Hospital's proud past

PUBLISHED: 11:24 17 August 2006 | UPDATED: 11:59 04 May 2010

JUST over 60 years ago, in May 1936, the Air Council agreed that a hospital was needed to serve East Anglia and the concept of the Royal Air Force Hospital at Ely was born. Treasury approval was given for a 116-bed hospital, but this was increased in 1938

JUST over 60 years ago, in May 1936, the Air Council agreed that a hospital was needed to serve East Anglia and the concept of the Royal Air Force Hospital at Ely was born. Treasury approval was given for a 116-bed hospital, but this was increased in 1938 to 197, when the threat of war was looming. By the time the first wards were completed, in June, 1940, the Second World War had been raging for nearly one year.

At the start of the war, The Grange, at Littleport, had been requisitioned to provide in-patient care for service personnel until the new hospital at Ely was operational. By August, 1940, Ely could supply 230 beds and The Grange was downgraded to an annex of Ely. Then in June, 1942, the need for more beds became crucial, and it was decided that these should be housed on the site in temporary accommodation in Nissen huts. These were ready for patient admissions in June, 1943, providing 527 beds.

During the war, air-raid warnings were a common occurrence and Ely was no exception, being close to the numerous airfields in East Anglia. There were two direct hits on the hospital.

The first was a single incendiary that landed on open ground near to the boiler house; luckily it did no damage.

The second, which fell on

February 4, 1941, landed close to the car park near to the guardroom and killed the guard on duty.

Throughout the war years the wards of the hospital were very busy, and although the corridors were built wide enough to house extra beds this was never necessary. Those on duty saw patients admitted from injuries received as a result of enemy action against airfields and the bomber force. They also had to contend with servicemen who had contracted cerebro-spinal meningitis, tuberculosis and TB as well as epidemics of infectious diseases of jaundice and diphtheria.

Each of the wards was staffed by one or two sisters of The Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service who were the only qualified staff.

There were then two VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments), who had been members of the Red Cross or St John Ambulance before the war. They were given rudimentary training alongside the three orderlies who completed the compliment of nursing staff. The staff were responsible for cleaning the wards and preparing all of the dressings and packing them into drums for sterilisation as well as their other medical duties.

The permanent medical officers of the Royal Air Force were aided by civilian doctors; many of them rose to high ranks in the service and after the war they continued to serve in the RAF.

The first civilian patient was admitted to the hospital on October 28, 1940, following enemy action, but was transferred to a civilian hospital when his condition was stable.

After the war there was a formal agreement between the Ministry of Health and the Air Ministry. As a result the first official civilian patient to be admitted was on April 24, 1949.

Today the Royal Air Force Hospital, Ely, is no more, but the service to the city was duly recognised in 1968 when the City of Ely gave the hospital the privilege of using the City Badge and in 1977 the Freedom of the City was conferred on the hospital.

On the 50th anniversary of the Royal Air Force Hospital, Ely, they were proud of these honours but above all "proud of the high esteem in which the hospital is held by Service and civilian patients who have needed its help.

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