France was first visited in 1926, when the Society stayed in Paris, attending four hospitals and one private clinic. Here members saw de Martel (of gastrointestinal clamp fame) doing general surgery, neurosurgery and gynaecology. Those attending record that “they did not know what to admire most, his brilliant surgery, his open-handed hospitality, or the simplicity as well as the range of his personal tastes”. Paris has remained the most popular surgical centre to be visited by the Society, which returned in 1938, 1950, 1974 and 1992.
On the last occasion members attended the Hôpital St Antoine as guests of Professor Roland Parc, the Paul Brousse (Professor Henri Bismuth), the Laennec (Professor Pascal Frilieux) and the Pitie-Salpêtriére – said to be the largest hospital in Europe with 2400 beds – where our host was Professor Jean-Paul Chigot. Apart from being grandson of the impressionist painter, Professor Chigot enjoyed lion and tiger taming and prestidigitation, an invaluable adjunct for a surgeon.
World class surgery was evident, particularly in hepatic and pancreatic resection, aortic reconstruction (by Professor Edouard Kieffer) and endocrine surgery, though one professor observed that eight of the 25 surgical units in Paris were under-worked.
In 1930 Strasbourg was visited, and here Professor Leriche was seen performing a stellate ganglionectomy under local anaesthesia. In 1951 the venue was Lyons and then Strasbourg again. This time the Society learnt about the newly-conceived French Health Service of 1946.
In 1964 the visit was to Montpellier – that ancient University city which dates back to 1220 – and Marseilles, where the Societé de Chirurgie de Marseilles (founded in 1906) produced a beautifully printed programme with embossed parchment cover for the delighted surgical visitors. In Montpellier the hospitality was described as both gargantuan and Lucullan. In 1980 Bordeaux was visited for the first time, simultaneous with five Royal Naval minesweepers, an event headlined in the local press as “Quatorze Scalpels and Cinq Drageurs”.