Sir Hugh William Bell CAIRNS KBE

CAIRNS, Hugh William Bell

Service Number: 4501
Enlisted: 11 May 1915, Sydney, New South Wales
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: Army Medical Corps (AIF)
Born: Port Pirie, South Australia, 26 June 1896
Home Town: Riverton, Clare and Gilbert Valleys, South Australia
Schooling: Riverton High, Adelaide High School, University of Adelaide, South Australia
Occupation: Neurosurgeon
Died: Natural causes (cancer), Oxford, England, 18 July 1952, aged 56 years
Cemetery: St Cross Churchyard Cemetery, Oxford
Oxfordshire, England
Memorials: Adelaide Grand Masonic Lodge WW1 Honour Board, Adelaide High School Honour Board, Adelaide University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll, Riverton Pictorial Honour Board
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World War 1 Service

11 May 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 4501, Sydney, New South Wales
15 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 4501, 3rd Australian General Hospital, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
15 May 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 4501, 3rd Australian General Hospital, RMS Mooltan, Sydney
9 Nov 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, Medical Officers, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
9 Nov 1917: Embarked AIF WW1, Captain, Medical Officers, HMAT Port Sydney, Melbourne
31 May 1920: Discharged AIF WW1, Captain, Army Medical Corps (AIF), Discharged in England to further his studies

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Biography contributed by Sharyn Roberts

Excerpt from Blood Sweat and Fears: Medical Practitioners and Medical Students of South Australian who Served in World War 1. Courtesy of the Authors

Hugh William Bell Cairns was born on the 26th June 1896 in Port Pirie, South Australia. He was the only son of William Cairns, a Scottish timber contractor, and Amy Florence, nee Bell. He was educated at Riverton High School and Adelaide Boys High School, where he was co-dux with John Besley Gillen, before his tertiary education at the University of Adelaide as an exhibition scholar. He reported that he spoke English and German.

Cairns joined the AIF on 11th May 1915 as a private soldier. He was nearly 19 years old and had already served in the 23rd ALH at Riverton for 11 months. He was 5ft 11ins and weighed 161lbs. He travelled with reinforcements for 3 AGH on HMAT Mooltan to the Middle East and joined his unit on Lemnos. He undertook medical orderly and nursing duties. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in September 1915 and, during this time, was admitted with influenza. He returned to Australia to complete his medical training on 13th March 1916 again performing nursing duties on the ship. He graduated from Adelaide University in 1917 as the Davies Thomas and Everard Scholar and South Australian Rhodes Scholar. He re-joined the army in August 1917 and on 9th November 1917 travelled on the Port Sydney to England and subsequently France where  he served with 2 AGH, 3 AGH, 47th British Division and 15 Fd Amb. 

He did not return to Australia following his service in France as he took up his Rhodes scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford in 1919. He rowed bow in the University Boat Race and was President of the Balliol Boat Club. He continued his training in pathology and then surgery at The London Hospital; he obtained the FRCS in 1921 and in this year married Barbara Forster the youngest daughter of AL Smith the Master of Balliol. His initial surgical interests were related to genito-urinary problems and he lectured on these topics at the RCS where he was the Hunterian Professor of anatomy. A growing interest in neurosurgery saw him take leave to study with Cushing in Boston in 1926-7. He returned to establish a neurological surgery unit at The London Hospital and with others established the new school of British neurosurgery. Cairns had an international reputation when TE Lawrence was fatally injured in a motor bike accident in 1935 and he was summoned to treat him. His enthusiasm for neurosurgery was instrumental in encouraging Lord Nuffield to endow the new Nuffield chair in Surgery in Oxford in 1937 to which Cairns moved from London. He rejoined the Army in WW2 rising to the rank of Brigadier; he was advisor to the Ministry of Health on head injuries, and stressed the advantages of early air evacuation of the injured, Cairns established mobile neurosurgical units early in WW2. Nearly 20,000 patients were treated by these units in which Cairns and Florey (Adelaide Rhodes Scholar successor) were amongst the first to use penicillin in neurological injury.  Widespread use of penicillin was born. A young RAMC surgeon, Dick Jepson, was in one of these units and later he moved to Adelaide and became the Professor of Surgery at the University of Adelaide and the Adelaide Hospital, 1958-1968. Early in the WW2 Cairns persuaded the army to make crash helmets for dispatch riders compulsory; this, now routine protection for bike riders, is one of Cairns many lasting legacies. He was appointed KBE in 1946 and the next year, when the Sims Commonwealth Professor appointed by the RCS, was awarded an honorary MD (Adelaide). Hugh William Cairns died of cancer in the Radcliffe Infirmary on 18th July 1952 leaving a widow, two sons and two daughters.

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Biography contributed by Annette Summers

CAIRNS Sir Hugh William Bell KBE DM MD FRCS

World War 2

1896-1952

 

Hugh William Bell Cairns was born on the 26th June 1896, in Port Pirie, South Australia. He was the only son of William Cairns, a Scottish timber contractor, and Amy Florence, nee Bell. He was educated at Riverton High School and Adelaide Boys High School, and began medicine at the University of Adelaide as an exhibition scholar.   He enlisted as a private soldier in WWI and served on Lemnos with 3 AGH, as a nurse, before returning to Australia and completing his medical studies and graduating, in 1917. Cairns was academically brilliant and was awarded the David Thomas and Everard Scholarships and was the South Australian Rhodes Scholar.  He also represented the University in rowing and lacrosse. He was commissioned as a captain and returned to France and served with several medical units for the rest of WW1, remaining in England on his discharge. Cairns then took up his Rhodes scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford University, in 1919. He initially studied Pathology and later, at London Hospital, he studied surgery, and obtained his FRCS in 1921. Cairns married Barbara Forster Smith, on 24th November 1921.  She was the youngest daughter of Arthur Lionel and Mary Florence Smith. Her father was the Master of Balliol College. He then became the Hunterian Professor of Anatomy, lecturing at the Royal College of Surgeons, in his initial interest in genito-urinary surgery. Cairns developed an interest in neurosurgery, and took leave to travel to the United States to study with Cushing in Boston in 1926. Returning to England, Cairns established a Neuro-surgical unit at the London Hospital, with Geoffrey Jefferson and N. M. Dott. He developed an international reputation as a neurosurgeon. One of his patients was Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who suffered a fatal head injury from a motorbike accident. Cairns then took the position of the newly established Nuffield Chair in surgery at Oxford University in 1937.  Cairns who had been consultant neurosurgeon to the army between the wars, was called to the War Office, in 1938, to discuss the provision of neurosurgical services to the military.

Cairns enlisted in the RAMC, at the start of WW2, eventually reaching the rank of Brigadier. With other senior officers of the services they created St. Hugh's College for head injuries, at Oxford, which opened in February 1940. He inspired and taught a generation of neurosurgeons, neurologists, and neurological nurses in the care of brain and spinal cord injuries. Cairns also trained the first full-time female neurosurgeon. During the war, St Hugh’s College treated some 13,000 service personnel. Cairns was the adviser to the Ministry of Health on head injuries and neurosurgeon to the army. He stressed the advantages of early evacuation for treatment. He formed mobile neurosurgical units. With Florey, also an Adelaide University graduate and Rhodes Scholar, he was responsible for the introduction of the use of penicillin in neurosurgery with dramatic benefits. Dick Jepson, later Professor of Surgery at the University of Adelaide, was also in one of these units. Early in WW2 Cairns persuaded the Army to make it compulsory for dispatch riders on motorcycles to wear helmets, to reduce injuries in accidents. Cairns' work in military medicine and head injury to mitigate and manage brain injury is one of his many legacies now common in modern use.

It was said of Cairns that every patient became his friend for life. He was an exacting exemplar. He expected much of his students and himself. Even after his diagnosis with cancer, he continued to work.  He was flown to treat General George Patton. Cairns authored over a hundred papers. He was appointed KBE in 1946. In 1947 he was the Sims Commonwealth Professor appointed by the Royal College of Surgeons. He was awarded an Honorary MD (Adelaide). Hugh William Bell Cairns died of cancer in the Radcliffe Infirmary, on 18th July 1952, He was survived by his wife, Barbara, and their two sons and two daughters.

Source

Blood, Sweat and Fears III: Medical Practitioners South Australia, who Served in World War 2. 

Swain, Jelly, Verco, Summers. Open Books Howden, Adelaide 2019. 

Uploaded by Annette Summers AO RFD

 

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