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Biographical entry Pemberton, Thomas Max (1910 - 1990)

MBE (Mil) 1946; TD 1964; MRCS and FRCS 1939; MB ChB Otago 1935.

24 June 1910
Christchurch, New Zealand
8 February 1990
General surgeon


Thomas Max Pemberton was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 24 June 1910, the son of Bertram Victor Pemberton, the senior government meteorologist in New Zealand and Alice May, née Nosworthy. His grandfather Thomas Pemberton MB, FRCS Edinburgh, had practised surgery in Birmingham, in South Africa and New Zealand.

He was educated at Wellington College, New Zealand, and entered Otago University, Dunedin, for medical studies. After obtaining distinctions in anatomy and physiology he qualified in 1935, and was appointed senior anatomy demonstrator and also junior resident at Gisborne Hospital before coming to England for postgraduate experience, working initially at the Royal Northern Hospital under W B Gabriel and Hamilton Bailey. He was later appointed resident surgical officer at the Royal Masonic Hospital under Sir Heneage Ogilvie, Victor Bonney and Ogier Ward and passed the FRCS in 1939. At that stage he went to Aberdeen as surgical registrar to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children, working under William Anderson and Andrew Fowler.

In 1941 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as surgical specialist with the rank of Major and was posted to No 1 Malayan General Hospital, Singapore, and later surgeon at the Roberts Hospital, Changi, where many of the wounded from the Malayan campaign and the battle of Singapore were cared for. After the fall of Singapore he was taken prisoner and was commanding officer and surgeon to No 2 POW Hospital on the Burma-Siam railway. Under atrocious conditions, using rudimentary anaesthesia and improvised equipment, he performed 450 surgical operations during a 2 1/2 year period. Many of the patients suffered from beri-beri, tropical ulcers and dysentery but despite these problems his success was legendary and at the end of the war he was awarded the MBE. He continued to serve in the Territorial Army after demobilisation as Lieutenant-Colonel and was awarded the Territorial Decoration in 1964.

After his return to Britain he was appointed consultant surgeon to Chase Farm Hospital and Enfield Health District which he served from 1947 to 1976. Although his interests were general they inclined towards cob-proctology and gastroenterology and he wrote extensively on these subjects, contributing a chapter in Rob and Smith's Operative surgery in 1977 on the sacral approach to the rectum. In 1969 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the State University of New York and two years later was elected President of the Section of Proctology of the Royal Society of Medicine, giving a presidential address on assessment and management of recurrences of carcinoma of the large intestine. Throughout his career he took great interest in teaching and training junior staff and was appointed surgical tutor by the Royal College of Surgeons in 1972. He also served as chairman of the Enfield and Potters Bar Division of the BMA.

In 1947 he married Jessie Clowes by whom he had two sons and one daughter; his elder son has recently qualified in medicine from the Middlesex Hospital. When he retired in 1976 he returned to New Zealand and lived in Tauranga. He continued to enjoy his hobbies of tennis, sailing and music until the time of his death on 8 February 1990, aged 79.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1990, 300, 1073; NZ med J 1990, 102, 359].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England