BMMHS Evening Meeting: White Ship - Red Crosses

White Ship - Red Crosses

A British Hospital Ship at War

Speaker: Nicci Pugh

White Ship Red Crosses

Wednesday 12th October 2022; 7:30 pm

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BMMHS Meeting Venue

Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY

White Ship - Red Crosses – A British Hospital Ship at War

By Author and Falklands War veteran Nicci Pugh 
This inspiring, informative & fascinating presentation illustrates the role of a modern-day floating hospital ship working 8,000 miles from home in the South Atlantic Ocean during The Falklands War. 
Presenter Nicci Pugh, who served throughout the Falklands War as a Trauma Operating Theatre Sister on board Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship Uganda relays the history in a sensitive & thoughtful delivery, covering all aspects, from helicopter evacuation of casualties from the battlefields ashore & at sea, to the repatriation of recovering patients to UK by sea & air.
The talk completes with up-to-date images of The Falkland Islands today, which include excellent shots of the rare black-browed albatross nesting off remote West Falkland Islands.

“We heard that HMS Sheffield had been sunk… and we all knew our services were now urgently required.”

Listen to Nicci talking about her experiences on BBC Radio Devon 

Nicci Pugh - White Ship Red Crosses
Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship Uganda at sea during the Falklands War 1982.
Nicci Pugh - White Ship - Red Crosses
Author Nicci Pugh signing copies of White Ship - Red Crosses.

Signed copies of  Nicci Pugh’s White Ship – Red Crosses. A Nursing Memoir of The Falklands War will be available after Q&As.

Argentina Invades the Falklands

When Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in April 1982 the British Government requisitioned the P&O Educational Cruise Ship SS Uganda, which was then in Alexandria. From there the ship proceeded via Naples to Gibraltar, where a hasty conversion to Geneva Convention/Red Cross livery took place in 3 days in HM Dockyard Gibraltar. 
SS Uganda
The P&O Educational Cruise Ship SS Uganda pre-1982.

Conversion to Hospital Ship

A team of some forty Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) personnel with specific nursing qualifications: experience of operating theatres, intensive care units – and in the treatment of burns, which would turn out to be critical, were flown out to Gibraltar by RAF Hercules, to join the ship SS Uganda.
There they were tasked with converting the Uganda from an educational cruise ship into a hospital ship of 500 to 600 beds. During the course of 10 days, they worked flat out and completed the task on the day the ship arrived in Ascension.
On April 19th the ship sailed for the uncertainties of the South Atlantic, returning to Southampton August 9th 1982.

Sailing for the South Atlantic

Falklands Uganda Refuel at Sea
THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL - JUNE 1982 (MH 27704) The Task Force Sails: Hospital ships HYDRA and UGANDA refuel at sea from RFA OLMEDA. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Helicopter Emarkation of the Wounded

The last British Hospital Ship to serve in a war zone was during the Korean War some sixty years ago. Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship Uganda was the first British Hospital Ship in history to embark casualties directly from the battlefields by helicopter, a process that was to save many lives throughout the conflict.
Nicci Pugh - White Ship - Red Crosses
THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL - JUNE 1982 (FKD 86) A Puma helicopter of (Commando Aviation Brigade) CAB601 'A' Flight from the Argentine Hospital Ship BAHIA PARAISO, painted white in accordance with Red Cross regulations, on the flight deck of the British Hospital Ship UGANDA during repatriation of Argentine wounded. The helicopter is either AE-506 or AE-507. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

These are the personal stories of the injured servicemen and the Naval Nurses and Doctors who fought the all-important battle to ‘bring them back alive’.” Brian Hanrahan BBC War Correspondent during The Falklands War 1982

SS Uganda Ship's Crest
SS Uganda Ship's Crest

Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service

The team of forty Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service personnel were the only female military personnel working within the Conflict Zone (TEZ), and QARNNS junior ratings the first female RN ratings in history to serve at sea.
Falklands Hospital Ship Uganda
Teams of Royal Naval Medics and QARNNS Operating Theatre personnel preparing equipment and training en route for the South Atlantic early May 1982.

Saving Lives

More than 700 severely injured servicemen were treated on board the hospital ship while she was operational, which included 100+ Argentinian personnel.
Fitzroy Sir Galaghad
Royal Fleet Auxiliary 'Sir Galahad' on fire after being bombed, Fitzroy, 8 June 1982

“As I toured the wards of that remarkable ship during my flying visit, I found all of my seriously wounded soldiers who had been helicoptered off the battlefi eld, some of whom I thought I would never see again, and saw for myself the inspirational care of the Naval medical and nursing staff that had saved lives and on which recovery was depending. It was hardly a mile offshore, but it felt a very long way from Mount Tumbledown.” Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely KCB, MC, Company Commander in 2nd Battalion Scots Guards 1982

Falklands Hospital Ship Uganda
MEDICAL ASPECTS OF THE FALKLANDS WAR: PHOTOGRAPHS BY VARIOUS MEDICAL PERSONNEL SERVING WITH THE BRITISH FORCES. (FKD 2550) A ward on board the hospital ship UGANDA containing Welsh guardsmen burned following the Argentine attack on RFA SIR GALAHAD on 8 June 1982. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
White Ship Red Crosses
SS Uganda & QE2 return after Falklands War

Biographical notes – Nicci Pugh

Nicci Pugh is an experienced NHS and former military Operating Theatre Sister. In April 1982, whilst serving a short-service commission as a Senior Nursing Officer in Queen  Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS), Nicci was selected, along with thirty nine other female nursing colleagues, to serve on board Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship Uganda throughout the Falklands War, fought between Britain and Argentina in 1982. The QARNNS nursing teams on board Uganda were the only military females to serve in the Falklands War, and this was the first time in history that British female RN junior ratings had officially served at sea.
Here, in the notoriously windswept South Atlantic Ocean, the teams of Royal Naval medical personnel worked tirelessly aboard their floating hospital, to treat and care for seriously injured servicemen arriving by helicopter from battlefields and dressing stations ashore, as the battles progressed to re-take Port Stanley, the surrounding terrain and, eventually, all the Falkland Islands from their uninvited occupiers. The crucial role of all the military helicopters involved in the casualty evacuation process is clearly demonstrated throughout this fascinating Presentation.
In 2010, following the successful publication of her book White Ship – Red Crosses, Nicci created a series of  accompanying Power Point Presentations, covering the many aspects of how the wider history of international hospital ships has developed over the centuries. The first half of this evening’s Presentation for BMMHS focuses on the conversion, role and work carried out on board the hospital ship Uganda during the Falklands War and is an inspiring and  informative account of life and work on board a British floating hospital working in difficult, demanding & dangerous conditions.
The second half of this Talk relates to the work of the The South Atlantic Medal Association, the tri-service charity for veterans of The Falklands War  This section includes excellent and unusual shots of life in the Falkland Islands today, including some of the rare black-browed albatross nesting off the remote West Falkland Islands.
Nicci Pugh’s father was the late Captain C.R.V. (Dick) Pugh CBE RN, a Second World War Tiger Moth & Swordfish Fleet Air Arm pilot of some renown, who served in the Royal Navy from 1916 to 1950. 
Speaking to us at BMMHS when we first made contact with her last year, Nicci said: “Like many of his generation, my father rarely mentioned his extraordinary RN and aviation career, but I felt it appropriate to include a reference for BMMHS members that, as far as we know, I was the only  ‘RN officer daughter of an RN WW2 officer’ to serve in the Falklands War. As we approach the 100th anniversary year of the formation of the Fleet Air Arm in 2024, it’s worth reflecting how far military, and especially Royal Naval carrier-based aviation, has advanced since my father’s era of the formative Fleet Air Arm. Not only including the Falklands War, but now, with an eye to the future, commissioning the amazing state-of-the-art British aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth & HMS Prince of Wales.”
Nicci is also a keen offshore sailing lady and remains an active member of the Royal Naval Sailing Association. She kept her last boat, White Berry, on the River Thames, and in 2016 brought her upstream single-handedly from Walton-on-Thames to Bensons Marina just a few miles from Woodcote.
Nicci Pugh being introduced to Lady Margaret Thatcher by Major-General Julian Thompson at the opening of the Imperial War Museum’s Falklands War Exhibition to mark the 25th anniversary year in 2007.
White Ship Red Crosses Book
To Purchase Nicci's Book on Amazon Click Above
Nicci Pugh - White Ship - Red Crosses
Author Nicci Pugh (centre) with supporters of The Falklands War Hospital Ship Uganda Reunion Group on board P&O Cruises MV Oriana May 2017. The group includes several contributors to White Ship - Red Crosses, including former P&O Captain Grahame Burton, QARNNS Head Naval Nurse Maggie Freer with former patients CPO John Strange (HMS Sheffield) and BLESMA member Robert Osborn (2nd Btn Scots Guards).
Nicci Pugh - White Ship - Red Crosses
Taken at the official book launch of White Ship - Red Crosses on board HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, this image shows the then QARNNS Matron-in-Chief Captain Helen Allkins QHN and other QARNNS officers who supported this unique event in May 2010.

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