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Jeffries, Lewis Wibmer (1884–1971)

by C. M. Gurner

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Lewis Wibmer Jeffries (1884-1971), medical practitioner and soldier, was born on 9 August 1884 at Derby, England, son of William Jeffries, Wesleyan minister, and his wife Mercy, née Wibmer. After his family migrated to Australia he attended schools at Toowoomba, Queensland, and Broken Hill, New South Wales, completing his education at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide (1900-02), and the University of Adelaide (M.B., B.S., 1907). While at university he was awarded a blue for lacrosse and represented South Australia.

After graduation Jeffries assisted Dr Arthur Powell at Kadina, then worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, United States of America, with the great Harvey Cushing, 'doing faithful work, particularly in surgical pathology'. A period at the Children's Hospital, Great Ormond Street, London, was followed by study at Breslau, Germany, then a year in Kashmir at a Church Missionary Society hospital, carrying out any and every form of surgery. In 1912 he resumed at Great Ormond Street until his return to Australia in 1914. At this time the famous surgeon, Lockhart Mummery, wrote of him 'I have been very much impressed by Mr Jeffries' ability … He is tactful, courteous and considerate for his patients, and as a surgical colleague is all that can be desired'.

Jeffries enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps on 2 October 1914, embarking with the 4th Field Ambulance. He was involved in operations in Egypt before and after Gallipoli, where he served from April to December 1915, and was slightly wounded on 9 May. In May 1916, in France, he was appointed medical officer to the 50th Battalion and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for tending the wounded and reorganizing stretcher-bearers in the front line at great personal risk. When only a few bearers were left he carried back wounded under heavy fire. He was promoted major in November, was transferred briefly to the 12th Field Ambulance and from December 1916 to January 1918 was deputy assistant director of medical services, 4th Australian Division. He was then appointed assistant director of medical services at A.I.F. Headquarters, London, where he was responsible for medical arrangements for transport and hospitalization of wounded. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in November 1918, he was twice mentioned in dispatches for his service in France and Belgium and in 1919 was appointed O.B.E. His A.I.F. appointment ended in July 1920.

On his return to South Australia Jeffries joined the Citizen Military Forces, filling several important service appointments. He was placed on the reserve of officers in 1939 and the retired list in 1944, but in 1951 returned to full-time duty as officer commanding a camp hospital during national service. In 1920-32 he was successively in partnership with Dean Dawson, Charles Turner and Charles Yeatman, outstanding Adelaide general practitioners, doing most of his own surgery and delivering up to 200 babies annually, most in homes. He was a senior vice-president of Legacy, active in the St John Ambulance Brigade, and a member of several Adelaide clubs. There is constant evidence throughout of a good doctor, a capable administrator, and a man loved by his patients and respected by his colleagues, medical and military.

In 1933 Jeffries was appointed inspector-general of hospitals in South Australia, a position held until 1947, which also entailed chairmanship of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Board and membership of the State Medical Board and of the faculty of medicine, University of Adelaide. This was probably the most difficult period of his life, divorcing him from direct patient care and including the Depression, wartime and early post-war years with their problems of shortages of doctors, nurses and hospital equipment. He returned to clinical practice, performing relieving work in country areas, including the Woomera and Maralinga Weapon Ranges and for the army, as well as acting as medical officer to the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service until his death.

The biographer remembers him as a big, slow-moving gentleman, with very kind eyes. He was officially a Methodist, but his family say he was an atheist. On 20 December 1917 in St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London, he had married Shirley Frances Singleton, born in South Africa. They had three sons who served in World War II in different services, the eldest, John Singleton Jeffries, being an outstanding army field medical officer.

Lew Jeffries's youngest brother, Shirley Williams, was a South Australian attorney-general and minister for education, and was knighted. The eldest of his three sisters, Elsie, was decorated for her Army nursing service in France. Survived by his sons, Jeffries died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital on 6 October 1971 and his ashes lie in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vol 2 (Canb, 1940)
  • London Gazette, 14 Nov 1916, 2 Jan, 1 June 1917, 3 June 1919
  • L. W. Jeffries personal narrative (A. G. Butler collection, Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

C. M. Gurner, 'Jeffries, Lewis Wibmer (1884–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jeffries-lewis-wibmer-6833/text11827, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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