Lives of the fellows

Leonard Jan Bruce-Chwatt

b.9 June 1907 d.18 May 1989
CMG(1976) OBE(1953) MD Warsaw(1930) DTM&H(1942) MPH Harvard(1951) *FRCP(1974) FIBiol(1974) Kt St John

Leonard Chwatt was born in Lodz, Poland, (then under Russian rule) and was educated first in St Petersburg, Russia, and later in Warsaw where he obtained his degree in medicine. He came from a talented family - his father, Michael, was a general medical practitioner; his maternal grandfather - Alexandre Marquitant - was French and a theatrical director, and an uncle was an artist. He had one brother, Sasha, who was a surgeon; he was murdered at Katyn with the other Polish officers.

Leonard qualified in medicine with distinction in 1930 and spent two years as RMO in the Polish Army. He took a postgraduate degree in microbiology and serology in Warsaw in 1933 and then went to France for two years, obtained a diploma in colonial medicine and worked at the Institut Pasteur and the Hôpital Saint-Louis.

He returned to Poland, but in 1938 he went again to France with the intention of specializing in tropical pathology. Caught there by the war, he became one of the first officers in the Polish Army in France, was wounded in action and mentioned in despatches. He was later captured but managed to escape from a POW camp and was brought by the Royal Navy to England.

One of Leonard’s first contacts in England was the distinguished protozoologist, Cecil Hoare, who was born in Russia, had spent his early school days in St Petersburg, and had kept in touch with scientists in Eastern Europe. Leonard arrived at the Wellcome Institute in Euston Road, a small neat figure in spotless army uniform, clicked his heels and saluted. Hoare was amused because ‘chwatt’ or ‘khvat’ is translated ‘a plucky, smart, dashing fellow’ - and so he was, all his life, and he retained a charming, slightly formal, courteous attitude in all his relationships.

Leonard remained with the Polish forces until 1942, during which time he obtained the DTM&H and the Duncan medal at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and was then transferred to the RAMC and sent to No 7 Malaria Field Laboratory under lieutenant colonel Alan Gilroy. He was promoted major in 1944, was demobilized in 1946, and went to Nigeria as medical entomologist. In 1948 he became a British subject, married Joan Margaret Bruce and added her name to his own.

From 1949-58 he organized and managed the Federal Malaria Service in Nigeria, carrying out beautifully planned and controlled trials such as the attempt to eradicate malaria in Ilaro.

His ability and enthusiasm were recognized internationally and in 1958 he joined WHO in Geneva, becoming chief of research and technical intelligence in the division of malaria eradication. He organized countless meetings all over the world, with characteristic flair and energy.

Bruce-Chwatt resigned from WHO in 1967, joined the staff of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and succeeded George Macdonald [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.306] as professor of tropical hygiene and director of the Ross Institute. He maintained close connections with WHO, acting as adviser and organizing conferences. His services were recognized by the award of many medals, distinctions and lectureships; among them the Darling medal and prize of WHO, and the Macdonald medal and Manson Oration of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, of which he was vice-president. The medal he prized most was the North Persian Forces Memorial Medal, awarded by fellow officers for the best contribution to tropical medicine in 1951. He was honoured by the award of the OBE and CMG.

When he retired from his professorship in 1974, Anthony Duggan gave him a desk and a niche in the Wellcome Museum of Medical Science in Euston Road and Leonard continued to work - sometimes harder than ever - at his books, papers, lectures and conferences. He made an immense contribution to the Museum itself, revising and extending the displays.

A serious abdominal operation, that would have finished most of us, made him only the more determined to work on. He struggled desperately to finish a book on the history of quinine until he could no longer write. His encyclopaedic knowledge of every aspect of malaria from personal, practical experience, was available to all and many came to get his advice. Nothing, and no one, was too much trouble and he was especially keen to help young people who wished to work overseas. He had a deep cultural knowledge, wide interests, and a rapid and ready wit, displayed even in his most serious and learned lectures.

At all times he received essential support from Joan; he had a very happy family life and relaxed with music, history and walking. They had two sons, both doctors; Andrew is a consulting plastic surgeon at the teaching hospital of Stellenbosch University, Capetown, and Robert is a ship’s surgeon with the P&O line.

L G Goodwin

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

[Brit.med.J., 1989,298,1576; The Lancet,1989,1,1401; Times, 20 May 1989; Brit.med.J., 1987,295,860;1965,29l,59]

(Volume IX, page 60)

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