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George Ernest Gask

(1875-1951), Surgeon

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George Ernest Gask, possibly by Edward Cahen - NPG x9500

George Ernest Gask

possibly by Edward Cahen
bromide print, 1910s
NPG x9500

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Holly Gask

25 April 2017, 13:40

Dr George Ernest Gask was born on 1 August 1875. He was educated at Dulwich College. He studied at Lausanne, Freiburg, and Baden before entering St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in 1893. He qualified in 1898, and was appointed house surgeon to John Langton. By 1914 he was recognized as an excellent consultant and teacher and well-known as an expert mountaineer and alpinist. He was particularly interested in the surgery of the chest, which at that time was a new specialty. The outbreak of war in August 1914 found him ready and equipped to play a distinguished part in the RAMC. He went to France in 1916, was four times mentioned in despatches, and won the DSO in 1917. He was appointed consulting surgeon to the Fourth Army in 1918, and was created CMG in 1919 for his services. He was active throughout in securing the most up-to-date surgical treatment for wounds of the chest and lungs. The West London Medico-Chirurgical Society awarded him its gold medal for his part in this work.
Dr Gask was not only an extremely able surgeon and a man of imperturbable character; he was moved by a deep sense of mission to improve the education of younger surgeons. Before and during the war he prepared the way for the introduction of whole-time professorial units in the teaching hospitals, and when he was appointed the first professor of surgery in the University of London in 1919, he was ready at once to start his unit at St Bartholomew's. He was bold enough to bring (Sir) Thomas Dunhill from Melbourne as his deputy, and had Geoffrey Keynes and R Ogier Ward as his assistants. This brilliant team established the success of Dr Gask's innovation beyond criticism.
During the period of his professorship Gask took an active part in professional activities. He was an original member of the Radium Trust, and served on the Medical Research Council 1937-41; he was one of the originators of the project for a Postgraduate Medical School in London, which he hoped to see established at one of the old undergraduate teaching hospitals, whose great traditions might thus be carried on at a new level. When the British Postgraduate Medical School was set up at the London County Council's Hammersmith Hospital he gave himself wholeheartedly to its service, as perhaps the most active member of its governing body. He took a leading part in the conduct of the British Journal of Surgery, attracting a wider membership to the general committee as the original founders gave up the work, and he himself succeeded Moynihan as chairman of the editorial committee and maintained the very high standard which the Journal had won. He examined in surgery for the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Bristol. At the College he was a member of Council 1923-39 and vice-president 1933-34, being elected in March 1933 after the sudden death of Sir Percy Sargent. He gave a Hunterian lecture in 1930, and the Vicary lecture the same year; he was Bradshaw lecturer in 1932, and gave a special Hunterian lecture in 1937, describing the lately discovered papers of John Hunter's army service in Portugal in 1762-63. He was president of the Medical Society of London in 1935. With all this busy practice and administrative work Gask found time for much writing both professional and historical. With W G Spencer he issued a revision of Walsham's Practice of surgery in 1910, which was long a popular textbook, and with J Paterson Ross he published a pioneer study of the Surgery of the sympathetic nervous system in 1937. His historical writings were reprinted in a volume which his numerous friends and admirers gave him on his seventy-fifth birthday in 1950.

Dr Gask retired completely from all this activity in 1935 at the age of 60, settled in the country, and devoted himself to gardening. He served as a magistrate and on the rural district council. If he had not returned to full activity during the second world war, which broke out four years later, it might have been asked how a man of such great abilities, personal eminence, and successful achievement failed to win the very foremost position in his profession.
Immediately war broke out in September 1939, Dr Gask was invited act temporarily as a surgeon at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and atook part in the work of the rapidly expanding Oxford medical school. He was made a member of the high table at Christ Church, where his scholarly and friendly nature was warmly appreciated, and he admitted MA by decree of the University. He had been elected emeritus professor of surgery in the University of London when he retired in 1935 and consulting surgeon and a governor of St Bartholomew's. As the war went on he added to his duties at Oxford, becoming adviser in surgery for the region (Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire) under the Ministry of Health's Emergency Medical Service, and also working for the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust and for the Bucks and Oxon region hospitals Council.

Dr George Ernest Gask married in 1913 to Ada Alexandra, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Crombie, CB MD of the Indian Medical Service. Dr Gask died on 16 January 1951, aged 75, at his home Hatchmans, Hambleden Henley-on-Thames, survived by his wife and their son, Dr John Gask. He had suffered for some months from coronary thrombosis. The funeral at Hambleden was conducted by the Dean of Christ Church, and the memorial service was held at St Bartholomew-the-Less on 1 February. He left £1,000 to St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College.

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