Sir Henry McIlltree Williamson Gray

14 March 1870 - 7 October 1938

Henry Gray transformed the management of musculoskeletal wounds during the Great War. In 1914, many soldiers arrived moribund at base hospitals on or near the French coast suffering from overwhelming wound infections.  Gray realised that surgical intervention was often too little, too late. He advocated and introduced early wound excision in casualty clearing stations (CCSs), removing all contaminated and dead tissue before lethal infecting organisms took a hold. His method saved the lives of thousands of soldiers by greatly reducing the incidence of overwhelming septic wound infections and infections caused by anaerobic organisms (gas gangrene).

Gray was regarded by Robert Jones, Director of Military Orthopaedics, as probably the most capable surgeon working in France. His management of orthopaedic wounds earned him a great reputation. At the Battle of Arras in April-May 1917, Gray was Consulting Surgeon to the British Third Army. He reduced the mortality of compound gunshot fractures of the femur from around 80% to <20%, by insisting on the use of Thomas Splints to immobilise femoral fractures. Until then, using a variety of ineffective splints, most patients arrived in CCSs in a state of circulatory collapse caused by excessive blood loss from poorly controlled fractures. Effective immobilisation using Thomas Splints resulted in much less blood loss and patients arrived in good clinical condition, fit to undergo wound excision to save their limbs and lives.

Gray was on an MRC Shock Committee, set up in 1917, consisting of clinicians and scientists tasked with undertaking research into the causes and treatment of surgical shock.  Gray established a Shock Centre at CCS 3 at Gezaincourt in late 1917. This centre attracted many interested individuals, including Oswald Hope Robertson of the American 5th Army (Harvard Unit) who had expertise in blood transfusion and who established the first preserved blood bank at CCS 3.

Medical officers from all British Armies in France and Flanders visited CCS 3 or attended lectures given by Gray. Australian medical officer Alan Wolsley Holmes a Court, of the 4th Australian Field Ambulance, was so inspired after a visit, that he established Field Ambulance Resuscitation Teams in the five Australian Divisions of the British Fourth Army, taking life saving resuscitation and surgery even closer to the front line.

Gray`s name is mentioned very favourably in the History of the New Zealand Medical Services in the Great War 1914-1918 by A.D. Carberry and in the Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services 1914-1918 by A.G. Butler, where he gets several mentions.

Gray contributed to the medical literature by writing about the management of many types of wound during the war, and he published a book in 1919 entitled The Early Treatment of War Wounds. There is a copy of his book in the Aberdeen Medical School Library.

Awards:

  • KBE (Military)
  • CB (Military)
  • CMG (Military)
  • Five mentions in dispatches
  • Honorary LL.D University of Aberdeen for Services to War Surgery

image: © Tom Scotland CC BY-SA 4.0

Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Gray_(Scottish_surgeon)

Biography prepared from the nomination by Mr T Scotland made to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.