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Biographical entry Syms, Gilbert Francis (1883 - 1942)

MRCS 13 February 1908; FRCS 14 June 1923; LRCP 1908.

4 May 1883
23 June 1942
General surgeon


Born at Twickenham, 4 May 1883, the third son of Frederick Richard Syms, solicitor, and Amelia Charlotte Kendall of Pelyn, Cornwall, his wife. He was educated at Queen Elizabeth's School and at King's College, London. After passing the London matriculation, he entered Guy's Hospital Medical School, where he later served as junior and senior demonstrator of anatomy. In the hospital itself he served as house surgeon to Sir Alfred Fripp.

Having qualified in 1908, he was gazetted surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Medical Service on 14 May 1909, and was posted to Haslar, entering second in his year and leaving third. In the promotion examination at Greenwich in 1914 he received the highest marks, and was granted one year's seniority and awarded the Gilbert Blane medal. He saw active service during the first world war in armoured cars, and with the RNAS, and in HM ships Marksman and Cambrian, and was promoted surgeon-commander in 1919. In 1922 he was posted to Plymouth as a surgical specialist, and took the Fellowship on 14 June 1923. He was promoted surgeon-captain in 1931, and appointed professor of surgery at Haslar in 1934. In 1938 he was promoted surgeon rear-admiral, and the following year was made medical officer in charge of Plymouth Royal Naval Hospital. But he was already a sick man and had to undergo serious operations during his tenure of office. In spite of this and of personal bereavement through the loss of his son and son-in-law in the War, he continued at his post throughout the heavy bombing of Plymouth in 1941, retiring on 15 January 1942.

Syms married on 15 May 1915 Josephine Mary Barrett, who survived him with a son and daughter. Their eldest son and their daughter's husband were both killed on active service in the war of 1939-45. Syms died in the Freemasons' Hospital on 23 June 1942, aged 59. He was created a Knight of the Royal Danish Order of Dannebrog in November 1922 and in 1941 appointed an honorary surgeon to HM King GeorgeVI.

As a young man Syms was a keen promoter of ship's company cricket, and in later life played golf. But his favourite amusement was gardening, and he had considerable knowledge of vegetable culture. He was a devoted family man.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 29 June 1942, p 6d; Brit med J 1942, 2, 115; Lancet, 1942, 2, 142; RN med Serv J 1942, 28, 304; further information given by his brother, H St G Syms; by Surgeon Rear-Admiral C P G Wakeley, CB, RNVR, FRCS, and by Surgeon Captain K H Hole, OBE, RN, MRCS].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England