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Biographical entry Drummond, Sir William Alexander Duncan (1901 - 1988)

KStJ and KBE 1957; OBE 1945; CBE 1951; CB 1954; MRCS 1924; FRCS 1947; MB BCh St Andrews 1924; Hon LID Punjab 1950; Hon LID Birmingham 1959; LRCP 1926.

16 September 1901
Cape Town, South Africa
20 September 1988
ENT surgeon, General surgeon and Military surgeon


William Alexander Duncan Drummond was born in Cape Town on 16 September 1901 where his father was then working for the Anglo-American Tobacco Company. The family later returned to England. Having initially studied engineering and lost two fingers of his left hand in an accident at the Liverpool shipyards, he completed his education at Dundee and qualified in medicine from St Andrew's University. While there he was a member of the University Officers' Training Corps. After joining the RAMC in 1925 he did two five year spells in India interrupted by an appointment as a territorial army adjutant in Chelsea when he developed his interest and skills in otorhinolaryngology as a registrar at Charing Cross Hospital. During the mid-1930s in India, when faced with a patient who had respiratory paralysis following a snake bite, he showed considerable enterprise by getting an "iron lung" made locally from two large oil drums welded together and powered by a vacuum cleaner.

On the outbreak of the second world war he took over the RAF hospital at Sarafand, in Palestine, which was then expanded into a 1200 bed army hospital where new staff were trained and a central medical store was organised. He was also responsible for some of the Polish medical units which arrived from Syria after the fall of France, and he ran a hospital train between Haifa and the Canal area. He moved to Iraq and Iran "Paiforce" in 1942 where he was ADMS (Assistant Director of Medical Services) with the Poles in 10 Corps and commanded No 31 Indian General Hospital. In the following year he commanded the British Military Hospital at Taranto, Italy, and later ended up in Trieste. During that period he formed close relationships with the Yugoslays and their medical services, subsequently receiving both the Polish and Yugoslav decorations.

After the war he went to Millbank as adviser in otorhinolaryngology from 1946 to 1949, and then, from 1949 to 1952, as commanding officer of Queen Alexandra Military Hospital. During that time he developed his plans for higher medical training in the Army, and also some firm views on hospital standards which later became a dominant theme. He was then sent to Malaya as assistant director of medical services during the height of the communist terrorist campaign. It is said that he made an immediate impression on the army commander, General Sir Gerald Templar, by telling him "If you don't like my methods you had better send me home for another doctor". But they worked very successfully together and Drummond's experience and style was admirably suited to coping with the generalised ringworm, scrub typhus, leptospirosis, malaria and encephalitis which plagued the British and Gurkha troops then fighting the communist bandits. He also helped set up the Lady Templar Hospital for Gurkhas.

On returning home he became Director-General of Army Medical Services from 1956-1961 when he enthusiastically worked a seven day week and insisted on expanding the standards of medical training throughout all ranks of the RAMC. He also, though much ahead of his time and not without some opposition from the sceptics, pioneered a central sterile supply system for dressings and instruments throughout the Army. On retiring from the Army Medical Service he became Colonel Commandant of the RAMC from 1961 to 1966 and president of various general hospitals with which he had been earlier associated. He did much for the Order of St John of which he was made deputy commissioner and wrote a first aid training textbook for the St John Ambulance Brigade. He also did a great amount of research into the medals won by members of the RAMC and their medical predecessors.

Alex Drummond had a reputation for being straightforward, direct, and even blunt, in his pursuit of high standards. His drive and restless energy charcterised his whole career. He never sought popularity but won loyalty from his juniors and respect from all who came in contact with him. His further honours included the award of OBE in 1945, with advance to CBE in 1951; the CB in 1954, and then KBE in 1957. He was also honorary surgeon to the Queen; a Knight of the Order of St John; honorary LID Birmingham University in 1959, and of the Punjab University in 1950. He and his wife Mabel (née Fullinger) first met as undergraduates at St Andrew's when she was training in biochemistry and they were married in 1929. They had no children and when he died, aged 87, on 20 September 1988, his wife survived him.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1988, 297, 1601; Daily Telegraph 21 September 1988].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England