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Biographical entry Horn, Joshua Samuel (1914 - 1975)

MRCS 1936; FRCS 1939; MB BS London 1936; LRCP 1936.

14 July 1914
17 December 1975
Peking, China
Accident surgeon, Anatomist and General surgeon


Joshua Samuel Horn was born in London of Jewish parents on 14 July 1914. He won a scholarship to University College Hospital, where he had a brilliant career and collected various undergraduate medals and prizes. 'Josh', as he was known, had charm, dedication, and courage. During the hungry 'thirties, and influenced by the struggle against unemployment and fascism, he joined the Socialist Medical Association and the Communist Party, remaining a Marxist all his life. After qualification in 1936 he became lecturer in anatomy at Cambridge, then returned to University College Hospital. He came under the influence of Wilfred Trotter, whom he greatly admired, and took the FRCS when he was only 23 years old. During the blitz he worked as a surgeon in the dockside area of London; then spent four years in the RAMC, moving with the troops of the second front from Normandy to the Rhine and later to West Africa, where he attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1948 he was appointed surgeon to the Birmingham Accident Hospital. There his special interests were hand surgery and the repair of nerves. He wrote a number of papers and was a founder member of the Institute of Accident Surgery.

At the age of 40 he was struck with multiple sclerosis, which characteristically he bore with great fortitude, but fortunately was able to continue for 15 years a surgical career in Peking. He helped to pioneer the reattachment of severed limbs, and, as an adviser to the Ministry of Health, he founded an accident hospital in Peking and planned modern burns units. He was elected to the executive of the International Society for Burns Injuries. His activities took him far and wide through People's China, learning at first hand the medical and social changes which had followed liberation during the cultural revolution. He wrote about his experiences in a fascinating book, Away with all pests: an English surgeon on People's China.

Returning to England in 1969, he was appointed lecturer in anatomy, his old love, at the London Hospital. Although his health was deteriorating, he lectured widely on medicine in China, helping many to understand the marriage between traditional and modern medicine and the peasant-doctor movement. He was a fine speaker. He intended to write more on the changing Chinese medical and social scene, and, in 1974, revisited Peking for this purpose. He collapsed in his hotel room from a heart attack, and as he was too ill to move, his room was converted into an intensive care unit for days before his transfer to hospital - an indication of the esteem in which he was held. He was married and had one daughter and one son. He died in Peking on 17 December, 1975, aged 61 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1976, 1, 103].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England