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Biographical entry Harries, Bernard John (1916 - 2009)

MRCS 1939; FRCS 1946; MB BS London 1947; LRCP 1939.

30 April 1916
Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales
19 March 2009


Bernard Harries was a consultant neurosurgeon at University College Hospital (UCH) and the Whittington Hospital, London. He was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, on 30 April 1916, the son of Eric Henry Rhys Harries, an infectious diseases physician, and his wife, Edith Irene née Brazel. His grandfather, Arthur John Harries, was also a physician, in practice in London. He was educated at 'innumerable' preparatory schools, King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham, and University College School, and entered medical school at University College in 1933, obtaining the primary FRCS there. His clinical years (1936 to 1939) were at University College Hospital, where he was Goldsmid entrance scholar and won the Liston gold medal for surgery in 1938. From August to October 1939, he was a house surgeon to Julian Taylor, who also held a neurosurgical appointment at the National Hospital, Queen Square.

Harries had been an officer in the cadet reserve of the Territorial Army from 1936 to 1939 and joined 131 Field Ambulance as a lieutenant in October 1939. Between January and May 1940, he saw service in Belgium and France, but was captured by the Germans with his unit and spent the rest of the war in various prison camps in Germany and Poland, including Stalag Luft III and IXb, Oflags VIIc and VIb, and Bad Soden-Salmünster. In 1943, he was transferred to surgical duties in a number of prisoner-of-war hospitals "as a kind of military house surgeon". These hospitals were run by some extremely able British and Australian medical personnel of all ranks who treated patients of many nationalities, but mainly British, Commonwealth and Americans. Harries, who seldom spoke of his war experience, felt he owed a great deal to the young physicians and surgeons with whom he worked at this time, a period in his life which included nine months in ophthalmics, nine months in rehabilitation of major injuries and nine months of primitive operative surgery.

At the end of the war, he spent June to December 1945 at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, where he was graded as a surgical specialist. Demobilised in 1946, he returned to the Territorial Army in 1951 and continued until 1961, as a major.

Back in civilian life, he obtained the final FRCS in 1946, MB BS London in 1947, and started as a house surgeon at UCH again, to Julian Taylor and F J F Barrington, both of whom influenced him. He moved quickly to a post as a senior registrar in surgery at UCH, senior house surgeon at Queen Square and resident assistant surgeon at UCH. As Bilton Pollard fellow and Leslie Pearce Gould travelling scholar, he spent a year in North America - three months at the Montreal Neurological Institute with Wilder Penfield and William Cone, and nine at the Massachusetts General Hospital with James White, William Sweet and Jason Mixter. He also visited other units in the United States and on his return spent a year at Queen Square in the neuropathology department with J G Greenfield. His appointment at UCH in 1951 was as a "general surgeon with an interest in neurological surgery" which, even at that time, must have been unusual. In 1960 he became wholly a neurosurgeon, though he continued to have an interest in the surgery of phaeochromocytomas in which he had a large experience.

In 1966 he also became a neurosurgeon to the Whittington Hospital, an honorary, though busy, appointment. It was intended that the Whittington and UCH units should eventually become a unified regional unit, but this plan was abandoned when the Whittington neurosurgery was transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in 1975. Harries continued to give a consultative service to the Whittington until 1979, when he retired from the NHS.

As a neurosurgeon, Harries was held in high regard by his neurological and other medical colleagues, as a clinical opinion, an operator, for his care of his patients, and for his courtesy and kindness towards them and his colleagues. He belonged to a period when neurosurgical units were commonly small and sometimes, as in the case of UCH and the Whittington, often run almost single-handedly and were more isolated than would be the case later. His early involvement in some general surgery may, too, have separated him a little from the general run of neurosurgeons.

He wrote on head injuries, spinal cord compression and phaeochromocytoma, and was a member of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons, Association of Surgeons, Surgical Travellers and was a founding member of the University Hospitals Association. Harries' other important field was in the University College Hospital Medical School, where he was a vice-dean and then dean. He played a part in the translation of the UCH Medical School into the School of Medicine, University College, London. He was also chairman of the medical committee of UCH and the south Camden district medical team, a trustee of the Sir Jules Thorne Trust, secretary of the statistical unit of the University Hospitals Association and chairman of the special trustees.

In 1954 he married Irene Elsie Broadbent, whom he had met while in Boston. There were two daughters, Joanna Mary and Alison Jane, both of whom qualified in medicine, and four grandchildren.

His extracurricular interests were his family and sailing, which he pursued by crewing for friends and by building his own small dinghies, thus developing an interest in carpentry. He was also a gardener and, after his retirement to Sussex, created a garden from a wasteland. He died on 19 March 2009 from bronchopneumonia after a series of strokes. He was survived by his wife and daughters.

T T King

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2009 339 4340].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England