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Remembered Today:

War work of Sir Frederick Treves


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I am researching my grandfather, John Brockway R/6479, who served in 12/KRRC and leter 16/KRRC - see my Topic in Soldiers.

With lots of help from the Pals here, I'm starting to make some headway, and interest has increased within the wider family, such that new stories about my grandfather's war are starting to reach me!

One of these concerns a surgeon who removed some shrapnel from my GF's head during one of his several trips back to Blighty.

This surgeon's name has reached me as 'Sir Humphrey Trevelyan', but the chief interest in the family legend is in the fact that it was the same surgeon who supported Joseph Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man, in the final years before his death in 1890.

Now a bit of digging shows the main medical man connected with Joseph Merrick was Sir Frederick Treves (1853-1923).

He was a leading surgeon at the London Hospital in Whitechapel (now the Royal London Hospital). In 1898, at the age of 45, he resigned the post of surgeon there to concentrate on private practice.

However I think he continued to be connected with the London Hospital after that date. He seems to have been a man of strong moral purpose, so although he became very prosperous through his private surgical work, it does not seem out of character for him to return to perform surgery on the wounded from the Western Front.

He seems to have retired properly in 1918, moved abroad after a few years and died in 1923.

The London Hospital's website's History pages state:

"1914 The First World War - The Hospital received the first wounded to return from the Western Front during the First World War."

It seems pretty plausible that my grandfather would be treated for surgical removal of shrapnel at the London Hospital and with Sir Frederick Treves as the main surgeon, and 'Sir Humphrey Trevelyan' is a predictable corruption of 'Sir Frederick Treves' after being passed down the family for 80+ years!

Does anyone have any information about handling of surgical cases from the Front in mainstream hospitals back in Britain? Or on the war work of Sir Frederick Treves?

As well as being an interesting 'family legend' :D , there is a serious aim here too: my GF was repatriated several times in the war with wounds and after being gassed. Family legend has it variously at 3-5 return trips! Also, this surgeon may have saved my GF's life!

I'm still trying to find out whether my GF's Service Records exist at Kew, but the odds are against that, so this may be a way of me fixing him in London and tracing back to an Action where he was wounded, maybe via the Battalion War Diaries or the A&D records.

It might also help me narrow down two other unknowns:

  • when he was promoted to Acting Corporal (and presumably L/Cpl before that); and
  • when he transferred from 12/KRRC to 16/KRRC.
I'm hoping Rank and Unit might be recorded in the paper trail.

Could there even be some non-military records still extant on his surgery?

Can any of the experts on the casualty clearing chain / medical side advise on how I could take this forward?



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While surfing onwards from the website in alliekiwi's post Forum sleuths - autopsy reports, Who are these men?, I came across this reference to a book:

*Treves, Sir F (ed). Made in the Trenches.

Composed entirely from articles & sketches contributed by soldiers, edited by Sir Frederick Treves and George Goodchild. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1916 - A contemporary anthology, the profits from which were donated to the “Star and Garter” Endowment Fund in aid of wounded servicemen. The editor was perhaps the most famous surgeon of the day

I'm sure we're all familiar with the Star & Garter home on Richmond Hill, and I found elsewhere that Sir Frederick was given use of a cottage in Richmond Park when he retired in 1918.

I also found a monograph by Frederick Treves from 1900 called The tale of a field hospital; with 14 illustrations from original photographs. New York, Cassell, 1900.

It seems to be about the Boer War.

So it seems like Sir Frederick Treves was definitely close to the troops ... and active in military medicine.

Does anyone know of these books? The anthology sounds very interesting.

Has anyone come across Sir Frederick Treves in a Field Medicine or RAMC context?



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The prophet of doom steps forward... :ph34r:

I've attached a biography of Treves at the end of this post. He had a very close association with the Army Medical Services after during and after the Boer War, and was on the Advisory Board for the Army Medical Services, and also on the Nursing Board of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service from it's formation in 1902, and his opinion was sought on all matters relating to the inspection, running and improvement of military hospitals. During the Great War he was a Consulting Surgeon to the Army, and travelled widely in the UK and abroad. But... in the normal course of events he was not working as a surgeon on a day-to-day basis, although I'm sure he was called in and consulted, particularly if the patients were aristocratic or influential.

The London Hospital, although it would have taken soldiers as patients, was small fry as far as military hospitals went, and as there were literally thousands of military hospitals at home and abroad, I feel just a tad doubtful that you can draw any conclusions about where your grandfather was treated, and by whom. I notice from you other thread that he actually ended the war still in the infantry, and so it seems unlikely that even though wounded, his injuries were of a long-term serious nature. I know all things are possible, but surgery by Treves just seems a bit unlikely.

I feel that without his service record, you won't be able to proceed any further on the medical route - it will all be just guess work, 'what-ifs' and supposition. Very few medical records survive apart from the service records, and only a tiny percentage of Admission and Discharge registers are still at Kew [about 2%] - although that adds up to more than 1200. It's a problem that puts the needle in the haystack to shame. If the service record does survive, then you could possibly get some idea of which medical units treated him, but even then we're left with a massive chance that the records are no longer there.

IMHO only absolute fact is really worth having - there's not a lot of that around in Great War service records of any sort, but there are times when 'nothing' is more worthwhile and honest than myth.


[source - Oxford Dictionary of Biography]

Treves, Sir Frederick, baronet (1853–1923), surgeon and author, was born at 108 Cornhill, Dorchester, Dorset, on 15 February 1853, the youngest son of William Treves (1812–1867), upholsterer, of that town, and his wife, Jane (1814–1892), daughter of John Knight, of Honiton. His father's family had been settled in Dorset for many generations. In 1860 Treves was sent to the school in Dorchester kept by William Barnes, the Dorset poet, where he remained until 1863. He attended Dorchester grammar school for a few months before entering Merchant Taylors' School, in the City of London. Here he spent seven years, and left in 1871 to begin the study of medicine. There is no record of his having shown special ability during his schooldays.

Treves acquired his medical education at the London Hospital, which offered its students ample opportunities for clinical observation. On its staff were men of scientific distinction, such as John Hughlings Jackson and Jonathan Hutchinson, and others, such as Andrew Clark, who were eminently practical. It was particularly the practical aspects of medicine which appealed to Treves. In 1875 he qualified as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons; in the previous year he had become a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. After holding a house surgeonship at the London Hospital, he became in 1876 resident medical officer at the Royal National Hospital for Scrofula (later the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital) at Margate, to which his brother William (Frederick's senior by ten years) was honorary surgeon. Scrofula became the subject of his first research.

Treves became engaged to Anne Elizabeth (1854–1944), youngest daughter of Alfred Samuel Mason, of Dorchester, and went into practice in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. They married in 1877 and had two daughters. Treves continued to study and passed the examinations for the fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1878. In the following year he gave up practice in Derbyshire and returned to the London Hospital in order to fill the post of surgical registrar. Later that year a vacancy occurred on the surgical staff of the hospital; he was appointed assistant surgeon in September 1879, and became full surgeon in 1884, at just thirty-one years of age.

Having obtained a place on the surgical staff of his hospital Treves, like other young surgeons in a similar position, had to find a way of earning a living until he had built up a consulting practice. He therefore became a demonstrator of anatomy in the medical school attached to the London Hospital. His reputation as a demonstrator soon spread beyond the walls of the hospital; his clear, incisive style, his power of description, his racy humour, and the applicability of his teaching brought crowds of students to his daily demonstrations. His success as a writer, both of medical treatises and of books on travel, can be traced to his experience as a demonstrator of anatomy. In addition to lecturing in anatomy and surgery, Treves was diligent in the wards of the hospital. He built up a reputation as a leading surgeon, and his consulting room at no. 6 Wimpole Street became one of the best-known in England.

During this period Treves also produced a succession of successful textbooks. In 1883 he published Surgical Applied Anatomy; he edited A Manual of Surgery (3 vols., 1886) and wrote A Manual of Operative Surgery (1891), The Student's Handbook of Surgical Operations (1892), and A System of Surgery (2 vols., 1895). All these books are characterized by a lively, clear style and many practical observations.

In quite another category are the books which brought Treves fame as an investigator. His early experience with his brother at Margate led him to join in the search into the nature of the condition then known as scrofula. In 1882 he published the results of his research in a book entitled Scrofula and its Gland Diseases; ironically in the same year Robert Koch demonstrated that the disorder, which had so greatly puzzled Treves and all previous investigators, was due to the action of a bacillus.

Treves began his surgical career at a time when abdominal surgery was advancing rapidly, and it became Treves's special field of interest. In 1883 the Royal College of Surgeons, of which he was one of the Hunterian professors of anatomy in 1885 and Erasmus Wilson lecturer in pathology in 1881, awarded him the Jacksonian prize for a dissertation on The Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment of Obstruction of the Intestine (1884). In 1885 his Hunterian lectures, on the anatomy of the intestinal canal and peritoneum, appeared as a book which, anatomists agreed, contained his best original work.

When Treves began the study of medicine the condition known as perityphlitis was still obscure. In 1886 R. H. Fitz, of Boston, Massachusetts, published a large series showing that it was not the caecum but its appendix which was the site of the disease; hence he named the condition appendicitis. Treves operated on his first case of perityphlitis (he at first rejected the name appendicitis) in 1887; by 1890 he, too, was convinced that it was the appendix and not the caecum that was the site of the disease. Treves advocated the operative treatment of appendicitis, though he favoured delaying surgery until a quiescent interval had been reached.

So extensive did Treves's private practice become that he retired from the active staff of the London Hospital in 1898 at the age of forty-five. In 1899, on the outbreak of war in South Africa, he volunteered to serve as consulting surgeon to the forces then in the field. On his return to England, he was appointed surgeon-extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1900; he was made CB and created KCVO in 1901.

In the summer of 1902 Treves's fame became suddenly worldwide. On 24 June, two days before the date fixed for his coronation, Edward VII became acutely ill. His condition was diagnosed as perityphlitis. Treves had been called in by the physicians in attendance. After consultation with Lord Lister and Thomas Smith, he operated to drain the abscess. The king made a good recovery and was crowned on 9 August. Treves was created a baronet in the same year.

In 1900 Treves published an account of his experiences of the South African War, under the title Tale of a Field Hospital. Thereafter he applied to the description of countries and peoples the qualities which had made him famous as a teacher of anatomy and of surgery. The other Side of the Lantern (1905) is based on a tour round the world; Highways and Byways of Dorset (1906) is a guide to his native county; a voyage to the West Indies gave him the materials for The Cradle of the Deep (1908); Uganda for a Holiday (1910) has a self-explanatory title. His impressions of Palestine are vividly reproduced in The Land that is Desolate (1912). Treves visited Italy in order to work out the topography of Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book, to provide the basis for The Country of ‘The Ring and the Book’ (1913).

After the First World War during which he served at the War Office as president of the headquarters' medical board, Treves chose to live abroad, first in the south of France and afterwards at Vevey on the shores of the Lake of Geneva. His experiences and impressions of these years are published in The Riviera of the Corniche Road (1921) and The Lake of Geneva (1922). In his last book, entitled The Elephant Man and other Reminiscences (1923), he first informed the public about the case of Joseph Merrick.

Treves died at the Clinique de Rosemont in Lausanne, on 7 December 1923, after a few days' illness. His ashes were buried on 2 January 1924 in Dorchester cemetery, his friend Thomas Hardy being present at the ceremony. He was survived by his wife and a daughter. The baronetcy became extinct on his death.

Many honours were conferred upon Treves in addition to those already mentioned. He was appointed sergeant-surgeon to Edward VII (1902) and to George V (1910), and created GCVO (1905). He received honorary degrees from several universities, and was elected rector of Aberdeen University (1905–8). Among many organizations which benefited from his influence were the Boys' Brigade, the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, the British Red Cross Society, and the Star and Garter Home. Treves loved the sea, holding a master's certificate. He was a strong swimmer and fond of bicycling. He avoided social entertainments, preferring to be in bed by ten o'clock so as to be fresh for work at six in the morning. His early morning hours he devoted to study and correspondence.

A. Keith, rev. D. D. Gibbs


S. Trombley, Sir Frederick Treves the extraordinary Edwardian (1989) · D. D. Gibbs, ‘Sir Frederick Treves, surgeon, author and medical historian’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 85 (1992), 565–9 · V. G. Plarr, Plarr's Lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, rev. D'A. Power, 2 vols. (1930), 430–36 · N. Fowler, ‘The man with the knife’, Just as it happened (1950), 109–26 · R. S. Stevenson, ‘Appendicitis and King Edward VII’, Famous illnesses in history (1962), 32–43 · T. P. O'Connor, ‘Sir Frederick Treves, a great surgeon’, Daily Telegraph (10 Dec 1923) · The Times (10 Dec 1923) · BMJ (15 Dec 1923), 1185–9 · F. Chalfont, ‘Fellow-townsmen, Thomas Hardy and Sir Frederick Treves’, The Thomas Hardy Journal, 6 (1990), 62–78 · ‘Passages from the notebooks of Sir Frederick Treves’, Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 28 (1961), 384–8; 29 (1961), 265–8 · J. J. Howard and F. A. Crisp, eds., Visitation of England and Wales, 21 vols. (privately printed, London, 1893–1921), vol. 13, p. 176 · The Times (12 Jan 1944) [obit. of Lady Treves] · d. cert.

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This is fantastic information - many thanks!

I completely agree that a worthwhile reconstruction of my grandfather's experiences can only be built on a foundation of corroborated fact, and it is the nature of research, that a lot of our efforts are actually spent closing down interesting and romantic leads, which we'd secretly rather keep open! :blink:

From your information the following seems clear:

  • Treves performed surgery on exceptional cases only
  • cases of major trauma likely to have involved Treves would not have been returned to Front Line duties
  • in his very senior capacity, Treves probably visited a large number of establishments, both civilian and military
  • Treves was not exclusively connected with the London Hospital

Applying that to my GF's case suggests that although my GF seems to have met Treves, Treves is very unlikely to have operated on him.

I remember him as having some disfiguration in his skull and mandible, but it was very mild, and probably exaggerated by his age - I knew him in his 70's and 80's. Also as you point out, if his surgical problems had been very serious, it is unlikely he would have been returned to active combat duty in an infantry battalion.

I suspect the family legend is more likely to be based either on some contact by my GF with Treves where Treves was called in to give some expert guidance on a difficult surgical procedure to a less exalted surgeon - the jaw, neck and throat are quite complex structures - or else maybe the sort of morale-raising contact Treves must have had with convalescing troops in order to assemble the anthology described above.

We're back in speculation though again, aren't we?!

Certainly, although fascinating, this is not an anecdote that helps me pin down any good hard facts about my grandfather.

Without more specific data on my grandfather from other routes, this is not going to be a rich seam, I fear <_<

Have you come across the Made in the Trenches anthology yourself?

Treves seems to have had a bit of a literary bent on top of his skills as a surgeon, so I'd be interested to hear whether the book's worth tracking down.

Thanks again for your v. helpful post. I think Treves has earnt his place on the Forum :)



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From the CEF Study Group ... here is the current section listings under Medical. Borden Battery

General Medical Websites - Part 14

Note: CEF Study Group member websites denoted with asterisk "*"


War Story of the Canadian Army Medical Corps

This is a very comprehensive "on-line" book on the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the Great War. This on-line book of some 300 pages [with text, figures and footnotes] includes the following chapters an Introduction, Rise of the CAMC, Assembly at Valcartier, Salisbury Plain, With the BEF in France, Second Battle of Ypres (Gas), Festubert, Givenchy, Plugstreet, Establishment of Hospitals in France, Stationary Hospitals and Other Medical Units. [Recommendation by marc leroux / www.canadianGreatWarProject.com][CEF Study Group - Jan 2006]


Hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations – BEF

The website includes eighteen direct photostats of documents, dated 13th. July 1923 which were sent from the Ministry of Pensions to the British Red Cross Society Records Office. Theses typed pages give the names of the locations, in alphabetical order, dates and positions of the various Hospitals or Casualty Clearing Stations on the Western Front for the British Expeditionary Force. The names of these medical units are as follows: Bac-Du-Sud-La to Boisleux-au-Mont, Bonn to Bussy - Le- Chateau. Calais to Chocques. Clerques to Don, Duai to Etaples, Etaples to Gezaincourt, Gezaincourt to Hazebrouk, Hazebrouk to Le Quesnoy, Le Touquet to Lozinghem, Mallasise to Moulle, Namps to Paris Plage, Pernes to Recmenil Farm, Remy to Roziere, Rouitz to Sweveghem,Tincourt to Versailles. This material may be of use to researchers trying to verify hospital and CCS locations. [CEF Study Group – Updated Aug 2006]


Nursing Sister Helen L. Fowlds - A Canadian Nurse in World War I

This Trent University website contains the following: #1 Canadian Stationary Hospital - Information about this Hospital (contains maps and image), 53 of Helen's Letters, 16 Assorted Photographs and Images (Lemnos, Le Treport, a typical Hospital Ward, lunch by Pyramids etc.) and three of Helen's Diaries with extra photographs. [Recommendation by Nelson][CEF Study Group - Jan 2006]


The Call to Duty - Canada's Nursing Sisters

This Library and Archives Canada exhibition tells the story of six women who served as nursing sisters during the First World War. "Active Duty" presents the personal diaries, letters and photographs of these women. "Caregiving on the Front" provides a history of nursing sisters during the First World War. Specific sections of the website include: Introduction, The Canadian Army Nursing Corps: Brief History of the Military Nursing Service, The Canadian Army Nurses: Who Were They, Enlistment, The Work of Military Nurses: Living Conditions, Working Conditions, Professional Relations and Social Life and Conclusion [Recommendation by Nelson][CEF Study Group - Jan 2006]


Royal Victoria Hospital – List of Nursing Sisters in Great War

[CEF Study Group]


The Gillies Archives at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup

The Queen's Hospital, Sidcup performed plastic surgery of the face between 1917 and 1925, and today's Queen Mary's Hospital possesses a unique collection of over 2500 case files relating to that era. The pages that follow show details of the collection; in addition there is background information about the present-day hospital and the Postgraduate Centre as well as the medical bibliography of the Great War and some useful links to sites about the war, plastic surgery and rheumatology. [CEF Study Group - Mar 2006]


Kent 1914 - 1919 - Hospitals (Military, VAD, Civil, Special and Private)

This website provides an alphabetical list of over 100 communities in Kent with between 1 and about 25 hospitals down to private homes which were used as part of a medical treatment system during the Great War. The hospitals in Kent were a great mixture of general and specialist main and auxiliary military establishments, VAD hospitals, small convalescent units (sometimes in private houses) and others. There were numerous private initiatives, especially early in the War – some of the more formal examples are the Army Nursing Homes at Folkestone, one Sittingbourne VAD which withdrew from Kent VAD and continued privately, and the Yarrow Home at Broadstairs which was organized and staffed by the Committee of Management for a time. [Recommendation by Chris Bostwick][CEF Study Group - May 2006]


Ada's War – Salvation Army

This simple website is about Ada Le Poidevin, a young Guernsey Salvationist and her work in England, France and Belgium during and after the Great War. This project website has broadened to investigate the work of Salvation Army women in Northern France. [CEF Study Group - August 2006]


Typhus Fever of the Eastern Front in World War I

David W. Tschanz, MSPH, PhD

This short technical paper outlines the background and implications of the common body louse Pediculus humanus (not the head louse) and the associated virus called Rickettsia prowazeki and the impact of typhus fever on the Eastern Front; specifically in the region involving Serbia. [CEF Study Group - August 2006]


Military Medicine on the Western Front

Dr Eric Webb MB Bchir - 31st October 2001

This short summary of military medicine on the Western Front provides a quick read on the topic. This account takes as its chief source Medical Services - Casualties & Medical Statistics, the final volume of the Official Medical History of the War, originally published in 1931 and reprinted by The Imperial War Museum [iSBN: 1 870423 23 8]. [CEF Study Group - August 2006]


The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster. [CEF Study Group - August 2006]


Military Memoirs of Captain Dark, MC

Dr Eric Payten Dark, 1889 - 1987, was born in Mittagong, New South Wales and qualified as a medical practitioner at Sydney University in 1914, qualifying a year early because of the war. He was among the first hundred Australian doctors who sailed to England to join the RAMC. The following account of his experiences in Flanders, the Somme and Passchendaele was written in the 1970s when Dr Dark was in his eightieth decade and have been published here by kind permission of his son, Mr. John Oliver Dark, who holds the copyright. A copy of the original document is in the Dark Papers, MLMSS 5049 item 1, Box 1(1) held at the Manuscript Section, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and gratitude is expressed to the Mitchell Library for making this material available. [World War I Document Archive][CEF Study Group - January 2007]


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Borden Battery,

Great links: thanks very much - Cheers, Mark

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Have you come across the Made in the Trenches anthology yourself?

Treves seems to have had a bit of a literary bent on top of his skills as a surgeon, so I'd be interested to hear whether the book's worth tracking down.

I've just noticed another Topic - Made in the Trenches, edited by Sir Frederick Treves Bt - which gives a bit more info on this anthology. and, in case I can't get the link to work <_< , it's in the Document repository section of the Documents, photos, art Forum.



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I've never seen that particular compilation, although I have a lot of copies of the 3rd London Gazette, so can imagine what sort of thing it contains. And having a browse around, apart from editing Made in the Trenches Treves was certainly a prolific writer [apart from the 'to be expected' surgical textbooks] and seems to have specialised in travel books. A multi-faceted man. Many of his books are available on AbeBooks and similar, at reasonable prices.


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