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Biographical entry Rees, Harland (1909 - 2002)

MRCS and FRCS 1941; BM BCh Oxford 1936; MA; MCh.

21 September 1909
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
9 July 2002
General surgeon and Urologist


Harland Rees was born on 21 September 1909 at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, into a medical family. His father, David Charles Rees, was a specialist in tropical medicine and had served in Lugard's frontier force, which kept the French at bay in West Africa in 1897. Four years later, he went to South Africa to deal with an outbreak of plague after the Boer war and stayed. Harland's great grandfather, David Rees, had obtained his MRCS in 1807, and Harland was proud to have the diploma in his possession. His mother was Myrtle May née Dolley.

Educated at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown, in South Africa, Harland proved himself an excellent games player. A member of the cricket XI and rugby XV for three years from 1926 to 1928, he was captain of both in the last year. Of the 1926 XV, six were to gain Oxford blues and one of them, B H Black, played for England. As a cricketer, Rees promised to be one of the outstanding batsmen of his generation in South Africa. Representing Eastern Province while still at St Andrew's, in 1928 he played against a strong MCC side for the South African Schools' XI. Having made a stylish 60 runs, he earned praise from the famous England cricketer, Herbert Sutcliffe, as the schoolboys passed the MCC total to win the match.

In 1929, Harland Rees won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, where he joined his brother at University College to read medicine. In addition to these studies, after a year recovering from a broken arm, he concentrated on rugby, winning his blue in 1930 and continuing to play against Cambridge until 1933. Clinical studies were undertaken at Charing Cross Hospital, and he continued to play competitive rugby at fly-half for Blackheath, Middlesex and the Barbarians. Invited to play for Wales, for whom he qualified through his Welsh ancestry, he declined the offer, secretly hoping that a call would come from England, but it never did!

After qualifying in 1936, he undertook junior posts at Charing Cross and later in 1939 was assistant to T J F Barrington at St Peter's Hospital for Stone in London. At the outbreak of the second world war, he was posted to Ashridge Hospital, where he worked for eight months without taking a single day off, before returning to St Peter's for a year as resident surgical officer.

Having joined the RAMC in 1942, Harland Rees served in India and Burma, winning his wings as a parachutist, and narrowly escaping capture by the Japanese. On one occasion he had a brush with authority when the commanding officer insisted that the troops should go on a six mile run in blazing heat after a day's march. Sadly, Rees was proved to be correct when one unfortunate soldier collapsed and died. Ultimately a Lieutenant Colonel, Rees became officer in charge of the surgical division of 53 General Hospital, the base hospital in Burma. During this period he was adviser in surgery to the Allied Forces in Siam and was involved in the committee formed to investigate the suspicious death of the crown prince from a gunshot wound. The final conclusion was that it was an accidental death, but Harland Rees remained unconvinced by the verdict.

After the war, he returned to civilian life and became registrar to the Postgraduate Medical School at the Hammersmith Hospital and clinical assistant at St Peter's. In 1947, he obtained a consultant surgeon post to outpatients at Hampstead General Hospital and held similar posts at King's College Hospital and St Peter's Hospital, his inclination being towards urology as a specialty. Retiring in 1974, he was made honorary consultant urologist at King's College Hospital.

During the fifties, he bought 35 acres of overgrown and untended land, formerly a quarry pit, at Kensworth in Bedfordshire. Many a weekend was devoted to energetic and imaginative clearing of land, planting trees, and building a road to a new house that was built in the sixties and provided a weekend retreat. It was here that he spent his retirement. An idle life after a surgical career was never his aim: in addition to caring for the land he developed an interest in local politics, serving on the South Bedfordshire District Council as a Conservative. He was chairman from 1986 to 1987. Both Harland and his wife were also keen supporters of local musical events.

Harland Rees married Helen Marie Tarver in 1950. She predeceased her husband by one year, dying in 2001. They had a daughter (who died in 1976) and two sons. Harland Rees died on 9 July 2002.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Daily Telegraph 8 August 2002].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England