Travelling Surgical Society of Great Britain and Ireland

With great sadness we report the death aged 62 of Surgeon Vice Admiral Alasdair Walker from recurrence of a brain tumour.  He was our third distinguished TSS member from the Royal Navy (Sir James Watt was Medical Director Royal Navy and Ian Jenkins was Surgeon-General). Alasdair was a regular attender at TSS meetings and a valued scientific contributor and presenter.

You can read his obituary here

It is with great sadness that we also report the death of our much loved member Professor Brian Ellis on 23 December 2018, aged 71. Brian was a popular member of the TSS, a wonderful secretary and a talented photographer. Indeed his photographs and his yearly book (produced together with our Editor Tim Williams) have enormously enhanced the records of our travels and will provide a source of important information for surgical historians for years to come. He will be sadly missed. You can find his obituary here

Brian’s life is being celebrated on Saturday 22nd June, at 2 pm in a service at Christ Church, Ottershaw (KT16 0PB), arranged by the Ellis family who had lived in Ottershaw for over thirty years.



The Travelling Surgical society of Great Britain and Ireland is a group of surgeons from around the United Kingdom that travels to various hospitals and surgical departments around the world and in the UK. Academic and clinical meetings encourage educational and surgical exchanges.

The current membership consists of about fifty surgeons of whom thirty are in active practice. The society has always maintained strong links to military surgery  Twelve of the active members are Professors of Surgery, demonstrating that we place great emphasis on academic content in our meetings. We offer two travelling fellowships each year.

Our organisation was founded in 1924 by a group of British surgeons who had worked in France during the First World War in the Casualty Clearing Stations of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Meeting surgeons from elsewhere they realised that British surgery was somewhat isolated from that of other countries. To remedy this they formed the Travelling Surgical Club, the object of which was to travel every year to a foreign country and meet colleagues with whom they could share knowledge and exchange opinions. This idea was warmly supported by Sir Berkeley (later Lord) Moynihan, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who agreed to become the Club’s first President.

In those early days, members had to have served in the Armed Forces. Between the Wars, fourteen trips were made to seven different countries. Two home centres in the UK were also visited. An account of each meeting, particularly the scientific sessions, is produced as a historical record in an annual Report: sometimes our hosts are surprised at what we know of their predecessors!  Following the Second World War, the Club re-formed as before. Sir Clement Price Thomas (a pioneer thoracic surgeon, who operated on King George VI) became its President in 1952.

The Academic Meetings

We usually hold one meeting at a centre of excellence abroad in May.   We spend a day at three or more hospitals; the programme includes a mutual presentation of scientific/clinical papers.  In 1958 a visit to the home centre of a member was added, and this became customary each autumn.  We particularly value the presence of medical students and junior doctors, from whom we get the flavour of modern surgical training. Our presentations include topics and research of current clinical interest and also the funding and delivery of surgical care, matters of competence and training, the use of teaching techniques, audit and governance, as well as subjects of perennial interest, including the history of surgery itself – in short, anything that touches remotely on the modern practice of surgery!


The membership of the Society consists of about 25 active members in surgical practice, many with a gastro-intestinal, vascular, urological or plastic interest. Our Members are a mix of academic and clinical surgeons from teaching / university and district hospitals all over Britain. Currently we do not have an orthopaedic or a neuro-surgeon.  We also have surgeons from the Armed Services with wide experience of the management of trauma, some of it from conflicts such as the Falklands, Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

The last meetings were in May 2018 to Budapest in Hungary and in September 2017 to  Cambridge . The next meeting will be in Malta in 2019.

In January 2018 we learnt of the death of Christopher Pegg
  a Nottingham surgeon who made notable contributions to the surgical management of the thyroid gland and endocrine tumours; he operated skilfully despite childhood burns to his hands which required much plastic surgery. See here for his obituary.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth"

Mark Twain

"When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge which they may apply usefully in their country" 

Thomas Jefferson

"In our age such great usefulness redounds to the physician from his travels that none puts much faith in the authority of the physician who has not set foot outside his native land, and, although each may have at home in abundance those things which are necessary for medical instruction, nevertheless they ought to be strengthened or increased by a comparison with things abroad.

There is a vast delight and pleasure in gazing upon foreign lands and fields, mountains and rivers, observing the benignity of Nature's variety everywhere, the different conditions of the sick in homes and in hospitals with their great number of beds, which can readily be seen here and there, examining the methods for treating the patients, enjoying the conversation of the learned men, and calling forth their experiences, and visiting the laboratories, the furnaces of the chemists, the pharmacies and the unguent shops."

Thomas Bartholin, Danish anatomist (1616 -1680) on medical travel