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Biographical entry Waterston, David James (1910 - 1985)

MBE 1940; CBE 1972; MRCS and FRCS 1949; MB ChB Edinburgh 1933; FRCS Ed 1946; Hon MD Genoa 1972; Hon MD Warsaw 1975.

26 August 1910
St Andrews
8 May 1985
Paediatric surgeon


David James Waterston was born in St Andrews on 26 August 1910, the son of Professor David Waterston FRSE, FRCSE, Professor of Anatomy in the University of St Andrew's and younger brother of Brigadier Richard E Waterston FRCS (Lives of the Fellows, 1974-1982, p.406). He was educated privately at Craigflower School before entering the Universities of St Andrew's and Edinburgh for his medical studies. He qualified in 1933 and after initial house appointments in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, came to London where he began his life-time association with the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street. At first he was house surgeon but was soon promoted to senior surgical resident. In 1938, believing that war was inevitable he took a short service commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and at the outbreak of war was stationed in West Africa. Shortly afterwards he was posted to the Western Desert serving in a blood transfusion unit attached to the 8th Army. His services in General Wavell's campaign as a Captain in a field ambulance were recognised by the award of the MBE in 1940 and he was twice mentioned in despatches. He later joined a surgical training scheme and served as a surgical specialist with the rank of Major in the Yugoslav island of Vis before participating in the campaign in North West Europe. He was among the first medical teams to visit Belsen concentration camp on 8 May 1945 and it was there that he met his future wife Anne, the daughter of the Rt Reverend AA Markham, Bishop of Grantham, who had been sent to the camp as a relief worker. They were married in 1948.

After demobilisation he returned to junior appointments at Great Ormond Street. He passed the FRCS Edinburgh in 1946 and the FRCS three years later. In 1951 he was appointed consultant surgeon to the hospital and took a special interest in the care of the neonate and young child at a time when operations in this age group were considered to be hazardous. He soon acquired a reputation for being able to perform safe operations in this age group and his management of congenital trachea-oesophageal fistulas paved the way for his later work, replacing the lower oesophagus with colon transplanted from the abdomen. His experience of intra-thoracic surgery expanded to include the treatment of congenital heart defects and in conjunction with Dr RE Bonham-Carter he pioneered the thoracic unit, the first of its kind in the world, in which both medical and surgical diseases of the chest and heart were treated jointly in one ward. Throughout this time he remained a general paediatric surgeon and operated on Prince Charles, then a schoolboy, for acute appendicitis. He served as consulting paediatric surgeon to the Army until his retirement and always had time to encourage, talk to and advise colleagues and junior staff and to devote time to discussing problems with the parents of his patients.

He was appointed Hunterian Professor in 1961 and in the same year was elected President of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons. He received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Genoa and Warsaw and was elected to honorary membership of the Czechoslovak Medical Society of J.E. Purkinje as well as receiving the Ladd Medal from the United States, and the Kopernicus Medal from Poland. His association with paediatric surgeons in Poland was particularly close and he paid them regular visits from 1958 up to the year of his death. His practice was world-wide and patients from many overseas countries were brought to Great Ormond Street for his special skills. His contributions to paediatric surgery were recognised by the award of Commander of the British Empire in 1972 and he retired from hospital practice in 1975. Throughout his life he was a marvellous man, a master technician, a sympathetic teacher and a compassionate physician. He lectured brilliantly. Gentleness was his outstanding characteristic; children and his family his lifelong concern.

His chief outside interest was golf and he was proud of his membership of the Royal and Ancient, St Andrews. He died on 8 May 1985, survived by his wife Anne, his elder son Bob, two daughters Jane and Sarah, and many grandchildren.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 14 May 1985; The Times 23 May 1985; Brit med J 1985, 290, 1670; Lancet 1985, 1, 1229, 1519].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England