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Biographical entry Gissane, William (1898 - 1981)

CBE 1964; MRCS and FRCS 1932; MB Sydney 1925; FRCS Ed 1927; Hon FRACS 1959.

26 April 1898
Sydney, Australia
1 April 1981
Accident and emergency surgeon


William Gissane was born in Sydney on 26 April 1898 and educated at Ignatius College, where he captained the cricket and boxing and played rugby for the public schools of New South Wales. He served in the RAA during the first world war and returned to Australia to study medicine at the University of Sydney where he played rugby and gained blues for cricket and boxing becoming light heavyweight inter-university champion. He graduated in 1925 and the same year left for Britain where he obtained the FRCS Edinburgh and England, later becoming Honorary FRACS.

Gissane's interest in accident surgery began when he served in London in 1938 and he was greatly influenced by his visit to Böhler's clinic in Vienna. During 1941, a group of Birmingham businessmen decided to re-open the old Queen's Hospital for the treatment of accidents and Gissane became first clinical director and surgeon-in-chief. He quickly transformed the Birmingham Accident Hospital into an internationally renowned centre and attracted men like Leonard Colbrook as director of the MRC Burns Research Unit and others such as Miles, Robert Williams, Bull, Lowbury and later Ruscoe Clarke, Jackson and Sevitt. They were able to put into practice the famous 'Birmingham experiment'.

His work on the reduction of road and industrial accidents brought him international recognition. He was made CBE in 1964 and was awarded an honorary DSc from the University of Wales and a life membership of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons. He became Vice-President of the British Orthopaedic Association delivering the Robert Jones Lecture in 1961. His interest in accident problems brought him into contact with industrial processes and machinery and motor cars and the work of the accident hospital had considerable influence over faults on car safety and seat belts. For this work, Gissane was made an honorary member of the American Association of Automobile Engineers. He was a great traveller and apart from an extensive tour as Sir Arthur Sims' Commonwealth Travelling Professor in 1959, he lectured in South Africa, Canada and Europe. In 1961 Birmingham University made him an honorary and personal Professor of Accident Surgery.

Gissane never lost his interest in sport of all kinds and was very proud of being the honorary medical officer and vice-president of the Warwickshire cricket club and a life member of the Edgbaston golf club. He died in his sleep on 1 April 1981 - the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Birmingham Accident Hospital from which his name is inseparable. He was survived by his wife and son.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England