EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS SERVED IN SERBIA IN CHARGE OF A MEDICAL MISSION AND EARNED THE ORDER OF ST. SAVA, ONE OF SERBIA’S HIGHEST HONOURS
Hunter had been serving in Serbia with the British Military Sanitary Mission and there he developed de-lousing techniques to control typhus. In Serbia he was associated with the use of the ‘Serbian barrel’ for disinfection and the eradication of lice.
William Hunter was born on 1 June 1861 in Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast. He was educated at Ayr Academy, and then studied Medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1883 with M.B., C.M. (1st Class) 1883, and M.D. (Gold Medal) 1886. He served as a house physician at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, and as a Physican to the Western Dispensary, Edinburgh. He had also studied overseas at Leipzig in 1884 with a grant from the British Medical Association, and during the period 1887-1890 he visited Vienna and Strasbourg.
Also during 1887-1890 Hunter worked full time on laboratory research at Cambridge, devoting himself to pernicious anaemia. He was the first person to note that the alimentary and the nervous system were often affected in this disorder. From 1895, Hunter was affiliated with the Charing Cross Hospital and the London Fever Hospital. Earlier, in 1894, he married Beatrice Fielden, daughter of Joshua Fielden MP.
Along with Julius Otto Ludwig Moeller (1819-1887), a German Professor of Medicine and Surgery from Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), he is associated with ‘Hunter’s glossitis’ caused by B12 or folic acid deficiency (‘Moeller-Hunter glossitis’).
St. Sava is most important saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the patron saint of Serbia. The Order of St. Sava was a decoration instituted by the Serbian King, Milan I (1854-1901), in 1883. The Order was established to recognize civilians for meritorious achievements to the Church, to arts and sciences, the royal house and the state. In 1914 a change was made permitting military personnel to receive the honour for military merit. After the ending of the First World War, the Order of St Sava was awarded by the king of then-Yugoslavia until the abolishment of the monarchy in 1945 (Serbia had been a part of the Kingdom then Republic of Yugoslavia between 1918 and the early 1990s).
Five grades of the Order of St. Sava were awarded: Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer and Knight. Other very varied recipients of the Order were Nikola Tesla (electrical engineer, physicist 1856-1943), Peter Norman Nissen (mining engineer, developer of pre-fab’ shelter 1871-1930) and Helen Keller (author, political activist, lecturer 1880-1968).
Hunter’s published work includes: Oral sepsis as a cause of ‘Septic gastritis’, ‘Toxic neuritis’ and other septic conditions (1901); Pernicious anaemia: its pathology, septic origin, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Based upon original investigations (1901); A research into epidemic and epizootic plague (1904); Severest anaemias. Their infective nature, diagnosis and treatment (1909); Historical account of Charing Cross hospital and medical school (University of London): original plan and statutes, rise and progress (1914); and, The Serbian epidemics of typhus and relapsing fever in 1915: Their Origin, Course, and Preventive Measures employed for their Arrest (1920).
William Hunter was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP London 1896) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE).
In 1927 he was awarded an Honorary LL.D. by Edinburgh University, and acknowledging the notification of award in a letter dated 8 June 1927, Hunter offers his ‘most grateful appreciation […] of the great honour’ his alma mater has conferred on him.
The letter goes on: ‘It will be a great pleasure to me to be at the Graduation on July 20th’.
Colonel Sir William Hunter died on 13 January 1937.
Sources used included online medal sites, and: (1) University of Edinburgh. Roll of Honour 1914-1919. p.383, Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1921 (2) Serbia under typhus in 1915. p.219. The British Journal of Nursing. 10 April 1920 (3) Bosiljka M. Lalević-Vasić. History of dermatology and venereology in Serbia – part III/2 ; Dermatovenereology in Serbia from 1881-1918. p.162. Serbian Journal of Dermatology and Venereology 2009 (4), pp.159-165