Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Wright, Henry Wardel Snarey (1892 - 1976)

Légion d'Honneur 1945; MRCS 1915; FRCS 1920; MB BS London 1918; MS 1921; LRCP 1915.

3 June 1892
3 May 1976
General surgeon


Peter Wright, as he was known all over the world, was one of the kindest and gentlest members of his profession. Born on 3 June 1892, he qualified at University College Hospital in 1915 and proceeded to the FRCS in 1920 and MS London in 1921. As an extremely young medical officer he served in France in the first world war and was from then on a confirmed Francophile and fluent in French and German. In 1945 he was personally decorated with the Légion d'Honneur by General de Gaulle and enjoyed corresponding membership of the Paris and Lyons Academies of Surgery.

Having married a fellow doctor at Bethnal Green Hospital in the war years, at the early age of 29 he set off with Dr Helena Wright to serve as Rockefeller Professor of Surgery in China. He mastered Mandarin so that he could lecture his students and translate for them a standard western textbook of surgery. Always a general surgeon he gained vast experience in his five years in China. Returning home he was appointed at a rather mature age to the staff of Queen Mary's Hospital for the East End, the French Hospital, St Margaret's Epping, Erith and Edenbridge Cottage Hospitals and Queen Elizabeth's Hospital for Children, Hackney.

He served for a long time as secretary of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and was also the UK delegate to the International Society of Surgery for many years. A familiar figure in surgical gatherings as far ranging as Mexico, Vienna, Buenos Aires and Moscow he was a wonderful ambassador, his kindly eyes twinkling behind the large round lenses of his steel rimmed spectacles. In retirement his appetite for travel and his capacity to absorb what was new in surgery seemed quite undiminished.

It would be impossible in recalling Peter Wright not to include a word about his wife Helena who survived him by six years to die at the age of 93. She was born Helena Lowenfeld in Brixton, a few years before Peter, the daughter of a penniless Polish immigrant who had a genius for making money as an entrepreneur in the theatrical world. As a child Helena was surrounded by servants and sent to Cheltenham Ladies' College, but eventually rebelled, having determined to be a doctor. She was one of the first women to join the RAMC, trained as a gynaecologist, worked as Associate Professor in Shantung Christian University, bringing up four small boys while her husband taught surgery. Returning to England she was one of the toughest fighters for sexual equality and in promoting birth control to ensure that women could enjoy a happier sex life.

Peter Wright died in University College Hospital, London on 3 May 1976, a much loved friend of a wide circle of professional people both in the UK and overseas. He was survived by his wife Helena who died on 21 March 1982, their three surviving sons (of whom two became doctors) and their grandchildren, of whom two also qualified in medicine.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1976, 1, 1284; The Times 22 May 1976].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England