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Biographical entry Gabriel, William Bashall (1893 - 1975)

MRCS 1916; FRCS 1918; MB BS London 1916; MS 1919; LRCP 1916.

2 October 1893
11 November 1975
General surgeon


William Bashall Gabriel was born on 2 October 1893 and spent his boyhood at Oulton Broad, Suffolk. There he learned to sail, a hobby which was a joy to him throughout his life. Educated at Monkton Combe School, Bath, and Epsom College, he qualified at the Middlesex Hospital in 1916 and after a house appointment joined the Royal Navy as a Surgeon-Lieutenant and served in a destroyer in the Mediterranean. On demobilization he returned to the Middlesex Hospital as surgical and cancer registrar, taking the FRCS in 1918. The following year he proceeded MS and was appointed house-surgeon to St Mark's Hospital, City Road. In 1920 he joined Sir Gordon Gordon-Watson, J P Lockhart-Mummery and Lionel Norbury on the consultant staff as honorary assistant surgeon and in 1931 became a full honorary surgeon. He also held appointments at the Royal Northern Hospital and at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton.

It was at St Mark's Hospital that he won his international reputation for the treatment of diseases of the rectum and colon. One of his first and most outstanding contributions was the establishment of a cancer follow-up department in 1922, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. It is from the wealth of information obtained from these records that the results of treatment of cancer of the rectum at St Mark's Hospital have been assessed. They have formed the basis of most of the publications on the subject from this hospital. In 1928 he started to develop the perineo-abdominal variant of the combined excision of the rectum; by 19 June 1952 he had performed his one-thousandth such excision and had seen the mortality rate for the operation drop from 17.8% to 2%.

Gabriel made many contributions to the surgical journals. In 1932 the first edition of his Principles and practice of rectal surgery was published, with four subsequent editions, the last being in 1963. It was affectionately known as 'St Mark's Gospel according to the Archangel Gabriel'.

He was a large man with an imposing presence and great physical and moral strength. His operating lists were long, sometimes including three combined excisions, and were conducted with a military precision. An austere and unbending manner was the expression of the way he disciplined his own life and the discipline he expected from those who worked with him. He was, and will remain, a legend for his wonderful example in total patient care. No detail of any aspect of his patient's welfare was ever overlooked: he personally supervised each patient's postoperative dressing. He inspired a great devotion and loyalty in generations of assistants who will be for ever grateful for the time, patience and trouble he took to instruct and help them. They will remember his great kindness, his generosity and the hospitality at his home in Highgate, where with his wife he took much pleasure in entertaining visiting surgeons from abroad. His wife died in 1957 and he is survived by two daughters and by two sons, both of whom are doctors.

Gabriel died on 11 November 1975 aged 82 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1976, 1, 287].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England