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Biographical entry Pennell, Vernon Charles (1889 - 1976)

MRCS 1913; FRCS 1920; BA Cambridge 1911; MB BCh 1916; LRCP 1913.

30 September 1889
2 March 1976
General surgeon


Vernon Pennell was born in Lincoln on 30 September 1889, the eldest son of Charles Waldegrave Pennell, a seed merchant, and Jessie Folkes. After education at Harrow School, with an exhibition to Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1908 and a scholarship in the following year, he secured a first class in Natural Sciences in 1911 and moved to St Thomas's Hospital as a university scholar, qualifying in time to serve in the RAMC during the first world war. On demobilization, having been elected a Fellow of Pembroke in 1914, he returned to his old college as an assistant tutor and director of medical studies. He was then surgical registrar to Addenbrooke's Hospital and became FRCS in 1920 before appointment to the honorary staff in 1927. He was a member of the Court of Examiners for the Royal College of Surgeons and an examiner in surgery for the University of Cambridge. He became a life Fellow and senior Fellow of Pembroke and was a member of the Moynihan Club as well as the British Association of Urological Surgeons.

During his post-war years Vernon Pennell was remembered as a dynamic figure and a clear and impressive anatomical teacher, drawing diagrams swiftly and accurately as he talked. He did not suffer fools gladly and was outspokenly critical of the idle and incompetent. As a practising surgeon his clinical knowledge lent piquancy to his anatomical discourse and he was widely recognised as an excellent teacher. In the Final Fellowship he had the reputation of being terse and irascible, but he was always fair in his markings. He was keenly interested in the subsequent careers of those he had taught and always willing to give help and advice to those who sought his support. He was a notably competent and dexterous surgeon, kind and understanding to his patients and taking immense care with them. He played a full and active part in college life at Cambridge and was a warm and generous host. A keen cricketer, who just failed to get into the Harrow XI, he later played for Lincolnshire and remained an ardent and critical follower of the game.

Described as a staunch friend, a good clubman and a lively raconteur, his forthright expressions of opinion on academic, athletic and political subjects gave great pleasure and entertainment even to those who did not agree with him. He was twice married, first to Alberta Sanders, who died in 1960 and by whom there was one son, and then to Catherine Margaret Nisbett. He died in a nursing home at Cambridge on 2 March 1976, aged 86.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 4 March 1976; Daily Telegraph 4 March 1976; Brit med J 1976, 1, 841].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England