Germany has been the country most visited by the Travelling Surgical Society which has been there nine times, though Berlin was only visited once, in 1936 and for this no Report is extant (and may never have been written) though printed Minutes exist. These state that the meeting in Berlin in April 1936 was attended by Messrs Anderson, Blaxland, Gabe, Haycroft, Hey, Hunter, Kennon, Maybury, Sampson, Taylor and Williams. Under matters arising it was proposed (by Mr Maybury and seconded by Mr Anderson) that ”members so retired remain as honorary members of the Club, but without a vote in Club matters”. An amendment was proposed by Mr Hey, and passed unanimously, that: “those who attain the age of 60 may continue to attend the Club meetings until they attain the age of 65. When attending meetings, they shall pay a subscription but shall have no vote in Club matters.”
The Berlin meeting in 1936 was scheduled to be held during the week ending April 4th (according to the Minutes held in Groningen, Holland on Sunday 7 April 1935), and was to be combined with a visit to Hamburg. Printed Minutes exist from the Berlin meeting dated baldly as April 1935, and simply record formal items including the registering of apologies from Messrs Mitchiner, Mullally, Morrison, Price Thomas and Shaw. The latter also tended his resignation (Messrs Hammond and Whitelocke having already resigned), accepted with regret by the meeting. Mr G H Stevenson of Glasgow was unanimously elected a member. It was decided that a special meeting of the Club be held at 5.45 pm in the Caledonian Hotel on Thursday 7 May during the Annual Meeting of the Association of Surgeons so that members would be able to give the Secretary a longer list of names of potential members “so that guests could be selected with greater chance of acceptance by a suitable number” in order that “the system established in Minute 4(d) in April 1935 could be carried out with greater success than on the present occasion.” Item 7 records that “it was decided to ask the Secretary to write to Lord Moynihan and to our hosts in Germany expressing appreciation of the work seen.” The final item (9) of these minutes (recorded by John B Hunter) was that the 1936-7 subscription was to be fixed at one guinea! The 1936 minutes concluded with a statement of accounts for 1935-1936 detailing the Club’s credit as £58 10s 0p from 16 subscriptions at £3, one previous year’s subscription of £1-10-0 and six ladies donations (totalling £9) of £1-10-0. The latter suggests six ladies attended the 1936 meeting, though reference to female company in the early Reports is sparse until after the Second World War: the 1929 Minutes record that ”next year if possible the party should motor through the Black Forest and that wives should attend” but there is no record they did so.
The meeting held at Wurzburg on 10 March 1937 was attended by nine members, who resolved that absences should require a valid excuse on threat of expulsion and who recorded regret at the death of Lord Moynihan, in whose memory two guineas were put aside for a wreath. Mr Julian Taylor was elected as Chairman, Mr Price Thomas as Hon Sec and Treasurer and a vote of thanks was passed to Mr Mitchiner for his services in the latter post. It was suggested that “the expenses of the entertainment of official guests at meetings should be paid out of Club funds” and that this should be debated at the next annual general meeting. During the 1937 meeting in Germany the TSC also visited Cologne (Professor von Haberer), Frankfurt and Bonn. The Reports of these meetings did not spare their hosts’ blushes, stating of the surgery in Wurzburg that “repeated contamination of the wound occurred [during resection of a small rectal carcinoma] with the surgeon’s fingers as often inside the bowel as outside it.” Professor Kappis was said to work with three assistants and two theatre sisters and “his technique did not always commend itself to members and gentleness in handling was not conspicuous.” In Bonn Professor von Redwitz was criticised for his technique with a goitre in which “the handling was rough and the haemorrhage considerable.” During a resection of a rectal carcinoma “members saw the Professor wrench out the lower sigmoid and rectum ….[and]…doubt was expressed as to the fate of the ureters.” Members were conducted round the X-ray Department which they much admired for its excellent filing and cross-indexing under both diseases and anatomical situation. Life-sized negatives (taken at 5 metres distance) showed various diseases. A cinematograph film was shown, exhibiting in an experimental dog the movements of the heart under varying degrees of distension of the pericardium.
In 1928 the TSC visited Frankfurt, in 1929 Munich, and in 1930 Heidelberg and Freiberg. It was 28 years later that the group returned to Germany, to visit Heidelberg in 1965 (returning there in 1989, together with Mannheim).
It is sad indeed that no Report exists of the Berlin visit in 1936 for it would surely have been illuminating. This was the era of the great Sauerbruch,” a pioneer of thoracic surgery and an aggressive man whose ideas dominated German military surgery throughout WW2, often to its detriment.” However, the visit to Berlin in 1978 – combined with Rinteln, as guests of the British Army on the Rhine in a trip organised faultlessly by Major-General Cameron Moffat – was ranked as one of the best in memory. The venue was the Edinburgh House Hotel in Berlin, normally a transit post for Army personnel and their families. The British and American Army Hospitals were visited, the latter a former SS Hospital paid for by the West German Government and capable of considerable expansion. At the British Military Hospital there was an underground section of 125 beds with theatre facilities, and also a high security room where Rudolf Hess was treated from time to time. At the German Steglitz Hospital work of a high order was seen in the 16 operating theatres, equipped with glass observation roofs and closed circuit television. The Berlin Wall was visited, a memorable experience, and the Club flew to Hanover. This visit was one of the most fascinating in the Club’s history, and it was regretted that only six ordinary members were able to attend.
In all the meetings in Germany, it was noted by a former Editor of the Report that despite two World Wars the welcome was always kind, friendly and without any hint of hostility or bitterness – a tribute he felt to the strength of the brotherhood of medicine.
Tim Williams, May 2006
Berlin was also the venue in 2006