He was born the eldest son of 12 children at Meresborough House in the country near Rainham, Kent, the son of Percy Wakeley (1860–1954) and his first wife Mary Sophia "May" Pembrey (1865–1940). He was educated from 1904 to 1907 at King's School, Rochester and then until 1910 at Dulwich College.
In 1910 he went to King's College Hospital, where he received the Jelf Medal for surgery and qualified in 1915. He joined the Royal Navy and spent World War I as a Surgeon-Lieutenant aboard the hospital ship HMS Garth Castle at Scapa Flow. In 1922 he was appointed to the staff at King’s College and was senior surgeon at the age of 41 until his retirement. He was made a baronet in 1952.
In 1947 he founded the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England which he continued to edit until 1969. He was President of the College from 1949-1954 during the period of establishment of the Faculty of Anaesthesia. He was elected President of the Hunterian Society for 1961.
He married Elizabeth Muriel Nicholson-Smith (1896–1985) on 21 July 1925 in Kent. They had three sons:
- Sir John Cecil Nicholson Wakeley, 2nd Baronet, father of Charles Wakeley (President of the British Society of Skeletal Radiologists)
- Richard Michael Wakeley
- William Jeremy Wakeley
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|
John Cecil Nicholson Wakeley
- Hodges, S, (1981), God's Gift: A Living History of Dulwich College, pages 87, (Heinemann: London)
- "Wakeley, Sir Cecil Pembrey Grey (1892 - 1979)". Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- "Hunterian Society" (PDF). Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 28 (5): 329. 1961. PMC . PMID 19310289. Retrieved 2012-10-24.