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Biographical entry Turner, George Grey (1877 - 1951)

MRCS 12 October 1899; FRCS 10 December 1903; LRCP 1899; MB BS Durham 1898; MS 1901; Hon DCh 1935; Hon LLD Glasgow 1939; Hon FACS 1918; Hon FRACS 1937.

8 September 1877
24 August 1951
General surgeon


Born 8 September 1877, second son of James Turner, a banker, and Evelyn Grey, his wife. He was educated at a private school at Newcastle-on-Tyne and at the Newcastle Medical School of the University of Durham, where he was Heath scholar and graduated with first-class honours in 1898. After further work at King's College Hospital, London, and in Vienna, he returned to Newcastle and quickly made his name on the staff of the Royal Victoria Infirmary and as a lecturer in the Medical School. He also built up the largest surgical practice in the north of England by his skill and energy. Following Rutherford Morison, whom he always revered as a master, he made his own notable contribution to the great tradition of Newcastle surgery, which has developed independently of both London and Edinburgh. No time or distance in the wild Northumberland hill country deterred him, nor awkward conditions in poor upcountry cottages or industrial districts. Surgical problems and technical difficulties only whetted his courage and enterprise. He acquired at the same time an immense professional experience and a deep love of the northern countryside and its simple hardy people. His operating theatre was one of the very few which every surgeon, British and foreign, felt bound to visit. Grey Turner remembered everyone, colleagues from all over the world, patients and their families, former students, nurses, and all with whom he came in contact. To all he was the same: friendly, encouraging, outspoken in criticism, but ready with gratitude for any slight service. He cared nothing for outward shows, was usually dressed in shabby clothes, and never wasted a scrap of paper, which might serve for taking notes or as one of his characteristic home-made post-cards. His "please" and "thank you" were symbols of the genuine sympathy which won the regard and esteem of all who knew him. He carried in his head an encyclopaedic knowledge of modern surgery, knew its makers personally and surrounded himself with their photographs and writings from all over the world. He could tell off hand who had developed a new technique for some special operation and where it had been published. As was natural at Newcastle, he kept in particularly close touch with Scandinavian surgeons.

He joined the RAMC on the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908, and was called up for active service in 1914. He served for a period as consulting surgeon, with the rank of colonel, AMS, at Amara in the Middle East and was, later, district consulting surgeon and specialist in chest diseases to the Northern Command in England. Turner became ultimately consulting surgeon to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, and to the Tynemouth Infirmary. He was professor of surgery at Newcastle 1927-34, and then emeritus professor. Besides his clinical and professorial work he took an active share in uniting the medical and non-medical schools at Newcastle to form King's College as a constituent branch of the University of Durham. He was particularly interested in the amalgamation of the libraries to form a real university library.

He was elected to the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1926, and his friends realized that the combination of duties in the north and south of England, for all of which he worked with the same conscientious energy, was overtaxing even his iron constitution. He had the courage to give up his great position at Newcastle, and to become the first director of surgery at the new British Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith in 1934. This post, which carried a professorship in the University of London, provided him with increased scope as a teacher and operator; without so many extraneous pre-occupations. He held the position, with growing usefulness and distinction, till the end of the second world war in 1945. His work attracted young men from all over the world to attend his teaching. His clinic earned the unique distinction of being twice described in the British Journal of Surgery: "Professor Grey Turner at the Postgraduate Medical School", 1937, 24, 595-600, and 1947, 34, 366-373, with portraits and select bibliography. On retiring he was elected emeritus professor of surgery in London, as he already was at Durham. At the College he was a Hunterian professor in 1928, Bradshaw lecturer 1935, a vice-president, 1937 and 1938, and Hunterian orator in 1945. He served as chairman of the Library committee and the Museum committee, and in these capacities took the decisions to evacuate the Library at the beginning of the war, and to restore the Museum after its destruction in 1941. He was elected a trustee of the Hunterian collection, and was appointed honorary curator of the surgical instruments in the Museum.

At the Royal Society of Medicine he was president of the sections of surgery and proctology, and president-elect of the new clinical section at the time of his death. He was a vice-president of the British Medical Association, and had been president of the surgical section at the New¬castle meeting. He also attended the Winnipeg meeting. He delivered the annual oration of the Medical Society of London in 1929, and the Lettsomian lectures in 1939, and was president in 1943. He was the last Englishman to give the John B Murphy oration, at Chicago in 1930, before the American College of Surgeons, of which he was an honorary Fellow. He was the only English recipient of the Bigelow medal, when he gave the Bigelow oration at Boston in 1931, before the Surgical Society. He went to Australia in 1937 to open the Prince Henry Postgraduate Hospital at Melbourne, and was elected an honorary Fellow of the Royal Australasian College. He was an honorary member of the surgical societies at Athens, Brussels, Rome, Stockholm, and elsewhere. He made a successful tour of South America in 1939, as an ambassador for British surgery (see Lancet, 1940, 1, 106 and Archives of Surgery, 1940, 41, 1307). He was an active member of the International Society of Surgery, and was president of its 13th Congress at New Orleans in 1949. He was a keen promoter also of small informal professional clubs. He founded the Sphalma Club, whose members "pour encourager les autres" discussed mistakes which they had committed in practice ("sphalma" being the Greek for mistake). He outlived the other original members of the Moynihan Chirurgical Club, the prototype of travelling clinical clubs.

Turner was profoundly interested in the surgery of cancer, but his most original contributions to operative surgery were in the repair of congenital defects of the bladder and urinary organs, and in the treatment of the damaged or diseased oesophagus. He was throughout life a clinician not a laboratory man, but he set great value on the educative use of museums and libraries, and, as already mentioned, particularly promoted those two departments of the College. He was a prolific writer, and in later life was in demand as a public lecturer. He wisely used these commemorative lectures as occasions for recording progress in some branch of surgery with which he was closely associated, so that they proved of clinical as well as historical interest.

When he moved to the south Grey Turner and his wife, who had a great knowledge and love of gardens, settled at Huntercombe Manor, near Taplow, an historic house with notable topiary hedges in the grounds. He was a freeman of the Barbers Company and of the City of London, and a liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries. After taking charge of the surgical unit at St Bartholomew's by invitation of G E Gask, he was elected a perpetual student of the Hospital. But his heart remained in the North, and he retained the characteristic forthright simplicity and the slightly burred speech of Northumbria. He was a small man with a large head and large features, walked with a slightly rolling gait, and usually wore a bowler hat well down on the back of his head. Although he received less public recognition than he deserved, within the profession he was admired as a prince of surgeons, and wherever he was personally known he was held in warm affection as well as admiration.

Grey Turner married in 1908 Alice (Elsie) Grey Schofield, BSc, daughter of F E Schofield, JP, of Morpeth. There were three daughters and one son, Dr Elston Grey Turner, MRCS, who won the Military Cross while on active service in Italy in 1944 as medical officer to the Coldstream Guards; at the time of his father's death Dr E Grey Turner was on the staff of the British Medical Association. Grey Turner died suddenly at Huntercombe Manor on 24 August 1951, aged 73, survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren. The funeral service was at St Peter's Church, Burnham, Bucks. Memorial services were held at Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, where Norman Hodgson, FRCS, gave an address, and at St Bartholomew-the-Less, London, where Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor, FRCS, spoke in memory of him. Among other bequests Grey Turner left £500 to the College towards the publication of these Lives of the Fellows, in which he had always taken a detailed interest. He was probably the only man who read them all, and he offered much friendly criticism and valuable information for their improvement.

Grey Turner's papers up to 1947 are recorded in a select bibliography, "Some of the published papers of Professor G Grey Turner", in British Journal of Surgery, 1947, 34, 371. The more important of these are included in the following list, which contains some additional references:
The relation of the vermiform appendix to inguinal and femoral hernia. Northumberland and Durham Medical Journal, October 1904.
Some aspects of pelvic appendicitis. Practitioner, 1906, 76, 198.
What can be done for cancer of the stomach. Northumberland and Durham Medical Journal, June 1908.
The importance of pelvic deposits in the diagnosis of abdominal cancer. Brit med J 1912, 1, 229.
Pyloroplasty, with the after histories of 43 cases. Surg Gynec Obstet 1912, 14,537. Two cases of injury to the pancreas. Brit J Surg 1914, 1, 637.
Traumatic and arteriovenous aneurysm. Brit J Surg 1915, 3, 282.
The importance of general principles in military surgery. Brit med J 1916, 1, 401, and JRAMC 1916, 26, 558.
On foreign bodies in the bladder resulting from gunshot wounds. Lancet, 1916, 1, 958.
The surgeon and the spleen: splenectomy. Practitioner, 1917, 98, 511.
The later stages of gunshot wounds of the chest. Surg Gynec Obstet 1919, 28, 17. Surgical treatment of cancer of the rectum. Brit med J 1920, 2, 734.
The treatment of traumatic rupture of the urethra. Lancet, 1923, 2, 82.
The liver, gall-bladder, bile-passages, and pancreas, in C C Choyce System of surgery, 2nd edition, 1923.
Operations on the liver and its excretory apparatus, in H W Carson Modern operative surgery, 1924.
Some encouragements in cancer surgery. London, Cassell, 1925. 75 pages.
The treatment of sinuses. Lancet, 1927, 2, 347 and 404.
Cancer of colon. Annual oration, Medical Society of London, 1929. Trans Med Soc Lond 1929, 52, 301.
The treatment of congenital defects of the bladder and urethra by implantation of the ureters into the bowel, with a record of 17 personal cases. Brit J Surg 1929, 17, 114.
Ideals and the art of surgery. Murphy oration, 1930. Surg Gynec Obstet 1931, 52, 273.
What surgery offers in cancer of the stomach. Trans Roy Med-chir Soc Glasgow, 1931, 25, 209.
The Paget tradition. New Engl J Med 1931, 205, 622.
Some experiences in the surgery of the oesophagus. Bigelow lecture. New Engl J Med 1931, 205, 657.
Conservative resection of the rectum by the lower route. Acta chir Scand 1932, 72, 519.
Excision of the thoracic oesophagus for carcinoma with construction of extra-thoracic gullet. Lancet, 1933, 2, 1313, and 1934, 2, 1293.
Recent advances in treatment of carcinoma of the oesophagus. Proc Roy Soc Med 1934, 27, 355, and J Laryng 1934, 49, 297.
The Newcastle upon Tyne School of Medicine 1834-1934, with W. D. Arnison.
Newcastle, Reid, 1934, 224 pages.
The surgery of the colon, excluding cancer. Société Internationale de Chirurgie, Congress 10, Cairo 1935, Rapports, 1936, 3, 179.
Conservative surgery of carcinoma of the rectum. Proc Roy Soc Med 1935, 28, 1559.
Carcinoma of the oesophagus, the question of its treatment by surgery. Bradshaw lecture, Royal College of Surgeons. Lancet, 1936, 1, 67 and 130.
Surgical editor of British Encyclopaedia of Medical and Surgical Practice, and its supplements Medical Progress, 1936-45.
Surgery of the oesophagus. Trans Med Soc Lond 1936, 59, 171.
The debatable land in the management of malignant disease. Presidential address, section of surgery. Proc Roy Soc Med 1937, 30, 301.
Labour complicated by thrombosis of mesentery: resection of 10 feet of small bowel; patient alive and in good health 24 years later. Lancet, 1937, 1, 802.
What research owes to the Paget tradition; Stephen Paget lecture, Research Defence Society. Fight against disease, 1935, 25, 3311 and 52-58.
Acute appendicitis. Brit med J 1938, 2, 691.
The surgery of the gall-bladder and bile-ducts. Lettsomian lectures, Medical Society of London. Trans Med Soc Lond 1939, 62, 238.
Non-malignant stenosis of oesophagus. Brit J Surg 1939, 26, 555.
The Macewen outlook in surgery. Glasgow, Jackson, 1939. 72 pages.
War wounds of solid abdominal viscera. Med Press, 1940, 204, 266.
Gunshot wounds of the heart. Brit med J 1941, 1, 938.
Hindquarter amputation for chondrosarcoma. Proc Roy Soc Med 1941, 34, 562. Modern operative surgery, 3rd edition, Cassell, 1943. 2 vols. 2236 pages.
Injuries and diseases of the oesophagus. Hume lecture, Newcastle, 1943. London, Cassell, 1946. 100 pages. (Reprinted from Newcastle med J 1944-45, 22, 32 and 53.) Fibrous structure of the gullet of 19 years' duration; feeding by extrathoracic rubber oesophagus throughout greater part of that time. Restoration of normal swallowing by bouginage. Closure of gastrostomy and oesophagostomy. Brit J Surg 1943, 30, 344.
Transplantation of ureters into the large bowel. Presidential address, Medical Society of London 1943. Trans Med Soc Lond 1944-46, 64, 1.
Injuries to main bile ducts. Lancet, 1944, 1, 621.
The Hunterian Museum yesterday and tomorrow. Hunterian oration, Royal College of Surgeons, 1945. London, Cassell, 1946. 87 pages.
Tooth-plate impacted in gullet for 15 years; removal by transthoracic oesophagotomy. Brit J Surg 1947, 34, 290.
Result of arthroplasty of elbow joint after 32 years. Edin med J 1947, 54, 225; referring to his case reported in the same Journal, 1914, 12, 432.
Rutherford Morison and his achievement. 1st Rutherford Morison lecture, 1947. Newcastle med J 1948, 23, 87-112, the whole June issue.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 28 August 1951, p 6e, and 29th p 6e-f by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor; Brit J Surg 1951, 39, 193, by Sir G Gordon-Taylor and Professor Lambert Rogers, with portrait; Brit med J 1951, 2, 550, with good portrait, taken late in life, and appreciations by Sir G Gordon-Taylor and Professor Rogers, and p 614 by Sir Allen Daley and Dr George Hurrell, and p 679 by Norman Hodgson, McNeill Love, and another; Lancet, 1951, 2, 406, with portrait taken in middle age, and appreciations by Lambert Rogers, G Mason, V Z Cope, and others, and p 455 eulogy by T H S; Med Press, 1951, 226, 240; Newcastle med J 1951, 24, 87, with excellent portrait; information from his son; personal knowledge].

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