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Biographical entry Tanner, William Edward (1889 - 1951)

MRCS 13 November 1913; FRCS 14 December 1916; MB BS London 1914; MS 1917; LRCP 1913.

8 March 1889
5 July 1951
General surgeon


Born in London on 8 March 1889 the only child of John Prime Tanner and his wife Margaret Baxter James, he was educated at Roan School, Birkbeck College, the Royal (now Imperial) College of Science, and at Guy's Hospital. He originally intended to be a dentist, but after distinguishing himself in the medical school he decided to proceed to a full surgical career. He qualified in 1913 and was appointed house surgeon to Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, then at the height of his career and probably the most inspiring surgical teacher a young man could find at that time in London. Tanner many years later published a life of Lane.

During the war of 1914-18 Tanner served in the RAMC, and was on the staff of the Lord Derby Hospital at Warrington. He continued his professional education, taking the Fellowship in 1916 and the London Master of Surgery degree in 1917. After the war he returned to Guy's as resident surgical officer, surgical registrar and tutor, and surgical assistant, but he was disappointed of a place on the full honorary staff, for which his previous success had led him to hope.

In 1920 he was elected surgeon to the Prince of Wales Hospital at Tottenham, and in the Hospital and its Postgraduate College he ably continued the good work begun by his predecessor, H W Carson. He was also surgeon to the Edenbridge Memorial Hospital and to the Horsham, Waltham Abbey, Hackney, St Leonard's, East Grinstead, and Plumstead Hospitals. He also established a large private practice at 38 Queen Anne Street. Tanner was a particularly brilliant diagnostician, relying on extremely careful examination to exploit his profound knowledge of anatomy and of human nature. Alike to patients and assistants he was the personification of unassuming friendly kindness. He was also uncommonly generous and hospitable, and loved to entertain at his country house, Summerholme, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex.

Tanner took an active interest in the work of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene, and was chairman of its executive committee. He was president of the Hunterian Society in 1933, and of the Medical Society of London in 1947. He was subsequently a trustee of the Medical Society and honorary editor of its Transactions. He gave much time to various committees of the Ministry of Health's emergency medical service during the war of 1939-42, and after 1946 to the similar administrative committees of the National Health Service. He attained grand rank in freemasonry. Tanner married on 14 March 1918 Marie Louise Humphries, who survived him with their three daughters. He died suddenly at 38 Queen Anne Street on 5 July 1951, aged 62. A memorial service was held on 18 July at St Marylebone Parish Church. He left bequests to the Medical Society of London and the Royal Institute of Public Health.

Gall-stones, an account of the cases at Guy's Hospital from 1895 to 1915. Guy's Hosp Rep 1925, 75, 170.
Diseases of the lips, jaws, mouth, and salivary glands, in A J Walton's Textbook of surgical diagnosis, 1928, 1, 508.
Sir W Arbuthnot Lane, Bart, CB, MS, FRCS, his life and work. London, Baillière, 1946, 192 pages.
The Guy's worthies in the early days of the Medical Society of London, 1773-1825. Annual oration 1947. Trans Med Soc Lond 1949, 65, 226.
More worthies in Medley's picture of the founders of the Medical Society. Presidential address. Ibid p 348.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 9 July 1951, p 8d, and 19 July, p 8b, memorial service; Brit med J 1951, 2, 122 with eulogy by A Cruickshank, FRCS, and p 241 by J C N, and p 1532, will; Lancet, 1951, 2, 83, with eulogy by A H D; information from Mrs Tanner; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England