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Biographical entry Greening, Wilfred Peter (1914 - 1999)

MRCS 1937; FRCS 1939; LRCP 1937.

16 May 1914
Saxlingham, Norfolk
General surgeon


Wilfred Peter Greening (usually called 'Peter') was a former consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital. He was born in Saxlingham, Norfolk, on 16 May 1914, the only child of the reverend Wilfred Greening, the local rector, and his wife Margaret, née Waller. His father died when he was five and the family then moved to Kent. He was educated at St Edmund's School, Canterbury. First intended for the Church, he changed his mind and chose medicine. He turned down a classical scholarship at Cambridge and entered Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, where he was to spend most of his professional life. He served as house surgeon and registrar at Charing Cross. The chiefs who particularly influenced him were Jennings Marshall and A J Fitzsimons. He worked through the worst of the Blitz, playing his full part in treating the huge numbers of casualties brought to the hospital, then in the Strand.

In 1942, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was posted to the Far East, where he was surgical specialist to a mobile field hospital in Chittagong and later in Burma. He was promoted to Wing Commander and mentioned in despatches.

In 1946, he returned to England, as registrar to the Woolwich War Memorial Hospital and the Gordon Hospital, where he was impressed by the work of E T C Milligan, A L Abel and R W Raven. In 1947, he was appointed honorary surgeon to Bromley Hospital and the following year to Woolwich Hospital. In 1952, he was appointed consultant to the Royal Cancer Hospital (subsequently Royal Marsden Hospital) and in 1954 to his old teaching hospital, Charing Cross, relinquishing his post at Woolwich. Some years later, in 1966, in order to devote more time to cancer work, he retired from Bromley Hospital. In 1974 he retired from Charing Cross Hospital.

His teaching, particularly at the bedside, was quiet and persuasive. He was never hectoring or prescriptive, and was seen to best advantage in small groups of postgraduate students. He avoided large conferences, particularly international ones, and preferred hospital-based seminars where he was an admirable chairman. A poor attender of surgical meetings, he was proud of his membership of the Garrick Club.

He was a master at colectomy; thyroid excisions were made to look easy by gentleness and wide exposure by muscle division, a technique put to good use in repeat dissections in cancer cases referred from other hospitals. The thrust of his work was the study and treatment of cancer of the breast and thyroid. He held that advances would be best achieved by specialist teams concentrating on individual organs, an aim that was difficult to achieve in his early years when his colleagues were general cancer surgeons. He gained his objective through resolve, patience and the ability to alter minds by private lobbying, rather than confrontation in committee.

On the retirement of R C B Ledlie, Greening set up a joint breast clinic with Mrs Rigby-Jones, the consultant radiotherapist. His thyroid clinic was greatly aided by Smithers's referral of all thyroid cancer cases and the active co-operation of H J Shaw, the ENT surgeon. Greening was one of the first to practise bilateral adrenalectomy, and later yttrium pituitary implants for metastatic breast cancer. An innovator, he suggested needle cytology and mammography in the early sixties and organised a study of thermography. On ethical grounds he declined to take part in clinical trials and this was a lost opportunity as the Marsden would have been an ideal centre. The establishment of one of the first early diagnostic units in breast disease owed much to his support, and led to improved diagnostic techniques and valuable epidemiological studies, including the Tamoxifen preventive project. From 1966, he contributed some 39 joint papers on thyroid and breast cancers.

He was a lecturer and examiner in surgery at the University of London, and was elected as a member of the Court of Examiners in 1962. He served on the board of governors of the Royal Marsden Hospital and of the Institute of Cancer Research.

His outside interests included collecting rare butterflies, golf and salmon fishing. Meetings of his firm at the end of the day in the local pub saw him relaxed with his favourite gin and tonic and near constant cigarette. He married Hilary Berryman in 1939, and they had one daughter. This marriage was dissolved in 1961, and he married Susan Huber in 1962. He married for a third time, in 1978, to Touba Ghazinoor. He died from chronic bronchitis complicated by pneumonia and was buried near his father in Saxlingham Churchyard.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1999 319 645, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England