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Biographical entry Aylett, Stanley Osborn (1911 - 2003)

MBE 1945; MRCS 1935; FRCS 1936; BSc London 1932; MB BS 1935; LRCP 1935.

8 July 1911
London, UK
7 January 2003
Bowel surgeon


Stanley Aylett was a distinguished bowel surgeon. He was born in Islington, north London, on 8 July 1911, the youngest son of Arthur John Aylett, a building contractor of the firm John Aylett and son, founded by Stanley's grandfather in the 1850s. His mother was Hannah Josephine née Henman. He was educated at Highgate School and won an open scholarship to read medicine at King's College Hospital, where he obtained a BSc in physiology with first class honours and qualified with honours in medicine. He captained the United Hospitals Rugby Football XV.

He completed junior posts at St Giles' and King's College Hospital, and spent a year as a ship's doctor with the Blue Funnel Line, before becoming a resident surgical officer at East Ham and Gordon Hospitals. In 1939, he was a surgical registrar at King's and a clinical assistant at St Peter's Hospital, and then a senior registrar at King's.

He resigned his post at the outbreak of the second world war, in order to join the RAMC. He and his anaesthetist joined a surgical team in France, at first in a general hospital and later in a casualty clearing station at Lille. During the retreat, he set up operating posts at several locations until he reached de Panne, close to Dunkirk. When ordered to leave on 29 May, he and his companions commandeered a beached pleasure launch, dragged it into the sea, loaded it with their wounded and set off. The leaking vessel soon began to sink, but Aylett and some 20 men were rescued by a destroyer, HMS Havant. After arriving in England, he was sent to Dover to set up a small hospital in the Citadel in anticipation of a German invasion.

In 1941, he sailed to the Middle East, to a posting at Alexandria, and then requested a move to forward surgical units, into the Western Desert and Tobruk just as the Axis forces were recapturing it Aylett's was the last surgical unit to escape.

In January 1944, he was back in Cambridge, to train and command a field surgical unit, with which he sailed on D-day and accompanied the forces into Germany. In May 1945, he was sent into Sanbostel concentration camp, as a part of the first RAMC unit to reach the camp. His repeated requests for a hospital were turned down, until Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks appeared and at once agreed. Aylett was awarded the French Croix d'honneur for his work in the camp.

Later he was sent to Copenhagen to help in the evacuation of German wounded from their hospitals in Denmark. In August 1945 he was posted to Hanover as officer in charge of a surgical division of a general hospital with the acting rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In November 1945 he was demobilised.

After the war, he was briefly a surgeon in the Emergency Medical Service in the King's College sector and then a surgical registrar at the Royal Marsden Hospital. At the start of the NHS, he was appointed consultant surgeon to the Gordon, Metropolitan and Potter's Bar Hospitals and consulting surgeon to the Manor House Trade Union Hospital in Hampstead.

He developed a special interest in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, or colitis. At that time, the standard treatment was removal of the diseased bowel and a permanent stoma. Aylett pioneered a more conservative resection, allowing the retention of lower-most bowel, avoiding a stoma. The surgical establishment condemned his approach, with surgeons voicing concern that the patient would have intractable diarrhoea and would risk developing cancer in the retained bowel. However, Aylett soon showed good results and demonstrated that the risk of cancer could be overcome by careful follow-up. His approach, ileo-rectal enastomosis, became a standard treatment.

Aylett gained many honours. He was Hunterian Professor at the College and in 1974 was made a member of the Académie de Chirurgie Française. He was President of the section for coloproctology at the Royal Society of Medicine, President of the Chelsea Clinical Society, and an honorary member of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

He published extensively and wrote a textbook on colonic surgery, Surgery of the caecum and colon (Edinburgh and London, E & S Livingstone, 1954), as well as an autobiography based on his war diaries called Surgeon at war (Bognor Regis, New Horizon, c.1979). Among his hobbies were French history, gardening and cooking. In retirement, he enjoyed a full life, travelling to his beloved France and collecting antiques, porcelain and medical instruments.

His first marriage to Winsome Clare in 1949 produced a son, Jonathan Stanley, a land agent in Devon, and two daughters, Deidre Clare, a nurse, who predeceased him, and Holly Josephine, a television producer and director. After his marriage was dissolved he married his outpatient sister, Mary Kathleen 'Kay' Godfrey. Stanley Aylett died on 7 January 2003.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Guardian 28 January 2003, with portrait; The Daily Telegraph 28 March 2003, with portrait; The Times 1 April 2003].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England