Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William James Carr (1883–1966)

by Denis Fairfax

This article was published:

William James Carr (1883-1966), naval medical officer, was born on 30 January 1883 at Thornton-in-Craven, Yorkshire, England, son of James Carr, solicitor, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Spencer. He was educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1904; B.C., 1908), and did the clinical training for his medical degree at the London Hospital (L.R.C.P., London; M.R.C.S., England, 1908). He remained at the hospital as a resident medical officer in 1909-10, was medical officer on a tramp-steamer in 1911, and a locum tenens in London and Kent in 1912.

Carr joined the Royal Australian Navy in London on 9 December and was posted to the cruiser H.M.A.S. Melbourne in the rank of surgeon. He remained in the Melbourne until late 1917, seeing war service in the Pacific, North Atlantic, West Indies and the North Sea. His experiences in the West Indies led to a paper on tropical bubo, delivered to the Australasian Medical Congress in 1923. In October 1917 he was transferred to the battle-cruiser H.M.A.S. Australia, then in March 1918 to the cruiser H.M.A.S. Sydney. He was promoted surgeon lieutenant-commander in December and next year, on 5 August, married Leonora Constance Eddington at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, Melbourne. He was medical officer at the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, Australian Capital Territory, from August 1920 to March 1923 and was then appointed to the naval wing of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, Sydney; he was promoted surgeon commander in June 1924. Next year he went on an exchange posting to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar near Portsmouth, England, and on his return in June 1927 joined the hospital staff at Flinders Naval Depot, Victoria.

In December 1932 Carr was appointed director of naval medical services and held this post until his retirement in 1946; he was promoted surgeon captain in December 1934. In World War II his considerable administrative ability was directed to the medical problems of the much enlarged R.A.N. which expanded from 5300 personnel in 1939 to almost 40,000 in 1945. The medical supply system which he developed stood the test of war and his pre-war emphasis on reserve training bore fruit in the numbers of competent doctors who chose to serve in the navy: by 1945 the service had 110 medical officers, most of whom were reservists. Carr oversaw the formation of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service in 1942 and coped well with the additional strains imposed on the medical supply organization by the requirements of the British Pacific Fleet from 1944.

Carr retired on 8 March 1946 as surgeon rear admiral, the first R.A.N. officer to attain this rank. However, it appears that the promotion was more the result of agitation by the Medical Journal of Australia than recognition by the naval board of his pioneering work. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1937 and became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1943. In retirement at Frankston, Victoria, he took an active interest in Liberal Party politics and was a keen follower of many sports. Survived by his wife, a son and two daughters, he died on 16 May 1966 and was cremated after an Anglican service.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Service in the War of 1914-18, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • A. S. Walker, Medical Services of the R.A.N. and R.A.A.F. (Canb, 1961)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 26 Jan 1946, 28 Jan 1967
  • War Cruises of the H.M.A.S. Melbourne and Sydney (privately held)
  • MP 124 551/202/237, MP150 437/201/301, 408, 921, MT574 21/8918, MT1214 448/201/874, 2237 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Denis Fairfax, 'Carr, William James (1883–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Carr, n.d.

William Carr, n.d.

Australian War Memorial, 017726

Life Summary [details]


30 January, 1883
Thornton-in-Craven, Yorkshire, England


16 May, 1966 (aged 83)

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