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battlefield surgery

George James Guthrie (1785-1856)

He served a surgical apprenticeship in London and became a  member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England at the age of fifteen.  He joined the army and became an assistant surgeon in 1801.

He served as a medical officer for his regiment in Canada for five years and then saw several years' active service,  under Wellington, in the Peninsular War.

At the age of 26 he had 3000 wounded under his care  after the battle of Albuera. Where he won the admiration of Wellington for his skill and devotion to duty. He was recalled for the Waterloo campaign, where he distinguished himself.  After Waterloo Guthrie remained at York Hospital, taking charge of  wounded British soldiers for 2 years. He became lecturer on surgery at the Westminster Hospital in London in 1816, assistant surgeon 7 years later, and surgeon to the same institution in 1827. In 1828 Guthrie was named professor of anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Among his many accomplishments was the founding of the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital in 1816. Guthrie became President of the Royal College of Surgeons on three occasions, in 1833, 1841 and again in 1854. He was a Councillor of the Royal College of Surgeons of England from 1824-1856 and an examiner from 1828 till his death.


Guthrie wrote extensively on many subjects including an important book in the history of military surgery on gunshot wounds - On Gun-Shot Wounds of the Extremities, Requiring the Different Operations of Amputation, With Their After Treatment published in London in 1815. Like Larrey, he recommended amputation for compound limb injuries within 24 hours, accepting a mortality rate of 50%.

"A military surgeon should never be taught to expect any convenience; his field pannier for a seat for the patient, and a dry piece of ground to spread his dressings and instruments upon, are all that are required." from Guthrie G J. On Gun-shot Wounds of the Extremities. London, Longman. 1815, p.46

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