Lives of the fellows

William Francis Townsend-Coles

b.28 October 1909 d.4 March 1990
MRCS LRCP(1931) MB BS Lond(1935) MD(1947) DCH(1948) MRCP(1949) FRCP(1973)

William Francis Townsend-Coles was a scion of the Coles family who came from Steeple Aston in Oxfordshire. He was born at Ringwood in Hampshire, the eldest of the six sons of William Francis Coles, who had to work in the mines when young to support his widowed mother and sisters and in later life became an evangelistic Plymouth Brother and lay preacher. Francis’ mother, Rosalind Ethel Daisy née Townsend, was the headmistress of a small preparatory school. Early home life was governed by strict religious principles. His mother died when he was 20 years old; all her six sons were devoted to her.

After attending Bancroft School, Francis came to the medical school at The London Hospital to study medicine and took the Conjoint Board qualifications. From 1932-35 he had several house appointments, mainly in medical and paediatric departments. In 1935 he joined the Sudan Medical Service, perhaps in a mixture of missionary spirit and a desire for adventure. There he could pursue his special interests in general medicine and paediatrics, and add to it experience in tropical medicine and social medicine.

In 1946 he became a medical specialist, physician to Omdurman Hospital and lecturer in medicine in the Kitchener School of Medicine. He enjoyed his teaching work. He was appointed physician at the Khartoum Civil Hospital and senior lecturer in medicine to the University of Khartoum. He was a physician of the old school, with interest in good history taking, careful examination and meticulous observation. His interest in tropical diseases and in the diseases of children formed the themes of his publications, such as ‘Poliomyelitis in relation to intramuscular injections of quinine and other drugs.’, Transactions, Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, 47, 77-81. Jan 1953; ‘A report of seven cases of chondro-osteo-dystrophy (Morquio’s disease)’, Archives of Disease in Childhood, 29, 7-11. Feb. 1954; and ‘Gargoylism (Hurler’s syndrome); report of 3 cases’, Archives of Pediatrics, 72, 283-285. Sep. 1955. He acquired great clinical experience on a very extensive material of patients.

During the war, from 1940-46, he was also Bimbashi (lieutenant colonel) in the Sudan Defence Force and saw active service in the Sudan, Eritrea and Abyssinia. After his retirement from the Sudan Medical Service he joined the Treasury Medical Service in 1959 at the age of 50; first as a medical officer, with later promotion to senior and eventually principal medical officer. As medical officer, he served for two years as physician to the British Embassy in Moscow, where he made interesting first hand observations on the habits and attitudes of the Russian people and acquired a fair knowledge of their language.

On his return to Britain, his duties were also mainly centred on the overseas services, first as deputy to V C Medvei, whose second successor he eventually became. In this capacity he had to undertake several tours of inspection to a number of countries overseas, most suitable for a person with his experience.

One younger brother was the much loved paediatrician Handley Montague Townsend Coles [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.100], who was on the consultant staff of the Westminster Children’s Hospital, with sessions on the paediatric cardiology unit of the Westminster Hospital, and elected a Fellow of the College in 1966.

In 1941, William Francis Townsend-Coles married Elizabeth, née Robson, but there were no children of the marriage. He and his wife were both keen gardeners. In later life he also developed a great interest and skill in woodwork, especially marquetry. He was a quiet, withdrawn, private type of man, and like his brother very good at handling children. His wife, sadly, deceased him by several months and he withdrew into a somewhat lonely existence. His final days were spent in Ashhurst Park Nursing Home, which he entered at the end of December 1989 being unable to cater for himself.

A much younger half-sister, from his father’s second marriage, is also in the medical profession.

V C Medvei

(Volume IX, page 526)

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