Roll of Honour

Naval Surgeon

William Barr Stirling

Arctic Star Medal

William (Bill) Barr Stirling was born in Paisley on 8 August 1913, the son of Hugh Stirling, a tobacco manufacturer. He attended school at Glasgow Academy, and first entered the University of Glasgow in 1932, graduating MB ChB on 16 October 1937. He returned to the University and graduated ChM with honours on 7 July 1956. His brother Hugh also attended the University of Glasgow to study Medicine, and graduated MB ChB in 1931.

Memorial chapel at the University of Glasgow
The Memorial Chapel at the University of Glasgow

Stirling was a good student, and passed all of his exams without any resits. He won class prize certificates in Diseases of the Ear in 1936, and in Clinical Medicine and Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 1937. He also won The Burns Medal for Clinical Surgery 1936-37 from Glasgow Royal Infirmary. During his undergraduate degree, Stirling was a member of the Medico Chirurgical Society, and took part in their visit to Hamburg, Berlin and London in March 1936. His ChM thesis, titled Aortography was published in 1957, and is described in his obituary in the College Courant as ‘a classic of his day’.

Stirling served as a fleet surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War II. Prior to the War he had joined the Clyde Division Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve with his brother Hugh, so was a serving Reserve Naval Surgeon at the outbreak of the War. As a result, both brothers were called up immediately on the outbreak of war, served the full duration and remained on the reserve list well after the War.

Stirling was immediately posted to a Tribal Class Destroyer, HMS Matabele, served in the Narvik operations above the Arctic Circle, helping in the 1940 Norwegian Campaign. Being a smaller ship, he would have been the only surgeon (in the rank of Surg Lt) although there would have been sick berth attendants with a basic nursing and first aid training as support.

He was then transferred from Arctic operations to Tricomalee in Ceylon where there was a large Naval Base and Naval Hospital. Shortly after his transfer, Matabele was torpedoed with the loss of all hands. He remained in Ceylon for the duration in the rank of Surg Lt Cdr.

In addition to the usual campaign medals, he was awarded posthumously the Arctic Star Medal which the Ministry of Defence issued recently to survivors and their descendants.

Following the War, Stirling returned to Glasgow and worked as an Urologist in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary until 1977, becoming the Urology Department Chief in 1964. He was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Fellow of the Royal Faculty of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow (now known as the Royal College...) in 1948, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Glasgow in 1962.

Stirling married the conservation campaigner Dr Hannah Stirling MBE (nee Ness) in 1945, and in 1946 they went on an official wartime surgical tour of America, where they met influential figures such as General Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King while attending a function at the White House.

William Barr Stirling passed away in Tarbert on 1st April 1984.