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Biographical entry Wakeley, Sir Cecil Pembrey Grey (1892 - 1979)

CB 1941; KBE 1946; Baronet 1953; Order of the Nile 2nd Class 1938; Legion of Merit USA 1944; L├ęgion D'Honneur France 1948; MRCS 1915; FRCS 1921; DSc London 1932; FRS Ed 1932; FACS 1934; Hon FRCS Ed 1951; Hon FRCSI 1952; Hon FRACS 1938; LRCP 1915.

  • Image of Wakeley, Sir Cecil Pembrey Grey
5 May 1892
Rainham, Kent, UK
5 June 1979
General surgeon


Born the eldest son of 12 children on 5 May 1892 at Meresborough House in the country near Rainham, Kent, Cecil Wakeley always looked upon himself as a countryman born and bred and would recall riding his own pony at the age of four. In 1904 he started attending King's School, Rochester, as a day boy travelling by train and in 1906 was severely ill with pneumonia. In 1907 the family moved to Dulwich where he entered the College and three years later in 1910 he went to King's College Hospital, with which he was to be identified for the rest of his life.

He qualified in 1915 and joined the Royal Navy for the next four years as Surgeon-Lieutenant, spending most of his time aboard the hospital ship Garth Castle at Scapa Flow. His link with the Navy lasted all his life, first as a consultant and in the second world war as Surgeon Rear-Admiral when he worked at the Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar. The rolling gait with which he traversed the corridors at King's and the Royal College of Surgeons, his two great loves, was that of a seafaring man.

Success and honour came early in life to him and he lived long enough to enjoy them to the full. In 1922 he was appointed to the staff at King's and was senior surgeon by the age of 41, remaining so for the next quarter of a century. He was consultant to the Belgrave Hospital for Children, the Royal Masonic and the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases. In addition he was a member of Council of the College and eventually President from 1949 to 1954, at a period of immense importance since it witnessed the completion of the College's very ambitious rebuilding programme, the establishment of the Faculties of Dental Surgery and Anaesthesia and the setting up of the academic units and their laboratories. His limitless vitality and splendid powers of leadership were shown to their best at that time.

In addition to all his other duties he found time to be President of the Association of Physiotherapy, Hunterian Society, Medical Society of London and the Royal Life Saving Society. He examined for both the Primary and Final Fellowship examinations as well as the medical degrees at many universities in the UK and overseas. He was also a Hunterian Orator, Hunterian Professor five times and Erasmus Wilson, Bradshaw, and Thomas Vicary Lecturer. He was Chairman of the Trustees of the Hunterian Collection and received the College's Gold Medal for his services.

Wakeley was a first class teacher and his legible, bold handwriting was an indication of his clear, uncluttered thinking. He was wonderfully cheerful and never seemed to forget a face or a name. He had a kind word of encouragement for everyone and never failed to give sound and practical advice to any doctor, nurse or student who came to him for help. He was a very positive, swift surgeon and the length of his operating lists and the variety of problems he tackled was legendary.

Sir Cecil was the author of many textbooks and edited 'Rose and Carless' for a generation. For twenty years he edited the British journal of surgery and in 1947 he founded the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England which he continued to edit until 1969. He was for a long time editor of the now defunct Medical press and circular. In addition to his own prolific output he always encouraged younger workers to write and helped them to get their work published.

He was devout practising Churchman and long presided over the Lord's Day Observance Society. The service of thanksgiving for his life's work which was held at All Saints', Langham Place, London and was attended by the President and Council of the College, was a particularly happy occasion and reflected very faithfully his joy of living and the great contribution he had made in his 87 years.

In 1925 Wakeley married Elizabeth Muriel Nicholson-Smith and there were three sons, two of whom are medically qualified, his eldest son is a consultant surgeon in Chester. In 1975 they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Sir Cecil died on June 5, 1979.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit. med. J. 1979, 1, 1633; King's Gazette 1980, Summer, 11-12; The Times 19 June 1979.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England