Dr John Desmond Burrows

Personal Details

Dr John Desmond Burrows FFARCS MRCS LRCP DA

13/02/1908 to 1991

Place of birth: Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Nationality: British

CRN: 545369

Education and qualifications

General education

Dulwich College 1922, Exhibition to University College,  London
University College (1926) and St Thomas’s Hospital (1928) Medical Schools.

Primary medical qualification(s)

MRCS LRCP,  1932,
Master of Midwifery,  Society of Apothecaries, 1938,
DA 1941.

Initial Fellowship and type

FFARCS by Election

Year of Fellowship


Other qualification(s)



Professional life and career

Postgraduate career

John Desmond Burrows appears to have led an eventful life, intertwined with the story of colonial Rhodesia now known as Zimbabwe. Little information is available about his career apart from his own very minimal self submitted college form. However his 85 year old surviving son, Paul, has kindly provided some useful family information and recollections from “across the pond”.

John was born in Newcastle in 1908 and attended school in Waterford and then Dulwich College before entering medical school at London University College and St. Thomas’s Hospital, graduating in 1932.

Upon graduation he appears to have spent some time as a clinical assistant at  the Whitechapel Clinic and Chelsea Hospital for Women in London, followed by a spell as an emergency anaesthetist at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. His address in the 1935 GMC register has him in Cambridge. From about 1935 to 1940 he worked both as an anaesthetist at the York County Hospital and as a medical practitioner, and was based in York according to  the 1940 GMC register. Whilst in York according to his son he had medical consulting rooms at the family house. He was a member of the York Medical Society.

From 1940 to 1945 he served in the  38th  British General Military Hospital  with the RAMC gaining the rank of Major. He apparently gained valuable anaesthesia and medical experience during his war service whilst in the jungles of Burma with the 14th army. Following demobilisation in 1945 he worked briefly in Newcastle, but decided that post war England was not for him, so he decided to join a university colleague who had set up surgical practice in Salisbury, Rhodesia, where he worked at the General Hospital from 1946 to 1963. He also gained experience as a specialist in Obstetrics and Paediatrics during his time in Rhodesia. According to his self submitted form his next anaesthetic appointment was as a consultant anaesthetist at the Salisbury Group of Hospitals in Rhodesia from 1977 to 1979.

In 1980 the family left Zimbabwe for South Africa due to the ongoing political upheavels of the period.

John commenced an anaesthesia appointment at the Provincial Hospital, Port Shepstone, South Africa 1981-88 where he also was additionally involved with running several rural clinics. He continued to be involved with medicine almost up to the time of his passing.

It is not entirely clear how much he practised anaesthesia and medicine in the intervening periods whilst pursuing his other farming, political and aviation interests in Rhodesia. Further information would be appreciated.

Professional interests and activities

Dr Burrows’ self submitted college form and the information provided by his son provides little further information about any other professional medical interests.  


Other biographical information

John’s father was a schoolmaster in the education branch of the army, and John had an itinerant childhood living in Ireland, Jersey and London. His father apparently was in Salisbury, Rhodesia in 1954 at the time of his death.

His father may have had interests in the country, which possibly partly accounts for John’s emigration to Rhodesia upon leaving the RAMC, to become more involved in farming. The Burrows family had an 82 acre estate with a small hotel near Killybegs in North West Ireland. John married his wife Nancy in 1929 who was a nurse. During his war service,  John’s wife Nancy and his two young sons spent their time here in Ireland.

While in Rhodesia John took up farming and the family lived on a couple of farms near Salisbury. He also had interests in aviation gaining  his private pilots licence, developing and owning a light aircraft sales and leasing company with his son. The company had the dealership for both Mooney and Cessna aircraft for all of Central Africa. John was proud to have passed his “instrument rating” at the age of 67yrs. John also had further property interests developing  three blocks of residential flats.

John also served for a period as a member of the Rhodesian Parliament from 1958 to 1962 under the premiership of Sir Edgar Whitehead.

John’s son Paul provides an interesting vignette which gives insight into his father’s character. Whilst the two boys were attending their boarding school on Friday 13th June 1947 their father materialised unannounced “to take them out to tea”, but instead spirited them away to Rhodesia in an escapade that took twelve days through France, N. Africa, Sudan and Uganda whilst being pursued by an Interpol alert. The parents divorced shortly after this event.

Having moved to South Africa in 1980 John was able to develop and pursue a recreational interest of ocean sailing.

In his eulogy at his father’s funeral at Port Shepstone, son Paul recollects describing John, “my father was the kind of entrepreneurial man that Wilbur Smith writes books about”.  

Summarising his life for the “lives of fellows project” it is abundantly clear that he didn’t follow a traditional career pathway after medical school and led a colourful and interesting life that possibly makes many other college fellows’ careers appear somewhat dull in comparison .

John first married Nancy Dawson, a qualified nurse, in 1929 in London, and they had two sons John and Paul, but divorced in 1948. He secondly married Jessie Jay-Smith Simmons in 1954. John passed away in 1991 at Port Shepstone,  South Africa at the age of 83 years.


Author and sources

Author: Innes Simon Chadwick

Sources and comments:

Information obtained from John’s  self submitted biographical college “Boulton Form” dated 1988. Any further information would be welcome.
GMC Register 1942 - 1959 accessed online at Ancestry.com February 2020
Bibliographic information accessed online at Ancestry.com
Supplement to the London Gazette 11 March 1941 p1142
Additional information provided by son Paul Desmond and niece Stacie via personal email.