Medicine has moved on but a Leeds landmark remains a century on from a royal visit to a Yorkshire military hospital that was treating Britain’s brave First World War wounded.
The imposing home of the former East Leeds Military War Hospital still stands tall decades after discharging its last patient.
But just over 100 years since the visit of King George V to what is now the Grade II-listed Thackray Medical Museum on September 28 1915, his great granddaughter, Princess Anne, followed in his footsteps today and toured a building that now chronicles decades of medical advances that came too late to save many of his troops.
Dressed in dark green, the Princess Royal was guided around the museum’s collection of First World War artefacts, meeting experts from Yorkshire-based firms and learning of the evolution of medicine since 1914.
She toured the ‘Recovery? Flanders to Afghanistan’ exhibition under the watchful eye of formally dressed bodyguards, who were constantly communicating via earpieces and walkie talkies, and followed by a procession of guests and dignitaries.
On being presented a picture of her great grandfather dressed in military regalia outside the now museum, the princess said: “That building hasn’t changed very much has it?”
Artefacts from the battlefield on show included a travelling medicine kit used during the Battle of Flanders in 1915, while some exhibits showed the development of medical technology, from leather prosthetic arms fitted with hooks to modern metal and plastic fittings. The latter led to the Princess Royal commenting on the fact that “Leeds is very much at the forefront of hand surgery and what we can do now”.
The princess was introduced to representatives of Leeds-based Depuy Synthes and Sheffield’s Bolton Surgical during her tour, which left guests impressed with both her knowledge and interest.
Monty Losowsky, life president of the Thackray and former Dean of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Leeds, said: “She’s remarkable in her recognition of the background. It’s not just an act – she really is impressive.”
The princess talked of her own experiences visiting troops in Africa and Afghanistan during the tour, led by Thackray chief executive Joanne Bartholomew, and was even introduced to a royal medical chest that belonged to the family of the former royal chemist, Squire & Sons. The item features a bottle of liquid apparently created for the crowning of monarchs labelled ‘coronation oil’.
“She did doubt whether it’s the real thing,” Ms Bartholomew said: “It’s just fantastic for us to have someone of her stature to come here and visit and take an interest, and highlight the background and history of this building which is such a diverse story. It’s just been brilliant.”
The princess also unveiled a plaque and signed the museum’s visitors’ book just as her father the Duke of Edinburgh did when he visited the building in 1995 prior to it opening as a museum.
Speaking before the unveiling, she said: “It’s rather intriguing to think that just over 100 years ago George V would have been here, and what a different situation that would have been, but arguably it was an opportunity to learn a whole lot more and you have certainly done that and continue to do so. I think this museum helps to reflect exactly what those lessons have been and how you continue to do so and with help from partners I think this has not just set a standard in terms of museums and history but also on its link to the hospital and all that it did before.”
The princess also visited St James’s Hospital, Leeds College of Building and Johnsons Apparelmaster today.