Tales of a Royal Navy doctor

A visit to The Royal Yacht Britannia was one of the highlights of Trish's  last trip to Edinburgh in 2014.
A visit to The Royal Yacht Britannia was one of the highlights of Trish's last trip to Edinburgh in 2014.

TRISH TAKES FIVE: By award-winning blogger Trish Burgess

The Royal Yacht Britannia was one of the highlights of our last trip to Edinburgh in 2014. The Queen’s former floating residence, which travelled over one million miles in 40 years, now resides in the port of Leith and has become one of the top tourist attractions in the country.

What do I remember about the day? The Queen’s simply furnished bedroom; the delicious chocolate orange fudge made in the NAAFI; tales of ‘wombat tennis’ played in the Officers’ mess, using a ceiling fan to propel a toy marsupial across the room.

Dougie, being a GP, was more taken up with the hospital quarters as Britannia was also kitted out to be a hospital ship if ever the need arose. A list of all the ship’s surgeons is posted on the wall, including Surgeon Commodore Robin McNeill Love, now 
retired from the Royal Navy.

This distinguished medic came to Spalding last week to give a lecture to the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society. In his engaging talk he expressed how immensely proud he was to have worked on Britannia. Through his words and photos, it was clear that the ship played an important role in providing the glittering setting for many trade deals: company bosses were very keen to attend receptions on board such a world-famous ship.

This was only one of several postings the Surgeon Commodore had during his time with the Royal Navy. His years as Commander of the Royal Naval Hospital in Gibraltar were equally fascinating and those of us gathered in Spalding Grammar School were treated to a canter through some of the historical highlights of 
Gibraltar before learning how the hospital, like Britannia, was eventually decommissioned.

Did you know that the Barbary macaques on the headland were looked after by the British Army and, latterly, the Gibraltar Regiment from 1915 to 1991? There was even an ‘Ape Sergeant’ who was responsible for their welfare. One poor sergeant was badly injured by one of his charges and needed a long stay in hospital, which is exactly where the apes would also have been treated if they were poorly, such was their importance to the territory.

Robin McNeill Love also told a story from the time of the Spanish Civil War when casualties from the bombed German cruiser, Deutschland, were sent to the hospital, which was already working at capacity. Four nurses from Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service arrived in Gibraltar by flying boat to 
assist in the care of the 
injured German personnel.

One of the nurses was awarded the Ladies Cross of the German Order of the Red Cross. This is held, with an accompanying certificate, in the archives of the Spalding Gentleman’s Society museum. By coincidence, a relative of that very same nurse was in the audience last Friday evening.

A big thank you to the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society for arranging the lecture and for reminding me that I must pay a visit to the society’s 
museum in Broad Street. There are regular open days held at the museum, the next one being a tour on Tuesday, April 4 from 2pm to 4pm. It’s in the diary.

• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk

Previously...

Call the Midwife delivers again