23rd June 1949
Princess Elizabeth opened Guernsey’s hospital
In June 1949, Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, embarked on their first sea trip since their marriage. Travelling on the battleship HMS Anson, their destination was the Channel Islands.
Being the closest to the mainland, they headed initially for Alderney, but their arrival was delayed by fog. However, the queen-to-be still had time to address the local crowd upon her arrival. She commiserated on their treatment during the occupation, during which Alderney’s entire population had been evacuated.
Arrival on Guernsey
The royal couple crossed from Sark to Guernsey in a motor torpedo boat, their battleship having been kept away from Sark by rough sea. They were met in Guernsey by the Bailiff and Lieutenant-Governor who took them to a reception at Saumarez Park. As reported by The Guardian,
…replying to an address from the Bailiff, Mr AJ Sherwill, [the princess] said: “Here on this June day my husband and I see with admiration the work which you have done to blot out the ugly relics of war and to restore to Guernsey the peace, prosperity and happiness which are her right and her tradition through the centuries.
They then moved on to the hospital. Here, Princess Elizabeth used a specially-designed key to open the building, which she named the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. It has kept that name to this day.
The hospital was constructed around Le Vauquiedor Farm, which the States had purchased for £6500. The old hospital in town was later repurposed as the police headquarters.
Centred on Sark
It seems that the visit may have been inspired by a request from Sibyl Hathaway, the Dame of Sark.
She had written to the Royal Household asking if the Duke of Edinburgh would be available to open her island’s new harbour. He replied that he would be delighted, and suggested that he come in November 1948. However, the Dame pointed out that sea and weather conditions would have been unpleasant at that time of year, so the official opening was pushed back to June 1949.
The Duke’s letter of acceptance included a second pleasant surprise: Princess Elizabeth would accompany him.
Thus, it may well be that had the Dame not requested a royal opening for her new harbour, Guernsey may not have had one for its hospital, either.
The visit almost ended in disaster. As Sibyl Hathaway wrote in her autobiography, Dame of Sark,
…the boat carrying the royal party arrived at the harbour steps. The Princess [future Queen Elizabeth II] had some difficulty in landing, because the boat was still rocking, but after a moment’s hesitation she made up her mind to jump for it. As she did so, she all but slipped. It was a terrible moment for those of us who were watching, but the Government Secretary, Major-General RF Colwill, who was standing on the steps, caught her just in time. She recovered at once…