Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Drew, Sir William Robert Macfarlane (1907 - 1991)

OBE 1940; CBE 1952; CB 1962; KCB 1965; KstJ 1977; QHP 1959-69; CO El-R (Iraq) 1952; FRCS 1970; BSc 1929; MB BS Sydney 1930; MRCP 1938; FRCP 1945; FRCP Edinburgh 1966; FRACP 1966; FACP 1966.

4 October 1907
Sydney, Australia
27 July 1991
Military doctor, Pathologist, Physician and Tropical medicine specialist


William Robert Macfarlane Drew was born in Sydney on 4 October 1907, the son of William Hughes Drew and Ethel Macfarlane. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School and Sydney University, graduating with honours in 1930. After house posts in Sydney Hospital he joined the RAMC and was posted to India as a pathologist, a graphic illustration of the range of the British Empire of those days. In 1935 he became the first house physician to Sir Francis Frazer at the new British Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith in the same intake as Professor Grey Turner and Dick Franklin, and later progressed to clinical tutor. He was recalled to the RAMC in 1939, and going to France with the British Expeditionary Force he became DADMS HQ 3 Corps. He was decorated for efficiency and bravery in the campaign and evacuation at Dunkirk. In the UK he commanded the 10 Field Ambulance and later the Hatfield Military Hospital, and in 1942 he was appointed assistant professor of tropical medicine at the Royal Army Medical College, Millbank, and Medical Officer to the war cabinet. He prepared hundreds of young medical officers for the health hazards of service overseas and extended his remit to instruct undergraduates from the twelve London medical schools in tropical medicine and the prevention of malaria.

After the war he was appointed professor of medicine at Baghdad Medical College, and remained there until becoming OC Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, in 1955. His subsequent career showed he was destined for higher places. In 1957 he became consulting physician MELF (Cyprus) and in 1959 consulting physician to the army. At that time National Service came to an end and Drew and the senior 'brass' in the medical service had to reorganize from a large conscripted service to a small professional one. The post-National Service full-time Medical Corps was to be compact and one of high qualifications and skills, comparable to their NHS counterpart, thereby to encourage recruitment of the most suitable doctors. To encourage this end he established a medical research unit allowing civilian and military doctors to work together. In 1960 he became Commandant of the Royal Army Medical College and in 1963 was appointed Director of Medical Services to the BAOR. He was the obvious choice for Director General of the Army Medical Services in 1965, the first Australian to take up this post. To high office he brought energy, experience, insight, organisational talent, an outgoing personality and an extraordinarily retentive memory, and all were used to the benefit of the Medical Service. On leaving the army he became deputy director of the Postgraduate Medical Federation and contributed greatly to the setting up of the Margaret Pyke Centre for Family Planning. He retired in 1976 to spend the next decade in his native Sydney.

He contributed some forty publications, mainly related to tropical diseases, but with Samuel and Ball from the Hammersmith Hospital he wrote the first account of primary atypical pneumonia. Future historians will thank him for compiling the roll of Medical Officers of the British Army 1660-1960. Among many prizes he received were the Leishman Medal at the RAMC and the Mitchiner Medal at the College. He was President of the Medical Society of London in 1967, of the Clinical Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1968 and of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine in 1971; and Vice-President of the Royal College of Physicians in 1970. He was a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries.

In 1934 he married Dorothy Merle Daking-Smith of Bowral, New South Wales. She died in 1990. They had a daughter, Joanna, who predeceased him and a son, Dr Christopher Drew, who survived him, along with seven grandchildren, when he died on 27 July 1991.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 31 July 1991, with portrait; citation by Harold Edwards on conferment of Fellowship, 1970].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England