Intended for healthcare professionals


Norman Kirby: army surgeon who parachuted into Suez

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 06 September 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5455
  1. Marika Davies
  1. London, UK
  1. marikadavies{at}

When Norman Kirby was training with the Parachute Regiment during the Suez crisis of 1956, he received some sound advice: to practise operating with fewer and fewer instruments. As a surgeon parachuting into a battlefield he would need to carry his own equipment, which meant choosing the absolute minimum required to perform adequate field surgery.

In the early morning of 5 November the assault on El-Gamil airfield in Suez began. Landing in “perfect parachuting weather,” and with smoke and explosions creating “a Guy Fawkes atmosphere,” Kirby and his team’s orders were to convert garages by the control tower into a field hospital and from here perform lifesaving surgery.

The fighting was fierce, and the hospital was soon receiving casualties. Difficulties were encountered but swiftly overcome: a soldier parachuting in with the field steriliser was waylaid, but a wounded chef who had parachuted in with his catering equipment had this put to good use—first to boil the surgical instruments, and then to make tea “for the resuscitation of both casualties and staff.” …

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