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Biographical entry Thompson, Henry Reynolds (1908 - 1985)

MRCS 1932; FRCS 1934; MB BCh Cambridge 1932; LRCP 1932.

14 February 1908
9 December 1985
General surgeon


Henry Reynolds Thompson was born in Hampstead, London, on 14 February 1908 the son of Harold Theodore Thompson (1878-1935) MD, FRCP, FRCS, physician to the London Hospital (Lives of the Fellows, 1930-1951, p.764) and Elinor, née Waller (whose father was a dental surgeon in Alexandria). He was educated at Arnold House Preparatory School in St John's Wood and at Rugby School before entering Christ's College, Cambridge, for pre-clinical studies. After receiving his BA degree in 1929 he undertook his clinical training at the London Hospital, winning the T A M Ross Prize in pathology and clinical medicine and qualifying in 1932. His early appointments were as house surgeon, house physician and resident accoucheur at the London Hospital and he passed the FRCS in 1934. He was then appointed surgical registrar to the London Hospital, working under Sir Henry Souttar, Alan Perry and Russell Howard. In 1939 he was the sole resident surgical officer at St Mark's Hospital where he was influenced especially by the meticulous technique of W B Gabriel and the treatment of fistulas by E T C Milligan.

Shortly after the outbreak of war he established a surgical unit under the Emergency Medical Services at Aldersbrook Childrens' Home, Essex, where he undertook much general surgery treating the victims of air raids on London. Later he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a surgical specialist with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel initially in North-West Europe with 53rd Field Surgical Unit for which he was mentioned in despatches and later as commanding officer of the surgical division of Indian General Hospitals in Ceylon and Burma.

After the war he was made consultant to the Army and in 1947 was appointed surgeon to St Mark's Hospital, London, to the Woodford Jubilee Hospital and the Forest Hospital, Buckhurst Hill. Although he performed major surgery at the last two hospitals, there was no junior staff to support him and he relied on the loyal cooperation of general practitioners and nurses. At St Mark's Hospital he soon acquired a high reputation as a skilled operator with an ability to unravel the most difficult surgical problems. In conjunction with Lloyd-Davies, Naunton Morgan and John Goligher he began to experiment with restorative operations for tumours of the upper rectum and he introduced the technique of applying split skin grafts to hasten the healing of large cavities left after excision of extensive fistulae in ano. Above all he will be remembered by many resident surgical officers for his patience in teaching them the meticulous surgical techniques which he had developed over many years and for the encouragement he gave them to conduct clinical research and to publish papers. He supervised the medical records at St Mark's devoting an entire afternoon each week to ensuring that operation notes were fully recorded and that an accurate follow-up record was maintained.

He participated fully in the activities of medical societies in London and internationally. He served twice as President of the Section of Proctology of the Royal Society of Medicine; he was President of the Hunterian Society in 1977 and 1978 and also of the Medical Society of London in 1966. In addition he served as President of Hedrologicum Conlegium, an international society for the study of diseases of the colon and rectum, for 10 years after its foundation in 1963. It always gave him great pleasure to be able to arrange for a banquet at the end of a professional conference to be held in a livery hall or even in Guildhall. His services to international coloproctology were recognised by the award of the Gimbernat Prize and honorary membership of the Catalan Surgical Society in Barcelona in 1974.

He joined the livery of both the Barbers' Company and the Society of Apothecarics and had an abiding interest in the traditions of the City of London. He served as Master of the Barbers in 1959 to 1960 and played an important role in rebuilding Barber Surgeons' Hall after its destruction in the war. He gave the Sir Lionel Denny lecture to the Worshipful Company of Barbers on The contribution of the City to medicine and altogether served on the court of the company for 35 years. This long service was recognised by the rare honour of being elected Barber Emeritus and by his wife Doreen being made an honorary freewoman of the company. His interest in medical history is reflected in his memorable Thomas Vicary Lecture delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons on 29 October 1959 during his year as Master of the Barbers entitled Serjeant surgeons to their Majesties. He served as Master of the Society of Apothecaries in 1968 to 1969 when once again his witty after-dinner speeches delivered in a clear resonant voice were greatly enjoyed. He continued to serve on the court until the time of his death and played an important role in the redevelopment of the Society's property adjacent to the Hall.

He retired from hospital practice in 1974 but continued with his extensive private practice for a further 10 years. In 1977 while on the premises of the College's Examination Hall in Queen Square he developed sudden severe abdominal and back pain, caused by a ruptured aortic aneurysm which was successfully treated by an emergency operation at the London Hospital later that evening.

After retiring he went to live at Southwold, Suffolk, where he was able to enjoy his hobby of golf. He married Doreen Holdstock, a nurse from University College Hospital, on 28 June 1940 and there were three sons of the marriage, David, Rodney, and Andrew. The eldest, David Theodore, is a Fellow of the College and in practice as a consultant radiologist. He died suddenly on 9 December 1985 and the high esteem in which he was held throughout his life is reflected by the large number of professional colleagues, liverymen, nurses, patients, and friends who attended the memorial service held in his honour at St Giles' Church, Cripplegate, on 18 January 1986.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1986, 292, 208; Lancet 1986, 1, 109 with portrait; Granshaw, L. St Mark's Hospital, London: a social history of a specialist hospital. London: King's Fund, 1985].

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