John Rawlings Rees

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For other people named John Rees, see John Rees (disambiguation).

John Rawlings Rees OBE MD RAMC (also known as 'Jack') (25 June 1890 – 11 April 1969) was a civilian and military psychiatrist.

Born in Leicester and educated at Bradford Grammar School, he was one of the key figures at the original Tavistock Clinic (later established as the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology) and became its medical director from 1934. The clinic specialised in the new 'dynamic psychologies' of Sigmund Freud and his followers, and in particular the Object relations theory of Ronald Fairbairn and others. Recruited to the British Army during the Second World War, he became an army brigadier. According to Eric Trist, another key member of the original Tavistock group:

In 1941 a group of psychiatrists at the Tavistock Clinic saw that the right questions were asked in Parliament in order to secure the means to try new measures. As a result they were asked to join the Directorate of Army Psychiatry, and did so as a group.[1]

After the war the members of the group went on to found the Tavistock Institute, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Later, many of them occupied posts in international health organisations,[1] with Rees himself becoming first President and Director of the World Federation for Mental Health, which he founded, now a non-governmental organisation with formal consultative status at the United Nations.[2]

The Rudolf Hess affair[edit]

Together with Henry Dicks, a fellow member of the Tavistock Clinic group, Rees was charged with the care of Hitler's Deputy Rudolf Hess at the secret prison locations where he was held following his capture after landing in Scotland.[3] Over the four-year period from June 1941 to Hess' appearance at the Nuremberg trial, Rees apparently established a relationship with Hess: Hess' diaries record many meetings with Rees, referred to at this time as Colonel Rees, in which Hess accused his captors of attempting to poison, drug, and 'mesmerise' him.[4] In 1945 Rees was a member of the three-man British panel (with Churchill's personal physician Lord Moran, and eminent neurologist Dr George Riddoch) which assessed Hess's capability to stand trial for war crimes.[5]

Operation Phoenix[edit]

After the war Rees and five others formed the Interim Planning Committee (IPC, 'Operation Phoenix'), chaired by Wilfred Bion, meeting twice a week to formulate a new way forward for their work at the Tavistock, based on war-time experience.[1]

President of World Federation for Mental Health[edit]

Also fter the war, Rees became first president of the World Federation for Mental Health.[1] There is an annual Rees lecture in memory of Rees' wife, Mary Rees Hemingway, "among the first staff members at the Tavistock Clinic when it was founded in 1920" and "one of the founders of the WFMH" with her husband.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Eric Trist and Hugh Murray, The Foundation and Development of the Tavistock Institute to 1989, Tavistock Institute
  2. ^ World Federation for Mental Health
  3. ^ Daniel Pick, The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess, and the Analysts, 2012
  4. ^ Irving, Hess, the missing years
  5. ^ Pick, p.158. Although the trial proceedings refer to a T Rees, they also refer to "the English psychiatrist, Doctor Rees, who had Hess under observation from the first days of his flight to England". It seems certain that this English psychiatrist was John Rawlings Rees, though a T Rees may also have been present at the Nuremberg trials.
  6. ^ Newsletter 2005

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • The Social Engagement of Social Science: a Tavistock Anthology Vol 1 (1990), E. L. Trist, Free Association Books, ISBN 0-8122-8192-6
  • Fifty Years of the Tavistock Clinic, Henry V Dicks (1970), Routledge, ISBN 0-7100-6846-8
  • The Shaping of Psychiatry by War (New York: Norton, 1945)
  • The Case of Rudolf Hess; A Problem in diagnosis and forensic psychiatry (1948), by John R. Rees, Henry Victor Dicks
  • Hess, the Missing Years, 1987, by David Irving, Macmillan Press (many references indexed to Rees) ISBN 0-333-45179-1.

External links[edit]