Lives of the fellows

William Herbert Hargreaves

b.5 August 1908 d.2 April 1994
CB(1965) OBE( 1945) MRCS LRCP(1931) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1950) MRCP Edin(1963) FRCP Edin(1965)

Bill Hargreaves was consulting physician to the British Army. He was born in London, the son of Arthur William Hargreaves, a civil servant. His mother, Louisa Mary (née Long), was the daughter of an architect. Bill was educated at Merchant Taylors School and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. An accomplished musician, he had early ambitions to become a professional concert pianist but his father persuaded him to study medicine instead. He became a brilliant diagnostic physician specializing in tropical medicine, being noted for medical research and as a medical author.

He joined the RAMC soon after qualifying and his early specialist training was at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich, and the Royal Army Medical College, Millbank. He was an outstanding student who passed with distinction, gained several prizes and was graded as a specialist in medicine. Posted to India in 1935, he became ill after a few months and was invalided home. After recovery he was fortunately posted to the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, where he came under the influence of William MacArthur, later Sir William [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.249] and H B F Dixon [Munk's Roll, Vol.V,p.103] and assisted them in their pioneering research into cysticercosis, demonstrating that epilepsy occurring in British soldiers who had served in India was caused by eating poorly cooked ‘measly’ pork infected with the tapeworm T Solium. In 1944 Dixon and Hargreaves published a monumental work on the tracing and follow-up of all the cases which had occurred in the British Army up to that time.

With the advent of war in 1939 he was in Palestine at the Military Hospital in Haifa, where one of his patients was a certain major general, B L Montgomery. He returned to the UK in 1941 and, because of his reputation in tropical medicine, he became officer in charge of the medical division at Shenley, the wartime site of Queen Alexandra Military Hospital Millbank to which most patients evacuated from overseas were sent. From 1946 to 1948, Bill Hargreaves was medical liaison officer with the British Army staff in Washington DC and with the surgeon-general of the US Army. His expertise and high standing with the Americans enabled him to obtain and select early information about medical advances and important research, to be shared with the British Army.

From 1948 to 1951 he was back at Millbank, where he developed his friendship with his neighbour, Sir John Rothenstein, then director of the Tate Gallery. Asked by a colleague to look at an old oil painting, blackened by years of soot and smoke from hanging over a fireplace, Bill carefully cleaned one corner - where he found the inscription ‘Wm Hogarth pinxit’ - then cleaned the rest. Rothenstein confirmed this as a recorded Hogarth ‘missing for over a century. It was later exhibited at the Tate for many years.

In 1951, selected for secondment to the Foreign Office, he was sent out to Iraq as professor of medicine at Baghdad University. There he was recognized as a skilled clinical teacher and diagnostician. He was so highly respected by the medical faculty that he was appointed physician to King Faisal II and to the Prime Minister, Nuri-es-Said, and also consulting physician to the Iraq Army. Bill became the young King’s fine art adviser and taught him about the old masters. This enabled the King to make wise purchases for the Royal collection and in return the King presented Bill with a painting, which he knew Hargreaves liked but which was beyond his pocket. Sadly, their friendship ended when both the King and Nuri were brutally murdered in the military coup of 1958. Fortunately, when this tragedy occurred Hargreaves and his family were on leave in England. Later, when asked by the Foreign Office to return, he bravely agreed to do so despite his known friendship with Kassim’s enemies. He went alone, without his family, and was treated with respect and courtesy by the revolutionary regime during the rest of his stay in the country. This action and his bravery were much admired by his colleagues back in Britain.

His last appointment in the British Army was as consulting physician, with the rank of major general. On retirement he gave notable service to the Shell Oil Company, as its chief medical officer, from 1965 to 1975, where his knowledge and experience of medicine world-wide - and especially of the Middle East - were most valuable. He also gave time to many medical institutions, including the teaching of tropical medicine in several London medical schools, as visiting physician to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and to the Order of St John’s Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem. He wrote several articles for medical journals and contributed to a number of textbooks. His best known work is The practice of tropical medicine, with his co-author R J G Morrison (London, Staples Press, 1965).

Bill married Pamela Mary Westray, daughter of a shipping agent, in 1946 and they had two children. The children emigrated to Australia and, on his final retirement, Bill and his wife followed them.

Sir James Baird

[The Times, 9 Apr 1994]

(Volume X, page 195)

<< Back to List