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Biographical entry Willway, Francis Wilfred (1907 - 1944)

MRCS 31 July 1930; FRCS 8 December 1932; BSc London 1928; MB BS 1931; MS 1933; MD 1934; LRCP 1930.

28 August 1907
6 January 1944
General surgeon and Neurosurgeon


Born 28 August 1907 at Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, the third child and second son of Frederick William Willway, MRCS 1894, superintendent of the National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, who afterwards lived at Streatham, and of Margaret, his wife, daughter of William Allison, MD Edinburgh 1865, who practised at Killaloo, Co Derry, Ireland. He was educated at Trent College and University College School, London, and at King's College, Strand, where he graduated in science in 1928 and was later elected an Associate, and at King's College Hospital, where he won the Jelf medal in 1930. After serving as house surgeon at the Ross Institute for Tropical Diseases and senior house surgeon at the Royal East Sussex Hospital, Hastings, he was resident surgical officer at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital, and then came back to King's College Hospital, where he served as casualty officer and as surgical registrar. He took the Conjoint qualification, the London Bachelorships, the Fellowship, the Mastership, and the Doctorate in successive years, 1930-34.

Willway was at first interested chiefly in the surgery of fractures, but after his appointment in 1936 as surgical registrar at the Royal Infirmary, Bristol, he turned to neurosurgery and was a pioneer of this specialty in the west country. He was subsequently (1942) elected assistant surgeon on the staff of the Bristol Royal Hospital, of which the Royal Infirmary is a constituent, and was also assistant surgeon at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Welbeck Street, W, and had consulting rooms both at 62 Queen Anne Street, London, and in Bristol, where he lived at 2 Clifton Park, and later at 31 Queen's Court, Clifton.

During the war he was appointed surgeon to the Neurosurgical Centre at the Burden Neurological Institute, Bristol, under the Ministry of Health's emergency medical service, and deputy regional adviser on head injuries. At the time of the severe air-raids on Bristol in 1940-41 he organized a mobile surgical unit, and devised a working scheme for the rapid reception of casualties. He also took charge of the emergency arrangements at the Royal Infirmary, and proved himself as brilliant an organizer as he was intellectually.

Willway was one of the first in England to perform W Freeman's modification of Egas Moniz's operation of prefrontal leucotomy for mental illness, and based his Hunterian lecture of 1942, "The role of surgery in mental disease", on his results. He professed to have no special knowledge of psychology, but showed great interest in the mental progress of these patients. The treatment consists essentially in passage of a hollow needle with a stiletto into the white matter of the frontal lobes on either side the mid-line, and in section of the white matter so as to interfere extensively with the frontal-thalamic connexions. Invented by Egas Moniz of Lisbon, following his observation that euphoria follows injury to the frontal lobes (Amer J Psych 1936-37, 93, 1379), the operation was adapted by W Freeman of Washington (Med Ann District of Columbia, 1939, 8, 345), who obtained some successes in chronic depressed obsessional states. It was developed in England by Willway and others for chronic depression, involutional melancholia, and schizophrenia. Willway was sceptical of its scientific basis. (See papers by G W T H Fleming, F E Fox, E L Hutton, J S McGregor, and J R Crumbie in Lancet, 1941, 2, 3 and 7; 1943, 1, 361; J merit Sci 1942, 88, 275 and 282; also R D Gillespie in Brit Encyc of med Pract, Med Progress, 1944, page 72, "Mental diseases".)

In the later years of his short life Willway carried on a very active professional career with great gallantry, while suffering from Hodgkin's disease, of which he died at Bristol on 6 January 1944, aged 36. He was buried at Arnos Vale, after a funeral service in the chapel of the Royal Infirmary. He was unmarried. Wilfred Willway was a man of courage and initiative, with great intellectual activity, and a good talker on the many subjects which interested him. He could play four games of chess and converse at the same time.

Detection of lactosuria by Castellani-Taylor mycological methods. J trop Med 1931, 34, 133.
Follow-up of a series of cases of obscure chronic malaria treated at the Ross Institute for Tropical Diseases. J trop Med 1933, 36, 42.
Treatment of dislocations from the point of view of the general practitioner. Med Press, 1933, 187, 566.
Treatment of fractures of the neck of the femur. Med Press, 1934, 188, 312.
Plaster of Paris in treatment of Colles's fracture, simple technique used in 50 consecutive cases, with H Blauvelt. Lancet, 1935, 1, 609.
Ether convulsions with normal behaviour during subsequent ether anaesthesia. Brit med J 1935, 1, 764.
Intestinal obstruction by gallstones, with C P G Wakeley. Brit J Surg 1935-36, 23, 377-394.
Neurosurgery, in Rose and Carless Manual of surgery, 15th edition by Wakeley, 1937.
Modern views on head injuries. Malayan med J 1937, 12, 88.
Clinical features and treatment of injuries to brain. Malayan med J 1937, 12, 119. Progressive post-operative gangrene of skin; recovery without operation, with C P G Wakeley. Brit J Surg 1937-38, 25, 451.
The modern treatment of spina bifida. Med Press, 1938, 197, 210.
Some problems in the diagnosis and treatment of intracranial tumours. Bristol med-chir J 1938, 55, 151.
A guide-dog for the blind. Bristol med-chir J 1938, 55, 235.
Head injuries in war-time. Bristol med-chir J 1940, 57, 91.
Some observations on sending assistance to bombed towns. Brit med J 1942, 2, 552.
The role of surgery in mental disease, Hunterian lecture RCS 1942. Technique of prefrontal leucotomy. J ment Sci 1943, 89, 192.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1944, 1, 136, with portrait and eulogy by A W Adams, FRCS, p 169, eulogy by Professor Geoffrey Jefferson, FRCS, and p 200, eulogy by Lt-Col W M Capper, FRCS; Brit med J 1944, 1, 165, eulogy by G Jefferson, and p 473, eulogy by A Griffiths Farr, MRCS, of the Tanganyika colonial medical service; Bristol med-chir J 1944, 61, 30; information given by his sister, Mrs Allison Isaac].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England