It was decided in 1995 that ASGBI deserved armorial bearings. Its existing insignia showed a very handsome profile of Lord Lister with his coat of arms, and those of that other doyen of surgery and founder of the Association, Lord Moynihan, surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves.
The Royal College of Surgeons, by contract, could trace armorial bearings back to 1451 as the Company of Surgeons, through the affiliation with the Barbers in 1540, their separation in 1745 and finally the royal approval as the Royal College and a warrant for arms in 1822. Furthermore, specialty associations already sported armorial bearings; the British Orthopaedic Society’s is crested with Andry’s crooked, splinted tree and the simple motto “Recte” (straight); the British Association of Urological Surgeons flaunt a rather more flamboyant warrant surrounded by sweet peas; the coloproctologists’ point the inevitable digit and probe, and the Anaesthetists’ motto, “Divinum sedare dolorem”, suggests a divinity in calming pain.
When approached by the Association, the College of Heralds appointed Chester Herald to oversee the work. His first draft (shown above) was created largely from the arms of Lord Lister and Lord Moynihan. The arms were divided into quarters to indicate England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, by a ‘saltire’ taken from the arms of Lord Lister. The stars in two of the quadrants are, in fact, ‘mullets’, referring to knightly spurs, and were taken from the arms of Lord Moynihan. The ‘fleams’ in the other two quadrants are ancient phlebotomes and heraldically indicate surgery. However, it was felt that the arms were too esoteric and that the uncharitable might confuse the saltire, with its invected edges, with a barium enema.
Something more contemporary was looked for. Other suggestions incorporated the four quadrants with a mullet (to acknowledge Lord Moynihan), two contemporary needles (to indicate the healing art) and a crossed pen and scalpel (to signify the meeting of the art and science of surgery). Chester Herald, while sympathetic to our ideas, thought the design cluttered and verging on ‘naff’. The Garter King of Arms turned them down out of hand.
The final version, while presented in the image of heraldry, is hopefully crisp, cogent and relatively contemporary. The crest is pure heraldry and shows a conventional steel helm and mantling surmounted by a snake entwined around a fleam. The snake denotes healing in various conventions; it sloughs its skin and, therefore, represents physical regeneration; it is taken from the staff of Aesculapius, the legendary god of healing or from the staff of Moses when he raised a bronze serpent as a healing talisman in the desert. The fleam is a bloodletting instrument and a standard heraldic device to denote surgery. The crest thus represents the healing art of medicine as practised in the science of surgery.
The Association’s motto reflects the aim of Lord Moynihan; to break the arrogant and insular elitism of surgeons and encourage them to learn from each other. Liberally translated into Latin we have “Omnes ab omnibus discamus” – literally, “Let us learn all things from everybody”. This suggests that, as well as learning from each other, we should learn from our mentors, our colleagues, our juniors and our patients.