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Biographical entry Stephen, Robert Alexander (1907 - 1983)

CB 1965; CBE 1958; MRCS and FRCS 1947; MB ChB Aberdeen 1930; MD 1933; ChM 1960; MS Malaya 1959.

20 June 1907
Elgin, Morayshire
9 July 1983
Military surgeon


Robert Alexander Stephen was born in Elgin, Morayshire, on 20 June 1907, the son of James Alexander Stephen, MB, ChB, DPH a general practitioner who later became the first medical officer of health for mother and child welfare in Aberdeen. He was educated at East End School in Elgin and Aberdeen Grammar School before entering King's College and Marischal College. During his clinical years he came under the influence of Sir John Marnoch KCVO, of whom he often spoke in later years.

He qualified in 1930 and after an appointment as house surgeon to the professor of surgery at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, came to London as house surgeon at Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital, then in the Marylebone Road. While there, he started to prepare a thesis on the use of Kielland's forceps in obstetrics which he submitted to the University of Aberdeen in 1933 and was awarded the MD degree. He also served as house surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and came under the influence of Tyrrel Gray, Sir Lancelot Barrington-Ward and Twistington Higgins. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and received his commission in July 1934.

Shortly after the outbreak of war he was posted to a Field Ambulance in France with the British Expeditionary Force and later was a surgical specialist serving in casualty clearing stations in Egypt, Libya, Greece and Crete. During the North African campaign he was one of the originators of the "Tobruk splint" and appreciated the value of immobilising wounds of the lower limb in this modification of the Thomas splint prior to evacuation of the injured to base hospitals. Later he served in 21 Army Group in NW Europe as ADMS to the 51st Highland Division. His war services were recognised by his being mentioned in despatches on three occasions.

Shortly after the end of the war he returned to the Royal Army Medical College to study for the FRCS, which he passed in 1947. He was awarded the Montefiore Prize at the Royal Army Medical College in the same year. From 1951 to 1952 he was officer commanding the surgical division at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, and from 1952 to 1956 he was assistant professor of military surgery at the RoyalArmy Medical College. He then became consultant surgeon to the medical directorate of GHQ Far East Land Forces until 1959. He was appointed Hunterian Professor in 1958 and returned to England to give a lecture entitled Malignant testicular tumours. The large audience in the Great Hall of the College was a testimony of the high esteem in which he was held.

He was awarded the MS (Malaya) in 1959 and the ChM of Aberdeen University in the following year. In 1960 he was appointed director of army surgery until his retirement in 1967 and during this period he was also HM Queen's Honorary Surgeon. During the latter part of his military career he was responsible for the care of all Army staff and their dependents suffering from cancer and he forged strong links between the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital at Millbank and the radiotherapy and medical oncology units of the Westminster Hospital. Throughout his entire career he emphasised the importance of every army surgeon having a basic training in surgery, whatever specialty he intended to pursue. He took a great personal interest in the careers of junior officers and the high personal standards which he set as well as his sympathetic rapport with patients and relatives were examples to be emulated.

He married Audrey Royce, a nurse from Moorfields Ophthalmic Hospital, in 1935 and there was one daughter of the marriage. His wife died in 1972 and after five lonely years he married again. Major-General Stephen died at his home on 9 July 1983 aged 76 and is survived by his widow Patricia and by his daughter Jane and stepson James.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1983, 287, 504-5].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England