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Frederick Gill (1895 - 1960):
Surgeon


Frederick Gill ("Freddie" as he was generally called) was born on 21 January 1895 at “Rockvale”, a property which had been in the family for as many as ten generations and which lies between Saintfield and Tempo, County Down.  He was the only son of John Gill JP, farmer, merchant and “land commissioner”, and Mary Gill (née Morrow) of a local family.  Educated at first locally Freddie entered the Royal School Dungannon (RSD) in 1908 as a boarder where he distinguished himself academically and on the rugby field, playing on the First XV in 1909-10, 1910-11 and 1911-12 and in his final year was awarded a “representative cap” probably for playing for an Ulster Schools team. He entered Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in April 1913, passed all his course examinations on schedule, graduated Bachelor of Arts (BA) in the spring of 1917 and in all three of the then registrable medical subjects, Bachelor of Medicine (MB), Bachelor of Surgery (BCh) and Bachelor in the Art of Obstetrics (BAO) in 1918, and was duly entered in The Medical Register on 10 April that year.  While in College he played rugby for the TCD team in the Minor League, 1913-14 (no official matches were played during the war years, 1914-19), probably at out-half.  He also took part in other sporting activities.  He is not entered in the records as having occupied any rooms in the College (though a certain “what looks [from the hand-written entry] like FGA Gill” roomed there from December 1913, although this was probably not Freddie who had only one first name) and he presumably lodged in “digs” when not resident in hospital. 

After graduating he volunteered for service in the Royal Flying Corps (re-organised as the Royal Air Force in April 1918) as did relatively many RSD ex-pupils, and after a period of pilot training at the Central Flying School on Salisbury Plain he obtained his “wings” and was commissioned Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Medical Service on 18 July 1918. Demobilised after the November Armistice (he later obtained a civil pilot’s licence from the British Air Ministry) he returned to Dublin and became house surgeon at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital possibly as a locum or supernumerary appointment (he is not included in the list of House Surgeons given by Moorhead, pp 213-4), and was then appointed as assistant to the Resident Medical Officer (RMO) at the British Hospital at Port Said. After a few weeks, however, the RMO died suddenly and the relatively inexperienced Gill was left in charge. This was a great opportunity for an ambitious young doctor and one which he quickly seized. Despite the extra responsibilities even though offset somewhat by the decline in clinical workload in the now post-war hospital, he was able to discharge his duties capably and to acquire extra knowledge and skills which enabled him on return to Dublin to obtain, on 30 June 1921, the postgraduate degree of Doctor of Medicine (MD) at TCD with a thesis based on his wide and recent experience of Bilharzia infestation then prevalent in Egypt.  In the same year he obtained the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (FRCSI). These achievements and the spirited initiative and vitality which he had already shown led to his appointment as Assistant Surgeon to Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in 1922. 

Before his reputation had grown sufficiently to be assured of referral to him of patients and to be consulted by insurance companies and the like, he had to establish his credentials in Dublin, not easy at the time for an Ulsterman with neither reputation nor influential local connections. (Later he was to say that in the first year after “putting up my plate” he earned just 50 guineas, mainly from fees for “grinding”); and so he turned to exploiting this considerable skill, namely the ability to teach students and junior doctors who had an immediate aim of passing their examinations, and with considerable success which he maintained into his more affluent years; and he ever remained an excellent and popular teacher, clear, concise, focused and forthright, “brilliant and forceful [especially of undergraduates]”, according to an obituarist’s Appreciation (Irish Times, 22 March, 1960), especially in the wards and Out-Patient Departments which were more suited to his style than was the lecture theatre. Trinity College recognised these talents and appointed him as a Deputy to the Regius Professor of Surgery at TCD (1926) and to a similar position to the University Anatomist (1935). By this former appointment his surgical abilities (of which more anon) as well as his teaching ones were recognised and he became Visiting Surgeon to Dun’s hospital and ultimately Senior Visiting Surgeon.  In March 1926 he married Helen Barry at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Blackrock, County Dublin, a daughter of David Barry OBE of Bellevue Park, Killiney, Deputy Chairman and General Manager of the British and Irish Steam Packet Company, and much more besides, and this also helped to increase his professional clientèle.  In August 1928 his only son John Barry was born; and later his daughter Sally, and all-in-all the prospects for the future looked rosy indeed. 

While his domestic and professional lives were starting to flourish, being ambitious and gregarious he still found time to develop his wider interests and contacts. Always a keen sportsman especially at rugby though also with an interest in boxing and athletics, he followed the fortunes of Dublin University (Rugby) Football club and often attended their matches especially in Dublin, and he rarely missed attending Ireland’s rugby international matches at Lansdowne Road or even Ravenhill in Belfast, and often travelled to those at Twickenham and Murrayfield, though less frequently to those in Wales. He was a familiar figure as an events judge at the Trinity Week athletics contests attired in his full morning suit of grey striped trousers, waist-coat and grey top-hat.  Up to World War II he played golf at Portmarnock GC mostly at weekends in a regular four-ball match and off a moderate double-figure handicap. His principal extra-surgery activities, however, included Freemasonry very definitely in pole position. Like many Protestant doctors in Dublin at the time he was an enthusiastic member and he rose rapidly through the degrees and offices to become ultimately Senior Grand Deacon of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, Grand Chancellor of the Great Priory, and shortly before his death he was raised to the thirty-third degree, the highest in the Order. However his commitments did not stop at the Lodge’s meetings: he took a great interest in the Masonic Boys and Girls Schools in Dublin, helping them in many ways, and frequently represented Irish Freemasons at meetings in England and Scotland. He was a former President of the dining and light musical Hibernian Catch Club which could trace its roots to the early seventeenth century; an Elder in Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church when, from 1940, he was living in Dublin at 38 Fitzwilliam Place (his earlier address at Merrion Square and then at 32 Lower Baggot Street were of his then consulting rooms) before the family moved in 1954 to “Glandore”, Mounttown, Dun Laoghaire though retaining his consulting rooms at number 38.  He was also devoted to Trinity College and had a care for medical students especially the industrious ones. He was elected President of the Dublin University Biological Society on 28 October 1933 and was delighted that both the Proposer and Seconder (respectively Sir Arthur Ball, senior surgeon at Dun’s, and Terence Millin, former Dun’s student and junior colleague of Freddie’s and soon to be a famous urinary surgeon with an inspirational operation known world-wide as “Millin’s prostatectomy”) were “Dun’s men”. As well as being Deputy to the University Anatomist he was also Assistant to the Professor of Surgery, and this combination of his interest and involvement with Trinity students, and the hazards of their rugby and other sports made his outpatient sessions at Sir Patrick Dun’s a popular and welcoming haven for injured students. He was honoured with Fellowships by the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland and the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland. As judged even by the more conventional habits of the time he was a meticulous dresser favouring striped suits, waistcoats, black shoes (for a well-built man he had small and neat feet), white shirts and stiff white collars, and  with a tie. He favoured Rolls Royce saloon cars and not only because of their looks and style but also for their being an outward and visible sign of professional success, of which he was justly and humanly proud; and he derived some satisfaction that at the time (immediately post-World War II) the only other surgeon possessing a Rolls Royce in Dublin was fellow Ulsterman, Adams McConnell, then (1946-1961) Regius Professor of Surgery at TCD: but McConnell’s was an older model! 

Surgery in fact was his central interest and activity and he never wished it to be otherwise. Possessed of a practical frame of mind and being from a rural background ever mindful of the importance of manual skills, Freddie became a highly competent surgeon always with the patients’ interests in mind.  If he lacked the flamboyance in the theatre of some of his contemporaries this was carefulness rather than doggedness. He could unquestionably be irascible in the theatre, sometimes extremely so, but in the experience of the present writer, who was his resident student for three months (in 1949-1950) and his house surgeon for six months (in 1952), this was more due to frustration either at some unexpected difficulty in the operation, problems with the anaesthetic not uncommon at the time, or the limitations of his assistant! Though a highly competent general surgeon, like most surgeons of the time he developed special interests and the necessary associated expertise.  One such interest was neck surgery generally and thyroid surgery more specifically, partial removal of the thyroid being not uncommon in the days before there was appropriate drug therapy for a hyperactive goitre. Another was in accident and orthopaedic surgery: indeed, he and reputedly Arthur Chance, surgeon at Dr Steevens’ Hospital and Professor of Surgery at RCSI (1929-1946), spent some time at the famous clinic in Vienna of Lorenz Böhler, head of the AUVA Hospital (“Arbeiterunfallversicherungsanstalt” or Workmen’s Accident Insurance) which was an acknowledged “centre of excellence” in the treatment of bone fractures and other traumatic lesions. Certainly Gill and Chance were frequently consulted in trauma cases by, amongst others, insurance companies, as their professional opinion was not easily shaken. Gill was well liked and respected by colleagues and hospital staff though some could be wary if he was in ill sorts due to the strain of overwork especially during the “Emergency” of World War Two when except for some assistance at the beginning of the War by the then Assistant Surgeon at Dun’s, Martin Fallon (note 1, infra) he was for much of the time the sole general surgeon at Sir Patrick Dun’s. The return of Seymour Heatley in 1946 to the consultant surgical staff, which he had joined in 1938 before enrolling in the RAMC in 1941, now replete with an OBE (Military) and in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, was hardly helpful since, to quote a former President of the RCSI, “His [Heatley’s] relationship with his senior colleague, Freddy Gill, was legendary in its acrimony …[and] the pair did not speak to one another, or to each other’s staff”. This enmity became a persistent talking point of the Dublin surgical community and was allegedly a mystery even to Heatley who had never had an actual row with Gill. Whatever its origins, and there are many theories, it could cause practical difficulties for nursing and resident medical staff regarding admission of emergencies to an available bed if in the “other man’s” ward; and it led to the unusual sight of one surgeon and his retinue passing in the corridor the other surgeon with his, without either surgeon or retinue nodding let alone talking to the other!  They were only known to have spoken to each other on one occasion: this was when the hospital was confronted by Professor William Pearson recently age-retired (at 65) from his consultant post at the Adelaide Hospital (the only voluntary teaching hospital in Dublin to have this age restriction), and who now, as Professor of Surgery at TCD, claimed certain rights which were by long-standing entitlement confined to Dun’s and which included those of being a visiting consultant surgeon, including having teaching beds, until such time as he chose (or was successfully advised) to retire.

This unique and completely informal conversation as they confronted what they saw as a highly unwelcome decision by Pearson, took place while they lent tête-à-tête against the ample sill of the left-hand window in the busy front hall of the hospital, Gill in his white coat as always and Heatley (as always) without one.  It did not last long. In the event Pearson got what he considered were his rights, but those concerned made sure that his beds would come from those already assigned to the recently appointed junior of the three consulting surgeons, Tom O’Neill! (The present writer was a witness to this unique Gill-Heatley meeting since he was the resident student to Gill at the time). 

Gill was elected to the Council of the RCSI in 1933.  As usual he ably shouldered his responsibilities which he saw in terms wider than simply internal matters of the College. The year of his election he addressed the Insurance Institute of Ireland on matters he had learned during his time at Böhler’s clinic at Vienna (already mentioned), and on various matters of common interest to other groups on other occasions. On 8 June 1944 he was elected Vice-Chairman (effectively Chairman-elect). This could be a sinecure but in Gill’s occupancy  it certainly was not. The President was Edward Leo Sheridan, a dental surgeon whose interests were not always those of Gill’s, but they worked closely together and attended functions together, such as on visiting Áras an Uachtaráin to be received by the President of Ireland, Dr Douglas Hyde, on his 85th birthday. Gill however was not one to be content with a passive or subordinate role and in August 1945 he joined for a while a medical group in France assessing the future for the Hôpital de la Croix Rouge Irlandaise at St Lô in Normandy (this was the first overseas venture of the Irish Red Cross) since the town had been virtually obliterated by Allied air attacks on D-Day (6 June 1944) being situated near the Normandy invasion beaches and occupied by German troops since late 1940.  Freddie, on his return to Dublin, learned that more serious matters were looming which threatened to lead, in the USA, to non-recognition of TCD’s medical degrees. Undoubtedly Dublin with its antique structure of small voluntary teaching hospitals, lack of modern clinical and laboratory resources, and isolation from the main centres of medical activity and research, had fallen short of acceptable standards in some key areas and Freddie, now President of RCSI (from June 1946), decided to learn more of these deficiencies and how at least the clinical surgical ones could be improved. He persuaded O’Donel Browne who was Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Professor of Obstetrics at TCD and a close friend and colleague (Freddie’s medical son John Barry Gill was to marry O’Donel Browne’s medical daughter, Gillian), to accompany him on a six-week visit to the USA, and they set out in March 1947 from Shannon Airport (neither would have had the patience for time wasted on ships!) to visit certain “centres of excellence” including the famed Mayo and Leahy Clinics and the principal Boston hospitals among others. The tour was useful though in unquantifiable ways and Gill spent some of his further time as RCSI President expressing to groups and associations of medical and para-medicals in formal gatherings, and through them the press,  his views of the needs in such areas as blood transfusion services and for more hospital beds and adequate funding.  He also formed personal links with leading London surgeons (Rodney Mangot, Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor and others) and especially Lord Webb-Johnson concurrently President of the Royal College of Surgeons in England. When his highly successful tenure of President of RCSI ended in June 1948 he was succeeded by the St. Vincent’s Hospital consultant Henry Sords Meade who was joint (with HL Barniville of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin) Professor of Surgery in University College Dublin. However, he remained busy in hospital and private consultant practice though the heavy load of the former was somewhat relieved by the appointment to Dun’s as assistant visiting surgeon of the hyperactive George Fegan, who dealt with some of Gill’s out-of-hours emergency work and helped at times with unduly long operating lists and was a reliable back-up for the clinical teaching load even though rarely called on by Freddie who remained as committed a teacher as ever.  (Fegan later - 1967 - became a dynamic and reforming Professor of Surgery at TCD, an acknowledged expert on the treatment of varicose veins, a collector of Irish Georgian silver, and one of the most successful and certainly most affluent surgeons in Ireland). Indeed, Gill even remained as consultant surgeon to the Rotunda Hospital and to Drogheda’s Cottage Hospital where Dr Herbert Walker, a close friend and former pupil of his and a highly respected local general practitioner, did minor (and sometimes not so minor) surgery. 

Unquestionably, the pace of his successful and committed life was beginning to tell.  The house, “Glandore”, at Mounttown, Dun Laoghaire, (which had been built in 1858 for the de Vesci family from Abbeyleix), to which he had moved in 1954 contained rose gardens, unusual shrubs and other botanical arcana, and a walled garden through which ran a stream, and he spent much of what spare time he had in cutting the grass (with a ride-on mower!), supervising improvements and being a general hands-on director of operations, and in entertaining, as a generous host, at the Kildare Street Club and elsewhere; but above all perhaps in his Masonic activities (he was a very senior Mason) and in attending TCD sporting events and Irish rugby international matches often with his close friend Sir Basil McFarland from Derry. In 1960 the family moved to a smaller house (and garden), 14 Nutley Park, Ballsbridge. The children (John and Sally) had now left and he at last had found time and opportunity to relax though I doubt as to whether he had the inclination.  Here, on 18 March 1960, aged 65, he died peacefully in his sleep from a massive coronary occlusion having just returned from a short visit to Scotland with McFarland. He was buried in the graveyard of First Presbyterian Church, Saintfield, County Down, to join his father (died 1 December 1927) and his mother (died 25 January 1929).  The inscription reads simply “Frederick Gill, MD, FRCSI died 18 March 1960”. In the unavoidable absence of Freddie’s Royal Navy medical son, John, on duty at sea on board HMS Belfast at Hobart, Tasmania, the present writer had the privilege of being a pall-bearer.  On the tombstone is the family motto Celer et Fortis (“swift and strong”). 

Most people who knew Freddie Gill would think this a fitting epitaph.



Born: 21 January 1895
Died: 18 March 1960
Peter Froggatt
References:

(1)

Martin Fallon OBE.  Fallon had a good academic career at TCD graduating MB, BCh., BAO in 1932, M.Ch (Hons.) in 1936 and becoming FRCSI in 1934.  He was appointed Assistant Surgeon to Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and, later, University Anatomist. Early in the 1940’s he joined the RAMC where he had an outstanding career earning an OBE for his part in the Arnhem battle and with partisans in Yugoslavia, becoming Lieutenant-Colonel.  He also had a brief but wide public fame as “the surgeon who removed the bullet from Lord Haw-Haw’s [William Joyce’s] leg”. (William Joyce was hanged on 3 January 1946 on the dubious charge of high treason during the war; the “bullet in the leg” was a gun-shot wound incurred while he was resisting arrest in Flensburg, Denmark, on 28 May 1945 in the closing weeks of the War).  Fallon returned to Dublin but later found a career as a chest surgeon in Scotland..  He published a unique biography of Abraham   Colles, Abraham Colles (London: Heinemann, 1972), and in 1979 edited The Sketches of Erinensis (London: Skelton and Shaw, 1979).  

Acknowledgements:

Nothing has been published of Gill’s life and achievements other than the short entry by Professor JB Lyons in his Assembly of Irish Surgeons: Lives of Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in the 20th Century (Dublin: The Glendale Press, 1983, pp. 112-114). However, with information willingly supplied by Gill’s son, the retired Royal Navy surgeon John Barry Gill LVO, who is a friend and former classmate of the present writer when in Trinity College Dublin, the writer has been able to compile this biography which without John’s help would have been impossible. Dr Burnett, Headmaster, The Royal School Dungannon, kindly supplied information on Gill’s school career, as did the many staff at relevant repositories for other information.

Bibliography:

Other than the Memoir by Professor Lyons (above,) the information gleaned from this writer’s own association with Gill and the invaluable information supplied by his son (above), useful but very limited sources are as follows: Lyons, JB: A Pride of Professors: the Professors of Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 1813-1985 (Dublin: A & A Farmar, 1999, p,271); O’Brien, Eoin. The Beckett Country  (Dublin: Black Cat Press, 1986, pp. 315-342); Moorhead, TG:  A Short History of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital  (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co, 1942, pp 211-214, 223); Coakley, Davis: Medicine in Trinity College Dublin: An Illustrated History  (Dublin: Trinity College Press, 2014, p.252); Parkhill, Trevor (ed): The Castle and the Crown: The History of Royal School Dungannon, 1614-2000 (Belfast: The Universities Press, 2004, p. 41)

Of newspapers and periodicals the following are useful: Irish Times, 29 November 1934, 26 and 29 March 1947, 19 & 22 March 1960; Irish Independent, 8 Feb. 1928 (p 8), 29 Nov. 1934 (p 5), 25 June 1938 (p 13), 17 Jan. 1945 (p 2), 26 March 1947 (p 6), 22 May 1947 (p 2), 23 Oct 1932 (p 4), 30 Oct. 1932 (p 9), 19 March 1960 (p 22); The Times, 21 March 1960 (p 17); British Medical Journal, 16 April 1960 (p 1214)