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Biographical entry Downes, Rupert (1885 - 1945)


10 February 1885
Mitcham, Victoria, Australia
5 March 1945
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Army officer and Surgeon


Rupert Downes was a surgeon best known for his significant and innovative contributions to the medical services of the Australian Army from 1914 to 1945. In the Middle East during WWI, he pursued rigorous programs to secure an adequate supply of potable water; to combat the incidence of epidemic diseases; and to overcome the lack of logistic support for the evacuation of the wounded. On becoming Director General of Medical Services for the Australian Army in 1934, Downes was primarily concerned with increasing the recruitment of medical practitioners; creating stockpiles of drugs and medical equipment against the advent of another world war, and the construction of major military hospitals in the State capitals. In his civilian career Downes established a reputation as one of Melbourne's leading paediatric surgeons. He was honorary consulting surgeon at several of Melbourne's leading hospitals. Downes devoted much time to both the Australian Red Cross and the St John Ambulance Brigade, for both of which he served as President or Chairman of the national committees. Downes published on medical aspects of the Sinai and Palestine campaign of WWI and was involved in the publication of the medical volumes of the official history of WWII.



Education - MB ChB, University of Melbourne
Career position - Resident Medical Officer Melbourne Hospital
1908 - 1945
Career position - Served with the Australian Army Medical Corps
1909 - ?
Career position - In general practice, Malvern, Victoria
Education - MD, University of Melbourne
Education - MS, University of Melbourne
1916 - 1917
Career position - Assistant Director of Medical Services, ANZAC Mounted Division
1916 - 1918
Career position - Assistant Director of Medical Services, Australian Imperial Forces, Egypt
1917 - 1918
Career position - Deputy Director of Medical Services, Desert Mounted Corps
Award - Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG
Career position - Founding Fellow, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
1927 - 1931
Career position - Honorary Surgeon to the Governor General
Award - Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (CStJ)
1934 - 1940
Career position - Director General of Medical Services, Australian Army
Career position - President, Victorian Branch, British Medical Association
Award - Knight of Grace of the Venerable Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (KStJ)
1937 - 1938
Career position - Chairman, Victorian Civil Ambulance Service
1940 - 1942
Career position - Inspector General of Medical Services, Australian Army
1942 - 1944
Career position - Director of Medical Services, Second Army

Related Corporate Bodies

Published resources


  • Howie-Willis, Ian, Surgeon and General: a life of Major-General Rupert Downes 1885 - 1945 (Loftus, N.S.W.: Australian Military History Publications, 2008), 400 pp. Details

Book Sections

Journal Articles

  • McLeod, Jan, 'The house that Jack built: DGMS Rupert Downes and Australian Army medical preparations for World War II', Health and History, 19 (1) (2017), 80-101. Details


Helen Cohn