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Biographical entry Wheatley, Percival Ross (1909 - 1988)

DSO 1943; MRCS 1933; FRCS 1940; MB BS London 1933; OHS 1967.

4 May 1909
Westbury, Wiltshire
20 January 1988
Orthopaedic surgeon


Percival Ross Wheatley was born in Westbury, Wiltshire on 4 May 1909, the son of Reverend Percival Wheatley, a Congregational minister and Margaret, née Wallis, the daughter of a dental surgeon. He won a scholarship to St Dunstan's College, Catford, for his early education and later gained an open scholarship to Guy's Hospital Medical School where he was awarded the Michael Harris Prize for anatomy. He qualified in 1933 and after completing a post of house surgeon to the ear, nose and throat department at Guy's Hospital went to Bristol General Hospital as house surgeon and casualty officer. In 1935 he was granted a short service commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to Egypt to join a cavalry field ambulance. He resigned his commission after a year in order to get more civilian experience, but rejoined in September 1939 and went to France as a surgical specialist with 7th General Hospital. He passed the FRCS in the following year and after the fall of France returned to England to undergo training as an airborne officer. He was second in command of the 16th Parachute Field Ambulance at the time of the North Africa landings in 1942 which was the first occasion in which British airborne forces were used operationally. He commanded the field ambulance in the following year when landings were made in Sicily and Italy and was awarded the DSO. In autumn 1944 he was assistant director of medical services of 44th Indian Airborne Division when it was renamed 2nd Indian Airborne Division. Although it trained for airborne landings in the Far East with a view to recapturing Malaya, the division was never used for that purpose except for one battalion which dropped on the mouth of the Rangoon river in Operation Dracula which coincided with sea-borne landings in the spring of 1945. Immediately after the Japanese surrender the division supplied the majority of parachute medical teams which were dropped by 'Liberators' in Siam, Malaya, French Indo-China and Indonesia as the harbingers of help to allied prisoners of war and civilian detainees.

At the end of the war he returned to surgery and developed a keen interest in orthopaedics. He served as surgical specialist in Catterick, Hamburg, Singapore, Japan and Millbank where he was joint Professor of Military Surgery in 1959. In 1960 he was seconded to the Ghana Army as surgical specialist and subsequently was consultant surgeon to the Far East Land Forces from 1963 to 1966 and to the British Army of the Rhine from 1966 to 1967. He then became Director of Army Surgery and Consulting Surgeon to the Army from 1967 to 1969 and during these years was honoured by the Queen who appointed him Queen's Honorary Surgeon. After retiring from the Army he was surgeon to P&O Lines for eight years before finally retiring from practice.

In addition to publications in surgical and orthopaedic journals he contributed a chapter to Basic surgery edited by LC Oliver. Throughout his Army career, whether in an administrative or a professional capacity, he always endeavoured to get away from headquarters and visit peripheral units encouraging and supporting junior staff. He was a much-liked and respected chief.

Apart from his professional activities, Wheatley's main interests were philately and sailing. In 1939 he married Joan Brock and they had one son, Roger, who is an airline pilot. He died on 20 January 1988, aged 78, after a long illness and is survived by his wife and son.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1988, 296, 1746; Pegasus XLIII, No.2, August 1988].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England