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Biographical entry Boreham, Peter Francis (1922 - 2014)

OBE 1987; BA Cantab; MB Bchir 1945; FRCS 1949; Mchir 1954.

26 May 1922
Szechuan, China
8 March 2014
General surgeon and Urological surgeon


Peter Boreham was a much-loved and highly respected general surgeon in Cheltenham with a major urological interest. He was born on 26 May 1922 in Szechuan, China, into a missionary family. He was the second son of the Reverend Frederick Boreham and his wife Mildred née Slater: an older brother, Douglas, died in infancy just six weeks after Peter was born. Peter's early years were not without hazard: he was shipwrecked at the age of two on the Yangtze River. He had two younger siblings, Cicely, who became a headmistress, and John, who was knighted, and was director of the Central Statistical Office.

Frederick and Mildred Boreham returned to England from 1924 to 1929 to serve in various livings, including Norwich, where Frederick was priest at New Catton. It was here that Peter started his education in the kindergarten of Norwich High School for Girls. Later, in 1931, when both parents were back in China, he was sent as a boarder to Feltonfleet Preparatory School, where he was later joined by his sister and brother. Peter's departure from Feltonfleet was quite spectacular: he had an accident with a glass door and was taken away by ambulance with a tourniquet around one limb, never to return to his prep school!

His secondary education was at Marlborough College, Wiltshire. Peter proved a good but not exceptional scholar, and excelled at swimming and athletics. Having decided on medicine as a career, in 1940 he went to Cambridge to study natural sciences and was resident in Jesus College. In Cambridge he became a member of Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union and made many friends through this organisation: this was an acknowledgment of his own Christian faith and his parental influence. He left Cambridge having obtained a BA degree, and went to Middlesex Hospital in 1942 for his clinical training until 1945. During these war years much of his training took place out of London at Aylesbury and Northwood, Middlesex and Harlesden.

Having qualified MB BChir from Cambridge, in 1945 he worked as a house surgeon to Arthur S Blundell Bankart, a well-known orthopaedic surgeon on the staff of Middlesex Hospital who had paediatric and neurosurgical leanings. He was better known for his work on shoulder joint dislocation and his description of the 'Bankart lesion'. Peter observed a charming physiotherapist who was watching this famous surgeon operate and was also on his ward round. Peter went to a 'nurses hop' (informal dance), where he was happy to find Kathleen Edith Born, the physiotherapist who had caught his eye earlier. Some six weeks after they first met, Peter proposed and was accepted. On 18 January 1946 Peter and Kathleen (shortened to 'Ka' and pronounced 'Car') were married by Peter's father in West Alvington Church, Kingsbridge, Devon.

Clearly during his training life was hard for the newly-weds. Peter was still doing house appointments in 1946 at Middlesex Hospital, working with two well-known surgeons, David Patey and Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor. Patey was a general surgeon with wide interests and was a superb clinical teacher, perhaps better known for his work on breast diseases: he was also founder of the Surgical Research Society. Gordon-Taylor built up a reputation as a fearless surgeon in the First World War and his knowledge of anatomy allowed him to attempt formidable operations. Peter then became a casualty officer at Middlesex Hospital, as accident and emergency experience was at the time a requirement for any doctor wishing to sit the FRCS examination.

In mid-1946 it was time for him to do National Service, and he joined the RAMC. After preliminary training, he was posted to the British Army of the Rhine. Having already decided on surgery as a career, he used this period to engage in postal courses to progress his studies for the FRCS. In August 1947 Michael, their first child, was born in Torquay, and Peter was allowed two weeks 'compassionate leave' when Michael was ill. Following two years of National Service, Peter was discharged, later to join the Territorial Army with the rank of major when working as a senior registrar.

Back in the recently-formed NHS in 1949, he took up a post as a resident medical officer at a mental hospital in Camberwell, Peter, Ka and young Michael living in a flat in Maida Vale. In May 1949, having passed the FRCS, he obtained a post as a registrar back at Middlesex Hospital, working with Sir Eric Riches and Cecil Murray. This was a popular firm with students and trainees alike: both were superb technicians and good teachers, Sir Eric in urology and Murray in general surgery, particularly in the days when partial gastrectomy was the preferred treatment for chronic peptic ulcer. He continued in this post until 1952, being elevated to senior registrar for the last two years. Their second child, Jenny, was born in December 1949, and this necessitated moving to larger living accommodation in Hampstead Garden Suburb early in 1950. On 1 March 1953, their third child, a second daughter, Judy, was born.

After working for three years with Riches and Murray, Peter obtained a research post at Middlesex Hospital to work on 'implantation metastases in surgery'. This provided him with sufficient material for two papers. Already attending meetings of the section of urology of the Royal Society of Medicine, he gave a short paper on 'The surgical spread of cancer in urology' (28 April 1955), which was then published in the British Journal of Urology (Br J Urol. 1956 Jun;28[2]:163-75). In this he described six cases of carcinoma of bladder recurring in the urethra. A second article on 'Implantation metastases from cancer of the large bowel' was published in the British Journal of Surgery (Br J Surg. 1958 Sep;46[196]:103-8. Short papers on rare cases increased the number of publications on his CV.

He started applying for consultant posts, only to find that there were 60 or more applicants for each post in this post-war period: but was encouraged when short-listed for the odd one. It proved necessary to embellish his CV with a masters degree in surgery. The MChir Cambridge involved writing three papers each of four hours: one had four questions with no choice, another had two questions without a choice and one had one question, again without a choice! Senate House in Cambridge, where he sat to write papers, was not warm in the winter months and 'regular' candidates learned to bring rugs and hot coffee to help. Three vivas of half an hour each completed the examination. Peter obtained this highly prized degree at the second attempt.

He next gained a year's appointment as a resident surgical officer at St Mark's Hospital, London. Although the post entailed becoming a 'house-surgeon' again, it was the best job at this stage of his career, enabling him to get concentrated experience in coloproctology. Working with W B Gabriel, O V Lloyd-Davies and Sir Clifford Naunton Morgan was a superb way of adding another 'specialty' to his already broad experience. Gabriel, often known as the 'Archangel Gabriel', was a man with an imposing presence and great physical and moral strength: he had a reputation for total patient care and long operating lists. Oswald Lloyd-Davies was a superb technician with an inventive mind who, with Naunton Morgan, perfected the technique of synchronous combined excision of the rectum for carcinoma. The lithotomy-Trendelenburg position, for which he developed special leg supports, is generally known as the Lloyd-Davies position. Naunton Morgan, also on the staff of St Bartholomew's Hospital, was a man of boundless energy and an enthusiastic teacher.

Peter's next appointment was again at senior registrar level, although he effectively worked as a second consultant. It was at the Whittington Hospital, north London, where he worked with Neville Stidolph, a South African-born general surgeon with a major interest in urology, who also had an extensive private practice. Peter consolidated his knowledge and experience whilst applying for more consultant posts. Shortlisted for several, in 1958 he was at last successful in Cheltenham for a post advertised as a consultant surgeon with an interest in urology. This post he held until he retired in 1987.

Peter and Ka were able to put down roots at last in Cheltenham. At their large Georgian home, the Borehams enjoyed tennis and eventually had a swimming pool built by Peter and his son, Michael. There were plenty of activities centred round their home and they were able to form many friendships in the neighbourhood. The family became active members of Christ Church, Cheltenham, and from 1960 to 1965 Peter was a churchwarden.

Two further children were born in Cheltenham - Sarah in 1960 and Caroline in 1961. The enlarged family were able to enjoy holidays in the UK and abroad, camping in Spain and France. Peter was passionate about sailing his Wayfarer dinghy, using his children as ballast. On occasions they were tipped into the freezing Easter waters of Falmouth.

As one of three general surgeons, in addition to looking after the majority of urological patients, Peter dealt with a third of the general surgical emergencies. He paid visits to Tewkesbury Hospital and developed a reputation amongst his juniors and colleagues as caring and compassionate to patients, but expecting others to adopt his high standards. As a surgeon he was calm, precise and workmanlike. Perhaps appearing a little stern to those who worked with him, they loved his intelligence, his wry smile and sense of humour which was never far away.

He was a great supporter of postgraduate activities, and played a full part in hospital committees, including chairmanship of the consultant staff, whose business he handled with characteristic brevity and effectiveness. He was a consultant member of the former hospital management committee, disbanded during one of the first of the many NHS re-organisations. He served as a member of Gloucester Health Authority and of the South West Regional Higher Awards committee. An active member of the Gloucester branch of the British Medical Association, he became its president in 1975. He was a member and president of South West Surgeons Club and the South West Urologists group. In 1973 he was president of Cheltenham Rotary Club and during his presidency raised money to provide a Land Rover ambulance for a hospital in Kambia, Sierra Leone.

In 1961 he was elected to the 1921 Surgical Travelling Club and was an active member for 25 years, serving first as secretary and later as president. Peter and Ka went on the twice yearly visits to most major surgical centres in Europe and a few in the USA. In retirement he wrote Surgical journeys (Merlin, 1990) - a history of this club. This was Peter's final publication and was a masterpiece of research.

Retiring from the NHS in 1987, a large number of his junior staff came to a farewell dinner in his honour: they made a presentation of a silver salver, with their signatures engraved on it. Naturally, his family and many friends were delighted that all his work, both medical and voluntary, was recognised nationally by the award of an OBE in 1987.

Peter and Ka went on a world tour visiting cousins in Canada and Australia, and former trainees with whom he had kept in touch. Peter was made chairman of the Kambia, Sierra Leone, appeal, and they both went to visit and work alongside doctors in the local hospital. Later they were able to welcome many Kambian staff who came to Cheltenham for professional training.

Ill-health dogged the later years of his retirement. In 1994 he lost the sight in one eye due to polymyalgia rheumatica. Six years later, he needed major by-pass heart surgery in Bristol. After these health scares Peter and Ka moved out of their large Georgian house into a smaller, more manageable home. In 2002 he needed further surgery, this time for spinal stenosis and, some five years later, he underwent prostatic surgery. Developing very severe pneumonia in 2010, Peter was treated in Cheltenham General and Tewkesbury, the hospitals he had worked in for so many years. Eventually nursing care proved necessary, and he moved into St Faith's Nursing Home. Here, with failing eyesight and general vascular degeneration, he was visited twice a day by his dear wife Ka, who held his hand as they listened to the classical music he had enjoyed throughout his life. Although ailing, he never lost his faculties, and retained much of his excellent memory to near the end.

Peter Francis Boreham died with all the family present on 8 March 2014, aged 91. He was survived by his five children, Michael, Jennifer, Judith, Sarah and Caroline, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Several of the family have followed Peter into medicine.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Eulogies from Sarah Boreham, Michael Boreham and Peter Ormerod; additional information from Michael Boreham].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England