THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN
BATTLE ZONE SURGERY
An over-riding memory for many staff from
Plymouth's Royal Naval Hospital (RNH), who sailed to the South
Atlantic with the Falklands Task Force, is of the great courage
shown by the wounded.
That courage is typified by the
young man brought from the battlefield to the hospital ship,
Uganda, whose leg had to be amputated without general anaesthetic.
Senior Naval Nurse June Hendy, one
of the seven women nurses and six women nursing officers from the
RNH to sail to the South Atlantic, sat and held the man's hand
during the operation.
The man's medical history dictated
that doctors could not give him a general anaesthetic and he was
given anaesthetics which numbed the lower part of his body. He was
screened from the procedure, but he was fully conscious
Bravery was often seen by staff
from the RNH, who found themselves whisked from the ordered
routine of hospital life in Plymouth 8,000 miles to a battle zone.
The hospital sent 12 doctors, a dentist, 13 women nurses and
nursing officers and 41 medically trained ratings with a wide
variety of specialisations.
complete surgical support team of 24 spent its war ashore at Ajax
Bay dealing with battle casualties in an abandoned freezer plant,
which was turned into a makeshift hospital by Commando Logistic
Regiment's Medical Squadron.
Doctors, nurses and medical
assistants from the RNH served in Uganda and Canberra and some
doctors and ratings were sent to serve in warships needing medical
staff for the conflict.
Women staff forsook their crisp
uniforms for their role at sea and instead adopted the shirts,
trousers and the ubiquitous "woolly pulleys" worn by the men of
all the services.
Senior Naval Nurse Hendy, a naval
for six years, worked in the operating theatre on Uganda and
casualties airlifted to the ship by helicopter were often brought
to the theatre still in combat gear. Another Naval Nurse on Uganda
was Geraldine Hodgson, 23, and she remembers the high morale of
the wounded and their willingness to try to help the nursing
Senior Nursing Officer Jean Kidd,
who was in charge of the casualty department at the RNH, ran the
casualty reception area on Uganda. She spoke of the resilience of
the wounded, how quickly they recovered and how undemanding they
In one exceptional day, 160
casualties flooded aboard Uganda, but usually the staff could
expect between 40 and 70 wounded when the fighting was at its
Assistant Andrew Massocchi, 25, nursed in Uganda's improvised
wards. He came from Cardiff and has vivid memories of the day
badly wounded Welsh Guards were brought aboard after the Sir
Galahad was bombed at Fitzroy. He recalls that on the voyage south
he had tried to imagine what it would be like to deal with battle
Surgeon Captain Roger Wilkes, a
consultant general surgeon, was in charge of medical staff onboard
Canberra. He spoke of the very important period of training as the
ship steamed south for what many would be their first experience
of war for many people.
The days down to the tropics and
on south towards Antarctica were used to prepare the ship and the
medical teams to receive wounded. Spaces were prepared to deal
with each stage of a casualty's treatment, from reception and, if
necessary resuscitation, to the operating theatre and the ward.
Canberra dealt with casualties
immediately after the D-Day landings on May 21st, but some of her
medical staff were put ashore and others transferred to Uganda.
The size of her medical complement dwindled as the campaign went
Captain Wilkes, who had dealt with battle casualties in Aden, said
that, generally speaking, there were two sorts of casualties in
the Falklands. Clean wounds on the injured from ships and field
casualties with dirt, earth and other material in their wounds.
He said he had been impressed with
the calm and expertise of the younger men, including the doctors,
the ratings and the members of Canberra's ship's company.
A problem in the cruise ship had
been large areas of armoured class. Carpets had been taken up and
hung like curtains to provide a form of protection from flying
glass in the event of hits in an air attack.
Surgeon Captain Wilkes said the
medical team in Canberra dealt with fit young Servicemen, who took
injuries that the average young man might have taken more time to
He likened Canberra's arrival in
San Carlos to arriving in a Scottish Loch. Two hours later the
whole area had been transformed. It had been a shock. Canberra was
withdrawn from San Carlos to steam to South Georgia to embark
units from 5th Infantry Brigade. She returned to the Falklands in
cloudy weather and left after two days without incident.
Surgeon Lt. Cdr. Richard Moody, an
anesthetist at the RNH sailed in Canberra and he said one problem
for the medical staff was having to share facilities with military
units continuing their training on the voyage south. He said that
a night club onboard had been converted into a hospital ward, with
associated pantries and bars becoming sluices, a pharmacy, a
A lot of ingenuity had gone into
creating these spaces and in getting running water and power into
them. Surgeon Lt. Cdr. Tim Riley, from the RNH, devised a ramp so
that casualties could be brought straight down from the helicopter
Surgeon Lt. Cdr. Moody stressed the
importance of training on the voyage to the Falklands. Everyone
had been drilled to deal with casualties in a uniform way. It had
been essential preparation for dealing with large numbers. He said
an important decision had been to set up a blood bank of 1,000
units in Canberra. Troops preparing to fight had been only too
willing to donate blood two weeks before the British landings.
A number of straightforward medical
emergencies cropped up to test the system in Canberra as she
headed south. The first battle casualties came onboard on D-Day at
San Carlos. Canberra took onboard about 60 wounded that day.
Casualties on their stretchers were placed on the deck during air
raids. Argentinean wounded were given their own helmets back
during the raids to afford some extra protection.
All operations were carried out
after dark after the raids had ceased. Surgeons worked until 2 am
cleaning wounds, cutting away dead tissue and, following the
long-standing principle of battle surgery, leaving wounds open.
These open wounds were not usually closed for around 5 days to
week until healthy tissue was seen to be growing.
Chief Medical Technician Peter
Hopkins, 26, a dispenser at the RNH, sailed in Uganda and received
a Commendation from the Task Force Commander for his work. It was
his initial task, helped by Medical Assistant David Owen, also
from the RNH, to sort, index and store about 35 tons of medical
supplies in Uganda. Chief Medical Tech. Hopkin's Commendation says
that he worked long and arduous hours throughout the conflict. "At
the height of the crisis, with casualties arriving every day, his
advice and professional skills were required constantly," said the
Chief Med. Tech. Hopkins' happiest
memory is of the night of May 5th when he telephoned home from
Uganda to be given the news of the birth of his first child, Lucy.
He was told Lucy and his wife, Mary were both fine.
That night there was a concert
onboard given by Royal Marines bandsmen. They marked the occasion
with "Thank Heavens for Little Girls" and then "For He's a Jolly