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Biographical entry Saner, Francis Donaldson (1884 - 1975)

MRCS 1910; FRCS 1916; MB ChB Cambridge 1911; LRCP 1910.

24 August 1884
24 January 1975
General surgeon


Francis Donaldson Saner, or Frank Saner as he was always known, was born in Hull on 24 August 1884, the youngest of ten children of a wealthy family. His father died whilst he was a teenager and his mother was the daughter of a merchant sea captain, there being seven sons and three daughters. After early education locally, Frank went on to Bedford School and Queen's College, Cambridge, where he played rugby for the college and was captain of cricket and hockey. He entered Guy's Hospital where he became a regular member of the rugby team. After qualifying in 1910 he was house surgeon to Arbuthnot Lane who remained his surgical idol thereafter. He was also resident surgical officer and demonstrator of anatomy at Guy's. During the first world war he served in France as a Captain in the RAMC and obtained his FRCS in 1916.

During part of his war service he was joined by his wife who ran the hospital canteen. He recalled one occasion when his operating tent caught fire. The operation was continued but he only just managed to get his patient and two assistants out before the tent was destroyed. He drily added that, though the assistants were awarded the Albert Medal, the surgeon was reprimanded for taking undue risk!

After the war he was appointed consultant surgeon to the Army of the Rhine with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and returned to London where he practised from Hamilton Terrace, before moving to Harley Street. He was appointed to the Royal Northern Hospital to become part of a team which included Sir Lancelot Barrington-Ward, McNeill Love, Hamilton Bailey and William Gabriel. He was also on the staff of the Evelina Hospital, and later worked at Willesden General, St John's Lewisham and the Victoria Hospital, Kingston, as well as the St Monica's Home Hospital for Children. Saner's early publications covered a wide range of subjects but his later interest was mainly in the breast: he was editor and joint author of The breast: structure, function and diseases, published in 1950. He also contributed to The Royal Northern operative surgery.

Frank Saner, widely known as 'Stumpy' because of his small stature, was a shy and unobtrusive man who never sought the limelight, but he engendered great esteem and affection amongst his patients, colleagues and nursing staff. His wisdom, commonsense, humour and unflappability were much appreciated, as was his later stoic acceptance of increasing deafness and ill-health. He and his wife were the epitome of kindness and consideration to his juniors. His house surgeons were often invited to join him at functions where white tie and tails were the rule. Afterwards he would instruct his chauffeur to take the guests home in the Rolls.

During the second world war he was in administrative charge of the Royal Northern and constantly in evidence. His earlier experience was invaluable in the triage of air raid casualties and in supervising their care. After retirement from the NHS in 1952 he remained at Harley Street but he and his wife spent increasing time at Porlock, Devon, where they had owned a house for many years. He gradually became more of an invalid and, when his wife died in 1973, he moved to a nursing home in Ealing where, practically blind, he insisted on helping himself and constantly advised and assisted the nurses. He died there on 24 January 1975 in his 92nd year.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1975, 1, 461; Lancet, 1975, 1, 350].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England