Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark was born in Hemel Hempstead on June 5 1895. In 1912, he entered St. Thomas’s Hospital’s the medical school, before qualifying as a surgeon in 1916. He then joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.), with which he served in France from the beginning of 1918. After being demobilised in 1919, he went on to pass the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (F.R.C.S.) exam.
In 1920, Clark was appointed Principal Medical Officer in Sarawak, Borneo; a position he was to hold for three years. In addition to his medical duties, he developed a deep-seated interest in natural history, especially anthropology and zoology. In 1924, Clark was appointed Chair of Anatomy at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, first as University Reader and then from 1927 as Professor. In 1929, he was appointed Chair of Anatomy at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School.
In 1934, Wilfrid accepted an invitation to fill the chair of Dr Lee’s Professorship in Anatomy here at the Department, one of three named statutory professorships of the University of Oxford. It was a position he occupied until his retirement in 1962. In 1935, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his work on primate evolution. He was also interested in the anatomy of the brain and in particular the anatomy of colour vision. Le Gros Clark had a profound influence on the teaching of anatomy at Oxford, changing it from the routine repetition of the minute details of anatomy to a study of function and its relevance to cell biology and embryology.
In 1953, Le Gros Clark was a key player in exposing the Piltdown Hoax, in which it was proved that the bone fragments presented as the fossilised remains of a previously unknown early human named the Piltdown man was in fact a forgery. He maintained his connection with our Department in an honorary capacity until his death on 28th June 1971. The building that housed the former Department of Anatomy from 1893 is now named after Le Gros Clark.
In 1950, Clark was President of the International Anatomical Congress, 1952-1953 of the Anatomical Society, and in 1961 of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was knighted in 1955.