Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Williams, Bernard Lewis (1910 - 2001)

BA Cambridge 1932; MB BChir 1935; MRCS LRCP 1935; FRCS 1937.

26 August 1910
21 November 2001
General surgeon


Bernard Williams was a senior surgeon in Portsmouth. He was born into a medical family on 26 August 1910, his father, Morgan Watkin Williams, being a general practitioner in Morriston, Swansea. His mother, Beryl Jane née Gabe, was the daughter of a GP. He received his schooling at Marlborough College, before proceeding to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and then to St Thomas's Hospital for his clinical education.

After house appointments and a brief interlude as a ship's doctor, he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps reserve when war was looming, being assigned to the military hospital at Netley two days before Neville Chamberlain made his fateful broadcast. In a personal memoir he recalled with affection his six years of military service. After a spell with the British Expeditionary Force in Dieppe, he went to Cairo and led a surgical team during General Wavell's advance with the Army of the Nile. He commanded a field surgical unit, one of three assembled to support the larger medical facilities of the Eighth Army under General Montgomery. Bernard's casualty clearing station bore the brunt of the casualties from the Battle of El Alamein. Some 13,000 Allied soldiers died - requests for help fell on deaf ears.

When in Egypt in 1943, Bernard Williams met and married Rosalind Bone, a Middlesex-trained physiotherapist. Their ushers included Ronald Bodley Scott from Bart's (later the Queen's Physician) and John Charnley of 'hip-replacement' fame. Michael Boyd, also of Bart's and later Professor of Surgery in Manchester, declined to be best man on the grounds that of some eight previous marriages for whom he had performed the role, all had failed! Bernard and Rosalind's was a long and happy one, and produced four children. Three sons followed their father in medicine; Tim became a surgeon, John a gastro-enterologist and Peter a rheumatologist. Their daughter, Jane, lives in Wales, and there are 14 grandchildren.

His only injury of the war was sustained when he was posted with the Liberation Army near Hamburg in 1945. On hearing the singing of Sospan Fach by a Welsh division coming from the cellar of a mansion, he went to investigate and was hit in the eye by a champagne cork and got a black eye as he joined in the celebration!

In 1946, he was appointed to the staff of the Royal Portsmouth Hospital as a consultant general surgeon, and was the senior surgeon with the Portsmouth group of hospitals until his retirement in 1975. He promoted the Wessex system of central sterile supply, which had been introduced by the local pathologist, Michael Darmady, and became the standard technique nationally of sterilising and packaging surgical instruments. In retirement, he undertook three surgical locums as senior lecturer at the Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine in Zimbabwe, and was yet again to deal with the wounded of civil strife, reinforcing his abhorrence of gratuitous violence.

From 1952 until his death, he was an active member of the Travelling Surgical Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and took pleasure in chronicling its activities with wit and accuracy. Indeed, he travelled to almost all home and overseas meetings, giving a lucid account at the age of 86 of Belgian surgeons he had met during visits to the country. He was proud that his uncle Howell Gabe had been a founder member when the society met in Leeds for the first official meeting and dined at the home of Sir Berkeley (later Lord) Moynihan - its first president - in 1924.

He remained an active and good tennis player from his youth into his eighties, when he played each week with the late Selwyn Taylor - their combined ages being 170 years. His most notable success was defeating Najar, the Egyptian champion, and earning banner headlines in the Cairo press: "Najar battu par un joyeur de la moyenne classe".

Dying on 21 November 2001 at the age of 91 from advancing prostatic cancer, he retained his wit, wisdom and humanity throughout his last illness.

Timothy G Williams
N. Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Travelling Surgical Society Report 2001].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England