Philippe Bauwens was born at Ostend, Belgium, the son of a shipowner, John Bauwens, and his wife Gabrielle, daughter of Emile van Wynendaele, a banker. He came to Britain as a young refugee in the 1914-18 war, studied engineering for a year, and then turned to medicine.
He entered St Thomas’s Hospital in 1918, with the dedicated purpose of applying electrical techniques to medicine, and qualified with the Conjoint diploma in 1924. At the age of 25 he was appointed to the hospital staff as electrotherapist, working on electrotherapy for eye disease and septic conditions and in the new field of electrodiagnosis. During the second world war he served in the Emergency Medical Service at Botleys Park where his experience with peripheral nerve injuries made him one of the pioneers of modern clinical electrodiagnosis, in which he became an international authority.
His inventive brain led to developments in electromyographic apparatus and he conceived, and developed in his workshop, the first ‘bleep’ staff-call system. This was successfully installed at St Thomas’s.
Bauwens was a founder member of the British Association of Physical Medicine and President from 1956-1959. For many years he also acted as Honorary Secretary of the International Federation of Physical Medicine. A Samuel Hyde lecturer and recipient of the Richard Kovacs Prize, he was also honoured in the United States as the first from another nation to be granted a John Coulter memorial lectureship and the Golden Key Award of the American Congress of Physical Medicine. His published work was extensive, many papers dealing with the means and methods of effective electrotherapy. He was especially delighted when he was granted membership of the College, and he was elected a Fellow in 1964.
Philippe Bauwens was a man of powerful personality and strongly held convictions; a meticulous planner who demanded high standards from those with whom he worked. He was also a generous man and a good teacher who retained an interest in those he had trained long after they had become established.
As a young man, Bauwens was involved in ocean racing for many years and sailed with T.O.M.Sopwith. Languages and travel were his hobbies and he visited many countries, continuing to lecture on electrodiagnosis long after his retirement. He never married.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1974, 1, 523; Lancet, 1974, 1, 419; Times, 27 Feb 1974]