RIE Autumn Session, 1934

Henry Wade

  • Roll Number
  • 1656
  • Surname
  • Wade
  • Forenames
  • Henry
  • Date of Admission
  • 30th July 1903
  • Surgeon Database
  • Fellow
  • Other Information
  • Born 1876; died 1955

    Sir Henry Wade was an innovative urological surgeon, a pioneer cancer research worker, and a military surgeon. His contributions to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh extended over 50 years. He served as Lecturer, Examiner, Member of Council and as the College’s representative on the General Medical Council. He was elected President in 1935.

    Wade was a son of the manse, born in Falkirk. From the Royal High School, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with honours in 1898. He was appointed House Physician to Sir Thomas Fraser at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh (RIE), in September 1899. The South African War broke out that year, and, inspired by the Government’s desperate call for surgical volunteers Wade left for the Cape in the spring of 1900 and served as a civilian surgeon with the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the 1st General Hospital, Wynberg.

    On his return home two years later, Wade was invited by Francis Caird to be his Clinical Tutor. At the same time, he was appointed Demonstrator in the Department of Anatomy of the University of Edinburgh. However, he soon moved to be Demonstrator in Pathology and qualified FRCSEd in 1903, the year in which he was appointed Conservator of the College museum. Pursuing research, he joined Ford Robertson, Pathologist to the Edinburgh Asylums Laboratory. The new science of Bacteriology had been born and some investigators thought cancer might be a microbial disease. Wade and Ford Robertson, therefore, examined sections of human cancers using the metallic impregnation techniques employed to delineate the cells of the brain. They unwisely claimed early success. Their controversial results provoked national debate. After this experience, in which the two investigators effectively claimed to have found the cause of human cancer, Wade wisely started a new experiment, transplanting a canine sarcoma into dogs, rabbits and foxes. In 1908, he reported his results in a beautifully illustrated paper in the Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology. He was awarded a gold medal for his MD thesis.

    In the years ahead, he determined to be a pioneer of prostatic surgery. Taking advantage of his experience in Anatomy and Pathology, Wade prepared serial whole sections through the cadaveric prostate in various stages of obstruction. He soon established an international reputation for his work, forming a close collaboration with Young of Baltimore. He was appointed Surgeon to Leith Hospital in 1909 where his surgical interests encompassed orthopaedics. By refusing to amputate the fractured leg of a young Norman Dott, Wade determined the future career of a famous neurosurgeon. In 1912, Wade undertook the resection of a tumour of the proximal humerus from a young man whose bone defect he repaired by an allograft from the amputated femur of an elderly patient.

    In September 1914, Wade was gazetted Temporary Captain in the Field Ambulance of the Scottish Horse Mounted Brigade. Before leaving, he had designed a mobile operating car that came into use later in the desert as a sterilising unit. When Gallipoli was evacuated, Henry Wade sailed with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to Cairo. Weapons of war had altered little from those used in South Africa. What had changed was their mass use and the nature of the endemic diseases, such as malaria and schistosomiasis, encountered by the armies in the Nile Delta and Jordan valley. Wade recorded 400 memorable photographs of the Mediterranean and Palestinian campaigns. His recollections of the 58 Edinburgh students and medical practitioners who enlisted with him in 1914 are contained in a poignant memoire entitled The Flowers of the Field.

    In Palestine, Wade observed that many fatalities among the wounded resulted from surgical shock caused by the long journeys to base hospitals. He encouraged the adoption of the Thomas splint and persuaded General Allenby to authorise its mass production. The use of the Thomas splint reduced the fatality rate from gunshot fracture of the femur from 40% to 16%. However, casualties from infectious diseases still greatly exceeded in number those caused by the enemy’s guns and aeroplanes. Wade became Consultant Surgeon in 1916 and commanded a Surgical Division. In 1919, he was twice mentioned in dispatches and was honoured with the CMG. He had already been awarded the DSO and the Order of the White Eagle of Serbia.

    Returning to Edinburgh, he quickly began to develop facilities for urological surgery. Many patients came to him with tuberculosis, others with intractable forms of renal and urinary bladder cancer. He advanced the science of urinary surgery by the adoption of contrast pyelography, developed a dedicated x-ray diagnostic theatre and twenty one original papers derived from this work. His contributions to urological surgery were recognised in 1932 when he gave the Ramon Guiteras lecture, and by his 1937 Presidency of the Section of Urological Surgery of the Royal Society of Medicine. He was elected President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1935. He was elected Honorary Fellow of the English, Irish, American and Royal Australasian Colleges of Surgeons and knighted in 1946. Shortly after the 1939 war broke out, Wade reluctantly accepted retirement but shortly afterwards, he was made Director of Surgical Services at the Emergency Medical Service Hospital at Bangour.

    Wade effected a simple homespun philosophy. He hid a kindly and generous disposition beneath a gruff exterior. Speaking of the Edinburgh Blood Transfusion Service, he commented that blood given ‘must be the freewill offering of men who love their fellow mortals’. His wife predeceased him by nearly 30 years and towards the end of a long career, he spent much time in their country home, the beautiful, late 16th century Pilmuir House, near Haddington, East Lothian. At the dinner given to mark the 50th anniversary of his first contribution to the affairs of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, he presented to the College a portrait of King James IV of Scotland who in 1506 had granted the Incorporation of Barber-Surgeons its first Royal Charter.
  • Further reading
  • British Medical Journal; 1955; v1; p607
    Lancet; 1955; v1; p516
    Scottish Society of the History of Medicine: report of proceedings. Sessions 2004-2005 and 2005-2006; p17-20