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Hospital ship reunion
is tribute to bravery
THE GENTLE chime of
“I put my hands over my face,
tea cups against saucers, sun
and as I was climbing the vertical
ladder I remember the skin was
streaming through picture
hanging off my hands and arms.”
windows, the prospect of a
John suffered worse burns than
fine sit-down lunch.
any survivor of the Falklands –
The P&O superliner Aurora
estimated at more than 50 per cent
– and had to endure days in the
was certainly living up to her
sickbay of HMS Hermes before he
reputation for style and luxury.
could get specialist help with the
Gentlemen in blazers chatted
arrival of the hospital ship.
in groups, women in posh frocks
“I was in severe pain all the
waved to each other across the
time, and on high doses of
lounge and greeted long-lost
morphine,” he said.
John praised the treatment he
Some of the men had bald
received, right from the time he
patches; not the usual thinning
reached Hermes.
pates, but the shiny, irregular
“The care I received in Uganda
patches in otherwise lustrous hair
and even before was excellent.
that hint at scorched skin.
There was always someone there
Odd words floated above the
for me whenever I woke up.
general buzz of conversation;
“They tell me they had me
burns, missiles, air attacks,
measured up for the canvas to
blindness, bombs, life and death.
drop me over the side, I was so
Aurora was 7,000 miles and 26
badly injured.”
years away from the Falklands War,
But after five weeks in the
but the very first reunion of sailors,
Uganda, John was flown home,
staff, crew and patients from the
and just over a year later he was
hospital ship Uganda yielded
back on duty in Hong Kong. memories.
a potent cocktail of memories,
“It is very touching the number
“I don’t think we were trained
with distorted puffy
revelations and reflections.
of people who came up to me
for what we saw and dealt with as
faces and eyes pulled into slits by
Nicci Pugh, reunion co-organiser,
because they remember me, but I
nurses,” said Marion.
the burns.
welcomed more than 170 guests on
don’t remember them,” he said of
“At Haslar we might have looked
“We were all in our early 20s,
board with a reminder of the strong
the reunion.
after patients with fractured legs,
some very inexperienced; none
bonds that remain between staff
“It’s because I spent most of my
but not the burns that happened on
of us were equipped for that
and patients.
time in bed – but I remembered
Sir Galahad, or to John Strange.
emotionally, no one could be.
“For all our former patients
Sally Simmons straight away.”
“Things like traumatic
“But after the initial shock you
in 1982, in often difficult and
Sally (née Middleton) was
amputations, legs blown off, I
just got on with your job.
harrowing circumstances, we were
another nurse in the hospital ship
don’t think anything can prepare
“It is so good to see people like
there for you,” said Nicci, a Senior
who attended the reunion; she has
you for that.”
John Strange here today – he is
Nursing Officer with Queen
now trained as a doctor.
The point was forced home looking so well.
Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing
Having steeled herself to meet
when Marion and Sally Simmons “He had the worst burns of
Service (QARNNS) at the time.
● St Dunstaner Terry Bullingham is presented with a braille version of
former patients, she – like others
first reported for duty in the burns anyone that we saw.
“We didn’t let you down,
the reunion documents by Nicci Pugh on board the Aurora, watched
– still could not avoid the odd tear
unit hastily set up in Uganda’s “People like John had anti-flash
and you repaid us with courage,
by Rear Admiral Andrew Gough
when she met John for the first Music Room after the bombing of gear, so they were not affected in
bravery and fortitude.
Pictures: Simon Rogers, St Dunstan’s
time since 1982. RFAs Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad the face, but the lads from Fitzroy
“Often it was your fortitude and
Marion Houghton (née Stock) at Fitzroy on June 8 1982. were not wearing that.”
spirit that kept us going through
in action stamped on the cover. war he saw a minesweeper flotilla
said many people believed the “There was a galley just outside Marion said one fact of which
the bad times.
With just three days to turn at work under the command of a
Canberra to be the hospital ship, the Music Room, and as we entered everyone was proud was that
“We may not have saved your
schools cruise liner Uganda into friend of his.
rather than a troop-carrier. I said that someone must have despite dealing with more than
limbs, your sight, or your skin –
hospital ship Uganda, Cdr Gough When he commented that it was
Marion, who was a Senior Naval burnt the toast,” said Marion. 700 patients and carrying out more
but we saved your lives.
found that the supplies he was nice to see the ships exercising, the
Nurse (SNN) in 1982, said a talk “But it wasn’t toast – it was the than 500 surgical procedures, not
“We knew what difficult times
given consisted of “large numbers Queen’s Harbour Master replied
organised for the night before the smell of the burn wounds. When one single case of infection arose
lay ahead.
of iron bedsteads, horsehair they were not exercising but clearing
reunion had brought back many we went in we saw about 45 lads on the hospital ship itself.
“This is to tell you all how
mattresses and very large blankets a live minefield. What minefield,
much we admire your strength,
– and not much else.” the commander had asked.
courage and tenacity to deal with
When the war started, Cdr “The minefield off Cape
your injuries on a daily basis.
Gough told the hospital ship’s Pembroke,” came the answer.
“You are all a credit to your cap
master to head for the Falklands Then a pause. “Which way did
as fast as he could. you come in?”
Nicci said that such an event
“We had no instructions. The “Round Cape Pembroke…”
had not been attempted before
MOD just said ‘keep going’ Among the presentations made
because for many people the scars,
because no one knew how to use during the event was a braille copy
mental as well as physical, were
us,” he said. of the reunion brochure, given to
still too raw.
Adml Gough spoke of the former CPO Terry Bullingham, who
Nicci also thanked the charities
close co-operation between the lost his sight when an Argentinian
which helped support the event
British and Argentinian hospital aircraft strafed the flight deck of
– St Dunstan’s, which helps
and ambulance ships, of which HMS Antrim.
blind ex-Service personnel who
Uganda was co-ordinating unit. One name on many lips was
have severely damaged sight or
The make-do-and-mend that of former CPO John Strange,
are blind, BLESMA, the British
approach was a cause for anger desperately injured when a missile
Limbless Ex-Service Men’s
when no clothing was supplied to set HMS Sheffield ablaze.
Association, and SAMA 82, the
injured men going home. “I was in the forward machinery
South Atlantic Medal Association
“P&O staff gave up all the space, virtually under the place
– and P&O for making the Aurora clothing that they could, as did the missile hit,” said John.
available during her rapid inter- members of NP1830,” he said. “I remember hearing the bang,
cruise turnaround. “We got clothing from the UK but woke up some time later on
The choice of liner was apt, as by the time the war was over, and the plates.
the reception was held close to the it was second-hand Oxfam stuff, “I do not know how long I was
Uganda Room, named after the which is frankly disgraceful.” unconscious for – some minutes,
hospital ship. He also spoke of the lack of news I think – but when I woke up the
Rear Admiral Andrew Gough, and vital information on board, a place was in flames.
then a commander and in charge of result of the ship’s status under “I tried to go out the normal
Naval Party 1830, also addressed the Geneva Convention, which route, but that was blocked.”
the guests. banned military communications. His path to an escape hatch was
He spoke of the initial This rule could have resulted in also blocked – by fire.
guidance he was given – his bible an avoidable tragedy. “I had to go through the flames
was an official book which had Adml Gough said when the ship to get to the hatch – I had to get
Disestablished, disused, not to be used was brought into Stanley after the out,” he said.
● Hospital ship Uganda at Port William in the Falklands in June 1982, photographed by Nicci Pugh
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