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Biographical entry Bruce, Harold Wilson (1876 - 1965)

MRCS and FRCS 1901; MB BS London 1897; MD 1899.

16 June 1965
Hospital administrator and Medical Officer


Harold Wilson Bruce was born in 1876 and trained at Guy's Hospital, where he qualified MB BS in 1897. He proceeded MD in 1899 and passed the FRCS in 1901. After holding a house appointment at Guy's he served in the Boer War and then went to India to join the team fighting plague in Bombay. On his return to England in 1903 he entered the service of the Southwark Board of Guardians as second assistant medical officer at their infirmary, which has since been renamed Dulwich Hospital. He became medical superintendent in 1905 and remained there for 25 years.

In 1930 he was invited by Sir Frederick Menzies to join the head-quarters staff of the London County Council, to which the London Poor Law hospitals had been transferred a few months earlier. The hospitals which had been taken over from the boards of guardians were formed into a general hospital division under Dr W Brander and those from the Metropolitan Asylums Board (except the mental hospitals) into a special hospitals division under Dr J A H. Brincker. Bruce was Brander's deputy and with Dr R C Harkness - all three with long experience of hospital administration - they formed a most efficient team.

Bruce was especially concerned with hospital extensions and improvements; he surveyed every hospital in his division and became expert in the reading of plans, a rare quality in a doctor. In 1937, when Brander retired, Bruce succeeded him as head of the general hospitals division. It was not long before he became deeply involved in the preparation of the hospitals for the war which started a couple of years later. He retired in April 1941 after having borne imperturbably the immense strain of coping with the problems caused by the heavy bombing of London since the autumn of 1940. During this time many of the hospitals in his division were seriously damaged and more or less put out of action.

His great skill in the planning of hospitals was recognized nationally in 1934 when he was appointed by the Minister of Health to serve on a departmental committee on the cost of hospitals and other public buildings.

His vast store of knowledge included every detail of how a municipal hospital worked. He was a tireless worker and expected the same standard of service from all his staff, medical and lay. He recognized the important part that lay staff can play in hospital administration, but insisted that there must be a "captain of the ship" with medical qualifications and clinical experience.

He was tall, spare, and always well groomed, with an air of distinction. His opinions were sound and he expressed them forcibly, often demolishing those who argued with him by a few acid comments. After the death of his wife he went to live in a hotel in Bickley.

He was one of the last survivors of the small group, not being replaced, who after years of skilled clinical work in the large London municipal hospitals turned out most successful administrators. They were a loss to clinical medicine, but their background was invaluable to their subsequent work and influence.

He served in the first world war as a senior officer in field ambulance work. His great experience, he was much older than the rest of his team, and his general affability made him an asset to any unit.

He had been an athlete in his younger days, and had run in very good company. While serving in France, he made a successful cross-country run when over 50.

Bruce died in hospital on 16 June 1965 aged 89.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1965, 2, 51, by WAD and at p 269 reminiscences of his first world war service by JC; Lancet 1965, 2, 44].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England