Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Gonet, Leon Casimir Louis (1916 - 1992)

MRCS 1939; FRCS 1950; MB BS London 1940; LRCP 1939.

Simla, India
16 June 1992
Orthopaedic surgeon


Leon Casimir Louis Gonet was born in 1916 in Simla, where his father was deputy director-general of Indian Posts and Telegraphs. He was educated in various schools in India, and proved to be both an able student and a natural games player. In 1933 the family moved to England and Leon gained a place at St George's Hospital Medical School, being awarded the Hunter medal in surgery in 1938. He qualified in the next year, and after pre-registration jobs at St George's and St Stephen's Hospitals he was commissioned in the RAMC. His personality and physical prowess combined to make the story of his war service an heroic one. After serving in West Africa he went to Burma as a column medical officer in Wingate's Chindits, operating behind the Japanese lines. His courage and cheerful good humour kept up the spirits of many in the 3rd West African Brigade. He was tireless in the care of the sick and wounded, often working long hours into the night after a gruelling day's march through the jungle. On one occasion, at great personal risk, he went into a minefield to rescue a British officer who had stepped on a mine. Later he amputated the injured limb, and the officer required no further surgery after evacuation to India. Such achievement by one with so brief a training in surgery shows an aptitude for the craft that was evident in his subsequent career. Gonet was eventually evacuated from Burma, and served in Germany in a field ambulance attached to the 7th Armoured Division, attaining the rank of major and being mentioned in despatches in 1945.

Returning to civilian life in 1946, Gonet became a surgical registrar at St Andrew's Hospital in London, and then a senior registrar at the Whittington and West Middlesex Hospitals. In 1957 he was appointed consultant orthopaedic surgeon to Putney, Bolingbroke and Battersea Hospitals. From 1971 until his retirement in 1981 he was also a consultant in orthopaedics at St Stephen's Hospital, and was a member of the teaching staff of the Westminster Hospital.

Leon Gonet was an extremely kind, hardworking and charming man, whose sound opinion and skilful surgical practice gained him great affection and respect. Marrying rather late, he enjoyed an extremely happy family life. A keen cricketer in his youth, he became an excellent golfer, and much enjoyed his sport and the social life that went with it. One of his cricketing exploits in India became the subject of an anecdote recounted on the radio by Brian Johnston. Leon was unable to take a catch as the ball had fallen on the back of a kitehawk circling above the camp. Only when it fell off the bird's back was he able to take the catch, commenting that 'he was never sure to whom it should be credited'! He had a fine baritone voice, and might well have taken up a career as a singer. The sad loss of his wife in a motor accident in 1980 was a crushing blow to his happiness. Later, he endured further affliction from ill-health as diabetes led to the amputation of first one leg and then the other. He was survived by three sons, Simon, Andrew and Donald, and a daughter, Victoria, when he died on 16 June 1992, aged 75 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 23 June 1992].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England