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Biographical entry Shemilt, Philip (1916 - 2008)

MB BS London 1938; MRCS LRCP 1938; FRCS 1947.

14 January 1916
Fenton, Staffordshire, UK
2 November 2008
Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK
General surgeon


Philip Shemilt was a highly respected consultant surgeon at Salisbury General Hospital. Over a long career as a general surgeon, which included service during the Second World War and a period spent working in post-colonial Zimbabwe, he carried out 32,000 operations. He was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, on 14 January 1916, the son of Jesse Shemilt, a farmer and businessman, and Winifred Shemilt née Johnson, a former nurse. Two of his older brothers went on to qualify in medicine, both becoming members of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was a pupil at Longton School, Stoke-on-Trent, from 1927 to 1933, and then followed one of his brothers to St Thomas's Medical School. He qualified in 1938.

His first post was at St Thomas', where he was a casualty officer and house surgeon from 1938 to 1939. Once war was declared, he joined the Emergency Medical Services, and was later sent to the Midlands to treat battle casualties from the fighting in France. In 1943 he joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon lieutenant, working at first on the Atlantic convoys, rescuing survivors from ships sunk by enemy torpedoes. He was later sent to Ceylon, to a naval hospital. While working there he was consulted by Lord Mountbatten, who had lost his voice prior to giving an important speech.

Following his demobilisation, Shemilt returned to St Thomas' Hospital, where he worked as a surgical registrar and then as chief assistant in the rectal clinic. He gained his FRCS in 1947. In 1948 he was appointed as a consultant surgeon in Salisbury, where he stayed until his retirement in 1980. He was also a surgical consultant at Tidworth Military Hospital from 1949 to 1970. He chaired the medical staff committee of Salisbury General Hospital from 1964 to 1966, and served on the hospital management committee from 1965 to 1967. For five years from 1975 he chaired the surgical division of the hospital and the operating theatre users' committee.

He remained a generalist. He did find time to write a paper on endometriosis and the appendix for the British Journal of Surgery ('Endometrioma of the caecum causing mucocele of the appendix.' Br J Surg. 1949 Jul;37[145]:118-20) and another on 'The origin of phleboliths'. (Br J Surg. 1972 Sep;59[9]:695-700). He also edited a book celebrating the bicentenary of Salisbury Infirmary (Salisbury 200. Salisbury Infirmary bicentenary review, 1967).

He was a member of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.

He retired from the NHS in 1981 and then went to Salisbury in Zimbabwe (just before it became Harare), where he worked as a surgeon for several months.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed gardening in his garden in the cathedral close at Salisbury and at the family's holiday home in Bridport, Dorset. He also played golf. In retirement he learnt how to mend Persian rugs.

In 1950 he married Janet Brownscombe, a physiotherapist. They had four daughters - Eleanor, Jane, Mary and Kate - nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Philip Shemilt died on 2 November 2008, aged 92, at his home in Salisbury.

Sarah Gillam

Sources used to compile this entry: [ the home of the shemilt family - accessed 21 May 2014].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England