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A History of The Princess Mary's Hospital Royal Air Force Akrotiri 1963-2013 by Colonel D J Vassallo L/RAMC


Review of the book about the hospital's history packed with historical photographs and raises funds for RAF Akrotiri Station Charities

Anyone who has served at TPMH RAF Akrotiri will know what a special place it was to work and live. Colonel Vassallo's book pays tribute to the history of The Princess Mary's Hospital and features many operational duties of the nursing and medical team, their leisure pursuits in this sunny island and the last weeks of operation.

History Princess Marys Hospital Royal Air Force Akrotiri Colonel Vassallo

He begins by explaining why UK troops were in Cyprus from 1954 and the increasing need for a Hospital. This fascinating history starts with the temporary RAF Hospital on Hawker Drive through to the building as we knew it until its recent closure in 2012. Included are some photos of the original building and the new one being built. One of the pleasures of A History of The Princess Mary's Hospital Royal Air Force Akrotiri 1963-2013 by Colonel D J Vassallo L/RAMC, the last clinical director of TPMH, is the abundance of photos throughout the publication. The history even explains the development of the runway and why Akrotiri was chosen as a base.

Interspersed throughout are quotes from leading surgeons and nurses who worked at TPMH. So for example Squadron Officer Helen Cookson worked as a theatre sister in the original hospital and recalls:

A camp road divided the theatre from the wards and staff wheeling patients across the road often had to wait for passing traffic.

The chapter Cyprus in context - The Cyprus Emergency 1955-1959 explains the guerrilla conflict by EOKA and events leading to the North/South divide.

Key operational activities are discussed and these include the 1956 Troodos forest fires which cost the lives of 19 British soldiers and saw 15 patients admitted with burns. A year later staff treated EOKA terrorists for gunshot wounds. Other significant dates include the Turkish invasion in July 1974 with a description of the number of patients treated and departments and wards in operation. These figures are updated to show those treated in the last few years.

The history continues with details of those affected by the worldwide polio pandemic of 1957 and 1958, independence in 1960 and the establishment of two British Sovereign Bases on the Island and the Cawood buildings extensions. Other patients of interest over the decades include the golfer struck by lightning, casualties from the 1971 war at Yemen, aircraft ejection incidents, 74 Turkish naval seamen who survived the sinking of their destroyer their own jets, Beirut bombing and the U2 crash.

In later years these cover Op Granby and the role of ward 5 in recuperating Prisoners of War of the SAS and the downed Tornado, the release of the Beirut hostages Jackie Mann, John McCarthy and Terry Waite and the junior ratings Royal Yacht Britannia salmonella food poisoning and the role provided by TPMH. The second war in Iraq, Operation Telic, saw staff nurse patients in a hangar next to the airfield, between flights home. Ward eight became the Aeromedical Evacuation holding facility and this era in its history is reviewed in detail and includes information about the deployment of 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, RAF Leuchars to cope with the increased casualties.

Humanitarian work includes the 2006 evacuation of Lebanon, the airlifting of a pregnant Palestinian woman, whose waters had broken, from a Cyprus registered ferry with refugees on board. This involved the winching of Gynaecologist Squadron Leader Awad and Midwife Squadron Leader Hazel onto the vessel.

The new building was constructed at Cape Zevgari which had been used for sheep grazing. Historic photos include Cliff House nursing officer's accommodation. There is details of the architect Alister Gladstone, who had served as an orderly with the Friends Ambulance Unit in France in the Great War. The costs and layout are explained along with why a Flame of the Forest tree was gifted by the people of the Greek island of Kos and why the building was nicknamed Alcatraz for a little while. It was officially opened on 21 November 1963 and this ceremony is described in the book.

Other ceremonies featured include the 1996 lowering of the RAF ensign when the hospital was transferred to the Defence Secondary Care Agency and the procession of carrying the cross to the headland by handyman Michael Constantinou in remembrance of all who had died at TPMH. Anniversary celebrations are also recorded.

One fascinating section discusses the Operational Record Book of the TPMH and why the author was unable to access the 1961 to 1965 archives which remain closed.

As with military life there is a great deal of humour interspersed in the book. This includes a Commanding Officer being utilised as a porter for a busload of casualties being good preparation for him appearing as an extra in the TV series Soldier Soldier!

Interesting photos include the rare capture of the weather phenomenon of a tornado just off the coast of the hospital, the presentation of tapestry kneelers for the Chapel, staff photo during the visit of Princess Alexandra in October 1972 and group photos of the last staff.

A poignant section pays remembrance to two PMRAFNS sisters, Helen Deery and Sheila Noble, who were killed in a 1973 civilian plane crash when returning from leave. In 1996 the Sisters of Helen came to TPMH for the first time where the Garden of Remembrance was dedicated. A copy of a moving letter from a patient pays tribute to the care he received from both nurses.

There is also a tribute to the Flight Lieutenant Fiona Johnstone from TPMH and Corporal Martin Cook a nurse from the Station Medical Centre who died when the helicopter they were in going to collect an expectant mother from MRS Dhekelia crashed into Limassol bay. They and the loadmaster died and their bodies were never recovered.

Copies of plaques dedicated to staff who nursed in Cyprus and who died in the UK from cancer are included, Special mention goes to Evripidis Pollicarpou, a civilian ambulance driver, always with a ready laugh and joke and loved by all, who was sadly killed with his family in a Boeing 737 crash near Athens. Many members of staff attended his funeral.

A photo of a QARANC stained glass window in the chapel can be seen in the image of the Babies Book of Remembrance. This is dedicated to the midwives and to the right is one for the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service. It moved to the St Paul's Church when the chapel was decommissioned.

The war in Afghanistan proved once more the importance of TPMH when during Op Herrick RAF Akrotiri was used as a fuelling stop. Case studies show the deterioration of several patients and how their lives were saved after diagnosis and operations.

Other memories include those who married, gave birth and the last birth at TPMH.

The staff social life is included such as the annual bed push where themed decorated beds are raced to the entrance. Photos of past events are included.

Commanding Officers and Matrons are remembered with their achievements along with civilian staff like care assistant Ismini Neofidou who worked there for 40 years and retired when the hospital closed.

A section pays tribute to Paediatrician Christos (Chris) Eliades over worked as a Consultant for 20 years.

The cover of the book is a watercolour by Wing Commander Gora Pathak, consultant orthopaedic surgeon. The Red Arrow flew past the buildings as a final salute in 2012 and this stunning image can be viewed in the book along with the farewell fireworks display in November 2012.

This remarkable book ends with a listing of the entire COs and Matrons over the 50 year history and a complete list of the staff there in the last three months. A copy of this publication was presented to all members of staff on the last day.

This is a must for anyone who has had the joy of serving at RAF Akrotiri or with an interest in nursing or military history. A 40-page condensed version of the history is available in paperback via the HIVE, RAF Akrotiri BFPO 57 (5 euros each) or from the Army Medical Services Museum (£5). Proceeds go to raise funds for RAF Akrotiri Station Charities.

It is also available on a two DVD set which includes the much more comprehensive 120-page iBook (or pdf for those who don't have Macs or iPads) and much more, including the digitised photo archives, BFBS films on TPMH and a 1984 Granada documentary on Cyprus. This two-DVD set is available solely from The HIVE, RAF Akrotiri, for a suggested minimum donation of 10 euros (plus 3 euros p&p) (or sterling cheque of £10 plus £2 p&p within Europe, made payable to Station Charities RAF Akrotiri).

The third option is to buy the paperback and the two-DVD set as a complete set from The HIVE for £15 (plus £2 p&p).


Another book about the Island by David Vassallo is Who Was Sapper Brown? Remembering British Military Burials in Cyprus.


More book reviews.


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The Drummer Boy The Drummer Boy continues the adventures of QARANC nurse, Scott Grey, who has the special gift of seeing military ghosts. In this novel he is haunted by the ghost of a Gordon Highlander Drummer Boy from the Battle of Waterloo. It is based on the legends of the Tidworth Military Hospital Drummer Boy.


Chapters take place in modern day Aberdeen, at the Noose & Monkey bar and restaurant as well as His Majesty’s Theatre and Garthdee. Other scenes take place at Tidworth and during the Napoleonic War where I describe battlefield medical care of this era.


Read the first three chapters for free on most devices.


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