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Biographical entry McWatters, Matthew Robert Cecil (1878 - 1973)

MRCS 1902; FRCS 1913; MB London 1903; LRCP 1902.

4 January 1878
18 June 1973
Downton, Wiltshire
General surgeon


Matthew Robert Cecil McWatters, son of David McWatters of Bath, was born there on 4 January 1878. He was educated at Bath Grammar School and at King's College, London, taking the Conjoint diploma in 1902 and the MB the following year. At King's College Hospital he was chosen by Sir Watson Cheyne as his house surgeon. He was commissioned as Lieutenant in the Indian Medical Service in 1905, serving for some years on the North-West Frontier. He won the Mohmand Campaign medal and clasp in 1908 and was promoted Captain.

When he was stationed at Peshawar there was an outbreak of typhus fever in his regiment and in the jail. He conceived the original idea that the disease might be insect-borne and persuaded the jail superintendent to delouse the prisoners and to boil their clothing. The epidemic ceased, but beyond reading a paper to the local medical club McWatters did nothing to publicize his findings.

During long study leave in Europe he became FRCS in 1913, and served with the Indian Army in France from 1914 becoming a Major in 1915. In 1916 he was posted back to the NW Frontier and in 1919 he saw action again in the Afghan campaign. On transfer to civil employment he was posted to the United Provinces and soon became Professor of Surgery at the University of Lucknow, and was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in 1924. During his years there his obvious brilliance and erudition were greatly appreciated. On return from long leave he was posted to the hills as civil surgeon of the summer capital Naini Tal, but was transferred to the major post at Agra as civil surgeon and he retired prematurely with the rank of Colonel in 1932 on account of his wife's health and went into practice at Folkestone for seven years.

In 1939 he retired from practice and fulfilled a long-felt ambition to travel up the Sind valley from Kashmir over the Zogi La Pass to Leh in Lesser Tibet, collecting insect specimens for the Natural History Museum and making photographs and films for the Royal Geographical Society. On the outbreak of the second world war he hurried to England and, at the age of 60, took a commission in the RAMC serving from 1939 to 1945. After the war he bought a small run-down farm in South Africa, rehabilitated it until it became profitable, and then revisited England. He wandered for some years in the Channel Islands and in Majorca, but revisited South Africa when he was 80 and agreed to act as principal of St Matthew's Medical Mission near East London for a year. The venture was an outstanding success and his memory is still cherished there.

In 1907 he married Nona Richards, a doctor's daughter. She died in 1967, leaving one daughter and a number of grandchildren. After the death of his wife he led a vigorous and active life in the home of his daughter. During his active years in the affluent United Provinces McWatters had the reputation of caring little for the attractions of private practice but of caring greatly for his poor Indian patients. The doctor who tended his later years found him "an inspiration at every visit and an example of what a good doctor should be". McWatters remained alert and active, till three days before his death, from cerebral haemorrhage, on 18 June 1973 at Downton, Wiltshire, aged 95.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Crawford's Roll of the IMS General list, no 342; Brit med J 1973, 3, 177 by Colonel Sir George McRobert MD, FRCP with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England