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Biographical entry Harmer, Michael Hedley (1912 - 1998)

MRCS 1938; FRCS 1940; MB BChir Cambridge 1939; LRCP 1938.

6 July 1912
11 November 1998
General surgeon


Michael Harmer was consultant surgeon to the Royal Marsden, Paddington Green Children's and St Andrew's Hospitals. He was born in London on 6 July 1912, the third son of William Douglas Harmer, a distinguished surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital. His mother, May Hedley, was the daughter of John Hedley MD of Middlesborough, Yorkshire. Michael was educated at Beaudesert Park, Minchinhampton, Marlborough College, and then King's College, Cambridge.

He attended Bart's from 1934 to 1943 and then went to the Westminster Hospital for postgraduate training. At Bart's he was influenced by Harold Wilson and Sir Geoffrey Keynes, and at the Westminster by Sir Stanford Cade and E S Lee. He served in the RAF as squadron leader from 1943 to 1946. He was appointed to Paddington Green Children's Hospital in 1948, and then subsequently joined the consultant staff of the Royal Marsden and St Andrew's Hospital, Dollis Hill.

His achievements included serving on the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer from 1953 to 1988, an organisation which aimed to create a common terminology to describe cancer. He campaigned to keep Paddington Green Hospital from closure, helping to prolong its life by 40 years. He also fought to delay the closure of Bart's. His publications included lives of Lord Moynihan and Sir Geoffrey Keynes. He was the co-editor of the nineteenth edition of Rose and Carless' Manual of surgery (London, Bailliere, Tindall & Cox, 1960) and wrote a book on the Anglo-Russian Hospital in St Petersburg that had been set up by his father in 1915 to treat wounded Russians. He called it The forgotten hospital (1981) as it had not been mentioned in the official history of the first world war.

Michael was a keen mountaineer. He was a member of the Alpine Club and the Swiss Alpine Club, and climbed the Matterhorn three times. He was a founder member, with nine others, of the Snark Club at Cambridge, and attended the annual dinner, accompanied by his son and grandson, a month before he died. His other interests included music and gardening.

Michael was a lively and entertaining companion. In 1993 he published his memoirs entitled Look back in happiness. He retired early at 60, disillusioned by the NHS. In later years he suffered from poor health. He is survived by his wife Bridget née Higgs-Walker, whom he married in 1939, and by their son, William, and daughter, Juliet. He had four grandchildren - Arabella, Jessie, Douglas and Charlotte. He died on 11 November 1998.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 14 December 1998].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England