In 1924 Sir Berkeley (later Lord) Moynihan held a clinical meeting in Leeds for twelve British surgeons whom he then entertained to dinner. From these roots evolved the present-day Travelling Surgical Society (TSS).
Between the two World Wars the Travelling Surgical Club (as it still then was) visited seven foreign countries, and meetings were also held in Edinburgh and Newcastle. None occurred after 1938 until 1947, when the Club was revived with a meeting in Oxford under the chairmanship of Mr J B Hunter of King’s College Hospital. Twelve of the pre-war members were present (representing London, Norwich, Aberdeen, Manchester, Cardiff, Liverpool and Birmingham) and included Mr Clement Price Thomas, who was later to become President of the Club and, of course, thoracic surgeon to King George VI, for which he was knighted.
It was decided to invite six new members (“junior men, all to have served in the Armed Forces in the last war”) to the next meeting, which was held in Manchester in 1948. This new blood comprised Messrs Michael Boyd, Frank d’Abreu, Norman Logie, Bob Nevin and Norman Townsley (all of the Army) with Bob Wolfe representing the Navy.
The practice of inviting only those who had served in the Armed Forces was continued for some years, and although senior surgeons from the three Armed Forces are still traditionally invited to join, the membership is now open by invitation to any consultant surgeon in any hospital in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland though an effort is made to achieve a wide geographical spread.
Principally consisting of those with an interest within the wider remit of general surgery, the membership also includes a plastic surgeon and some with urological interests.
The current membership consists of about fifty surgeons of whom thirty are in active practice, and of these three are female. It is distinguished by numerous titles, honours, and Presidencies of learned organisations including Royal Colleges. It also boasts some unusual accolades, including an Honored Member of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists, a Lambeth Doctorate of Medicine (awarded by the Archbishop of Canterbury), a Kentucky Colonel, and a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite.
In the 75 years since its founding, the Travelling Surgical Society has visited 23 countries and 29 home centres, including six London hospitals, the Royal Naval Hospital in Haslar, and RAF Halton. In recent years the only cancelled visit was to Greece (in 1991) because the Gulf War required surgeons to be on stand-by in civilian hospitals.
The most frequently visited foreign countries were Germany and France (both nine times). There have been five visits each to Holland, Italy and Spain, the latter in 1987 including St Bernard’s Hospital in Gibraltar, the smallest hospital visited; Bologna was the largest, its university hospital complex reputedly housing 4000 beds. The Society has also been to Israel, the United States and South Africa.
The Travelling Surgical Society meets twice a year, travelling abroad in the spring for about a week and congregating for two days in the autumn at a home meeting hosted by a member. The wives of deceased members are warmly welcomed for the social events at our meetings.
The meetings abroad consist of visits to several hospitals, usually for one day each, during which the group may attend an operating theatre suite, tour a ward and other facilities (such as an intensive care unit) and have a scientific session in which papers are presented by the host surgeons and by the members.
The topics cover as wide a range as the Secretary and the host surgeons wish, the more unusual including the Lockerbie disaster, the history of surgery during the Crusades, and a gruesome account of injuries from the conflict in Northern Ireland. Of late, Telemedicine demonstrations have figured prominently. On visits abroad an ‘internal’ meeting of presentations within the group is usually held, though the chief stimulation is from the company of our hosts, with whom we also arrange social events.