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Walker, Allan Seymour (1887–1958)

by Bryan Gandevia and G. L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Allan Seymour Walker (1887-1958), physician and medical historian, was born on 19 June 1887 at Richmond, New South Wales, son of Thomas Walker and his wife Kate, née McCredie, both native-born schoolteachers. Allan had an outstanding scholastic record, winning a scholarship to Sydney Boys' High School and silver medals for English at the junior and senior public examinations. In 1906 he entered the medical school of the University of Sydney (M.B., 1910; Ch.M., 1911; M.D., 1922), graduating with first-class honours. After two years as a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, he engaged in general practice at Parkes in 1913-20 and served at home from 1915 in the Australian Army Medical Corps (honorary captain 1916). At St John's Anglican Church, Parramatta, he had married Beatrice Mary Phillips on 24 March 1914.

Returning to the university in 1921 for postgraduate work in pathology, next year Walker graduated M.D. with the university medal. He practised at Summer Hill, Sydney, in 1922-27; after further postgraduate experience in England in 1926, he became a consultant physician. At R.P.A.H. he was honorary morbid anatomist (1920-25), assistant physician (1922-33), physician (1933-45) and consulting physician (1945-58). A demonstrator in pathology at the university (1928-38), he lectured in clinical medicine from 1937. He was also consultant physician to St George, Canterbury, Western Suburbs and Parramatta district hospitals, and physician and director of the Queen Victoria Homes for Consumptives. His students found him a sound and sympathetic teacher, with wide and up-to-date knowledge. He also published several papers that reflected his interest in pathology and neurology.

A councillor of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association (1934-39), Walker was invited to join the Association of Physicians of Australasia and was honorary secretary when it became the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938. As its first honorary secretary, he helped to set up an administrative system which formed a model for other professional associations. After his resignation in 1944, he was a council-member until 1956 and vice-president in 1948-50.

Having enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in October 1939, Walker was promoted lieutenant-colonel and appointed senior medical specialist in the 2nd/1st Australian General Hospital. By February 1940 he had established a hospital on the Gaza Ridge in Palestine: he wrote a perceptive account of its activities and vicissitudes in the Medical Journal of Australia (1942). Twice mentioned in dispatches, he returned to Australia in December 1941 and, as consultant physician to land headquarters, Sydney, twice went to New Guinea. He was discharged in June 1944.

Despite his interest in medical journalism, Walker declined appointment as a war historian in 1944 largely because he felt obliged to return to teaching, given the absence of experienced clinicians on war service. Following the death of R. M. Downes in March 1945, Gavin Long persuaded Walker to take over the 'great and important task' of producing the medical series of Australia's involvement in World War II. Formally appointed editor with the pay of colonel (which brought significant financial loss over the years), Walker reversed the pattern of his predecessor A. G. Butler by first producing the volume on Clinical Problems of War (1952). Appreciating the impracticality of involving a range of specialized authors (as Downes had envisaged), Walker wrote this book himself, as well as the succeeding volumes, Middle East and Far East (1953) and The Island Campaigns (1957). He had completed much of the final volume on the medical services of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force when ill health compelled him to resign in 1956. Walker brought to his work a scholarly and literary background, as well as professional and administrative experience. He had travelled extensively to attend all but the first meeting (1946) of the Official Medical Historians' liaison committee and chaired the second in Canberra in 1949.

Sensitive and somewhat self-effacing, Walker loved music, the arts and literature. His volumes are lucidly written, with many an apt turn of phrase; in Long's words he was a 'philosophical scientist-historian, with something very definite to say and a gift of saying it'. An excellent physician, Walker had a strong sense of duty and was motivated by altruism rather than by a wish for self-aggrandizement. On his return from the war, his closest colleagues noticed that he had lost something of his earlier spirit, but his enthusiasm returned with his appointment as medical war-historian. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, Walker died of cerebrovascular disease on 8 January 1958 in R.P.A.H. and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 25 July 1942, 17 May 1958
  • Journal of the Australian War Memorial, 12 Apr 1988
  • Walker file (Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives, Sydney)
  • records, including diaries of G. Long (Australian War Memorial).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bryan Gandevia and G. L. McDonald, 'Walker, Allan Seymour (1887–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-allan-seymour-8952/text15743, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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