Lives of the fellows

Douglas Murray McWhae

b.28 May 1884 d.22 September 1969
CMG(1918) CBE(1919) MB BS Melb(1906) MD(1908) MRCP(1919) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1940)

Douglas Murray McWhae was born in Victoria, Australia. His father was a banker and his maternal grandfather a clergyman of the Church of England.

From Toorak Grammar and Melbourne Grammar Schools he proceeded to the University of Melbourne, where he graduated MB, BS in 1906.

He excelled on both the sporting and academic sides. He played cricket and football for the University and won the long jump at the University sports in 1905. Throughout his life, he indulged in many athletic recreations. He was keen on golf, bowls and swimming. Well into his seventies, he would swim a quarter of a mile a day in the hot mornings.

During his undergraduate days, he obtained first-class honours in every subject, except for second-class in biology, but he made up for this by winning the chemistry award. He was one of the eight resident medical officers at the Melbourne Hospital and obtained his MD in 1908. He then moved to Western Australia and was in general practice at Maylands, intending to specialize in surgery. However, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he went to Egypt with the First Division of the AIF as Captain in the Third Field Ambulance.

In 1915, this unit was posted to Lemnos to cover the landing at Gallipoli. It was much more than a covering manoeuvre, for after weeks of strenuous training, the unit, with troops of the Twelfth Battalion, was packed aboard the destroyer Ribble and landed in row-boats at great risk about 500 yards north of Anzac Cove. McWhae was struck in the head by flying shrapnel. This necessitated the removal of his right eye whilst he was being transported to Alexandria. The disorganized socket was reconstructed with the use of mucous membrane from the mouth by plastic surgeon Cargill of the Fourth London General Hospital. This put an end to all surgical aspirations, and on the advice of Dr (later Sir) Thomas Dunhill, he turned his attention to medicine.

He was appointed SMO in charge of Convalescent Units, promoted to Colonel and later made ADMS of Headquarters of AIF Command Units in the United Kingdom.

In 1919, he obtained his MRCP and returned to Australia as SMO of a transport. On this ship, he carried out his last operation, the removal of a gangrenous appendix. He was discharged from the AIF in March, 1920.

In Perth he was honorary physician to the Perth Hospital and the Children’s Hospital from 1919 to 1949. From 1921 to 1954 he was Chairman of the Visiting Board of the Claremont Mental Hospital and Chairman of the Board of Lemnos Mental Hospital for 36 years.

He was a member of the Medical Board of Western Australia from 1926 to 1960 and a member of the Council of the Medical Defence Association from its inception in 1926 until 1961.

He was a Foundation Fellow of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938 and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1940.

From 1925 to 1941, he was DDMS Western Command. During World War II, he had charge of a field ambulance, a casualty clearing station including an ambulance train, a convalescent depot at Narrogin and camp hospitals at Karrakatta, Point Walter, Rottnest Naval Base and Northam. In 1942, as DDMS, he was raised to the rank of brigadier and made all arrangements for possible casualties from Japanese attacks. He was placed on the retired list in 1943 and returned to a busy specialist physician practice.

Many honours were bestowed on him: Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1915, CMGin 1918, CBE (Military) in 1919, VD after 20 years services in the Army; he was Honorary Physician to the Governor-General from 1935 to 1939 and Honorary Physician to the King from 1941 to 1945.

Of the Western Australian Branch of the British Medical Association, he was President in 1921, and had the honour of being President of the first Australasian Medical Congress to be held in Perth in 1948. He was made a Fellow of the Australian Medical Association in 1968.

In 1919, he married Gwynnyth Muriel, daughter of Dr Hope, Commissioner of Public Health for Western Australia, and had two sons, Douglas (MB, BS, Adelaide) and Ross (BSc, WA, and PhD Cantab). Mrs McWhae was born in Fremantle and educated at Godolphin School, England, and was studying in Dresden at the outbreak of World War I. She was in the last group of English people to leave Germany after the outbreak of hostilities. She carried out VAD work throughout the war. The first time they met was at the initial Anzac Ball at Salisbury in 1919. She was of the greatest assistance to him personally and in a secretarial capacity.

Dougy McWhae, as he was commonly known to us, told me that one of his happiest memories centred around the farewell given to him on retiring from the Board of Visitors of the Claremont Mental Hospital when what he treasured most was a poem written by a lifelong patient which included these lines:
So here’s to good old Doc McWhae, an honest man and true
The best of luck old timer, I dips me lid to you.

This sentiment was endorsed by all of his associates and colleagues.

BC Cohen
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[Med.J.Aust., 13 Dec 1969]

(Volume VI, page 323)

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