of Lister and a great advocate for experimental research in surgery; from him Wilkie learnt much. In due course he was elected surgeon to the Leith Hospital and to the Falkirk Hospital, and in 1914 assistant surgeon to the Royal Infirmary, though it was not until 1919 that he was able to take up the duties. He was also director on the surgical side of the Edinburgh Municipal Hospitals.

Having received a commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1908 he was mobilised in 1914 and was detailed to the Naval Barracks at Portsmouth with the rank of surgeon lieutenant-commander. From Portsmouth he was detailed for duty as medical officer in charge of the hospital ship St Margaret of Scotland, which after service in the Mediter-ranean was located at Salonika. He acted subsequently as surgeon in a casualty clearing station in France. He became a member of the Army medical advisory board in 1926. At the end of the war he returned to Edinburgh and began to teach surgery in the extramural school in conjunction with Sir John Fraser, until 1924 when he was appointed professor of systematic surgery in the University of Edinburgh in succession to Professor Alexis Thomson.

He married on 29 July 1911 Charlotte Erskine, daughter of James Middleton, MD, of Manorhead, Stow, Midlothian, who had been an assistant surgeon in the Royal Navy. She survived him without children, and died on 10 January 1939. He died in London on Sunday, 28 August 1938 of cancer of the stomach, and was buried at the Dean cemetery, Edinburgh, after a service in St George's West Church, where he had been an Elder for fourteen years.

Wilkie was excellent in every respect. Surgery made the greatest appeal to him, and as an operator his technique was faultless. He was foremost amongst those of his generation in his desire to advance surgery to the rank of a science by original research. He was more especially interested in acute abdominal conditions, and his papers on the subject show an originality of thought and an accuracy of observation which well deserved the honour bestowed upon him in 1918, when he received the Liston Victoria jubilee prize. His chief advances were made in the surgery of acute appendicitis, peritonitis, gastric and duodenal ulceration, intestinal obstruction, and in the surgery of the gall bladder and the spleen.

He was widely recognised and greatly trusted by his contemporaries for his knowledge. He was a vice-president of the scientific advisory committee of the British Empire Cancer Campaign, a member of the Medical Research Council, 1933-37, chairman of the scientific committee of the Scottish Board of Health, and from 1935 a member of the Edinburgh University Court, as a representative of the Faculty of Medicine. He was president of the section of surgery at the Edinburgh meeting of the British Medical Association in 1927, and president of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain in 1936.

Pre-eminent as a teacher of students, his influence over them is comparable with that exercised by Dr Arnold at Rugby. He knew them personally and always advised them for their good. His interests outside his profession were wide-spread. He was founder and chairman of the University Moukden Settlement and was greatly interested in the Kirk o' Field College established to educate the adult working classes. The College was formally opened by his friend and fellow townsman Sir James Barrie, OM, and did much good work by training unemployed men in various crafts. He was, too, a director of the Edinburgh Medical Mission, and he was as modest as he was capable.

By his will he left £10,000 to the University of Edinburgh for the encouragement of surgical research, £5,000 for the endowment of Kirk o' Field College, £1,000 to the Moukden Settlement, £2,500 in trust for the purpose of granting assistance to pupils taking a course of secondary education at a school in Kirriemuir where he was born, £200 to Kirriemuir District Nursing Association, £500 to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and a part of the ultimate residue of his estate to Edinburgh University and to Kirk o' Field College.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 27 August 1938, and 2 September, p 15b; Lancet, 1938, 2, 645; Brit med J 1938, 2, 598; Brit J Surg 1938, 26, 390, with whole-page portrait, a good likeness; Edinb med J 1938, 45, 726, with whole-page portrait; Glasg med J 1938, 130, 191; information given by Lady Wilkie].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England