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Biographical entry Kille, John Narkett (1927 - 2015)

MB BS Birmingham 1955; FRCS 1960; FRCS Edin 1960; FRACS 1983.

22 December 1927
9 May 2015
General surgeon and Urologist


John Kille was a general surgeon and urologist in Burnie, Tasmania. He was born in Surrey, of parents Reginald Kille, an accountant, and Rene Vernon. As a boy he lived near Croyden, spending many hours watching civil aeroplanes and later RAF fighters and bombers, soon becoming a competent aircraft spotter. Evacuated to Bristol, these talents were useful during air raids; he became a 'runner', passing on information to the authorities. The family house was bombed and he watched melted Rowntree's chocolate flowing down the street. In Bristol he attended St Brendan's College.

He joined the Air Training Corps, gaining his certificate as air crew and flying in many military planes. His ambition had been to join the RAF, but at his medical examination he was found to be red-green colour blind. Disappointed, John joined the Coldstream Guards, then was commissioned from the ranks into the 4/7th Dragoon Guards, choosing this regiment as it was the only one then on active service in Palestine (1947 to 1948), policing the British Mandate. Serving in tanks and armoured cars, he was with the last British force to withdraw, via Haifa.

In 1949 he enrolled at Birmingham Medical School, qualifying in 1955 and marrying Mary Mackay (a student in the same year). He opted for a career in surgery, which was at that time difficult to achieve as there was a 'bulge' of highly qualified men returning from the Second World War, but he was able to take all the right jobs on the consultant 'ladder'. (He also climbed with 'The Vacancy Club', a mountaineering group of consultants and registrars, the aim of the latter being to dislodge the incumbents!) He was a resident surgical officer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the General Hospital Birmingham and senior registrar at both hospitals. He also worked at the United Oxford Hospitals.

In 1960 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and of Edinburgh. At this time he was advised that if he aimed to be a surgeon, he should change his surname. His response was in the negative: the name had stood his ancestors in good stead. (Since his death his name has been traced back to Francis Kill, born in Hampshire in 1610.)

Fascinated by urology, he worked on the fledgling artificial kidney (dialysis) unit in 1962 and 1967 with James L Lawson, experimenting with osmotic membranes and electrolyte solutions mixed in buckets with teaspoons. His training in urology had started with Robert Kersey Debenham, and later with Guy Baines and Paul Dawson Edwards. Eventually he was appointed to the Hull Royal Infirmary as a urologist. He became a member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons.

Five years later, taking a trip to Tasmania, he was so entranced by its beauty and way of life, that he and his family packed up and emigrated to Burnie. He worked at the North West General Hospital, where he was a general surgeon and later a specialist urologist, and his wife worked as an anaesthetist. As the hospital was affiliated with the medical school of Tasmania, he taught students and residents. His skills are long remembered for the clarity with which he would explain the relation of form and function.

He was a member the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1983.

He was able to combine his surgical work in Tasmania with living on a small farm, raising sheep, cattle and pigs, work he shared with his neighbour, a vet. On retiring he designed, and helped to build, a home in the bush overlooking the sea, where there was amazing wildlife, including Tasmanian devils, peregrine falcons and eagles, so indulging his passion for bird-watching - an enviable way of living.

He was a talented painter and designed spectacular scenery for Rotary balls (once constructing a 7/8th model of Captain Cook's Endeavour) and some amazing sets for annual old time music halls. After gaining his private pilot's licence, he built his own X-Air Ultralight plane in his backyard and flew it on many trips over the beautiful coasts and islands of the northwest coast.

He served for 16 years on the board of Umina Park and One-Care, Tasmanian aged care facilities. In 1989 he was awarded a Paul Harris fellowship, the highest honour in Rotary International, for his contribution to the community.

Latterly he lost both legs to generalised vascular disease, but, undaunted, continued inventing ingenious ways of maintaining his independence, whizzing around his property in a 90cc four-wheel, all-terrain vehicle, strapped on with his old Army webbing belt.

John Kille died on 9 May 2015. He was 87. He was survived by his wife Mary, two children, and nine grandchildren, all living interesting lives around the world.

Mary L Kille

The Royal College of Surgeons of England