Dr Tim Mitchell on his posting with the Gurkhas

Tim Mitchell joined the RAF in 1978 on a medical short-service commission and stayed until 1986. He then became a GP partner in Bristol and still works part time. His service with the Gurkhas in Hong Kong led to his role as Chair of Trustees for Pahar Trust Nepal.

My RAF career included two years working with the British Army. Back in those days, we still had a presence in Hong Kong based around 28 Squadron with Wessex Helicopters, and provided aeromedical evacuation for the whole of the Far East. I was lucky enough to be posted to RAF Sek Kong from 1984-86. The day-to-day work didn’t really need two GPs, so I followed the tradition of the Junior Medical Officer being seconded to the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers at nearby Perowne Barracks. My main role was as their Regimental Medical Officer.

Gurkha Dr Tim Mitchell

Tim during his RAF days (Courtesy of Tim Mitchell).

Hong Kong was then the ‘home’ posting for the Gurkhas, so the only place where they could be joined by their wives. There was one surgery just for the soldiers, and a family medical centre for wives and children. I learnt very quickly how to work with interpreters – something that certainly helped in my subsequent work in a diverse inner-city practice.

My day would start with a morning surgery for the British and Nepali serving personnel, and I spent the rest of the time at the Family Medical Centre. Obstetrics training was part of the requirement for taking up the post, and I soon found out why as the three Gurkha midwives were kept very busy with 80 deliveries a year. The rest of the medical work was much the same as for any young population, though cases of leprosy and TB were also common. Some of the more interesting cases were linked to the conditions and culture back in Nepal, such as the belief that curses could affect health. Every regiment had a kind of ‘witch doctor’ to deal with this and it usually worked, but occasionally I had to advocate for a Gurkha to return to Nepal to see a more powerful witch doctor. One patient was convinced that something was roaming around inside him, damaging everything it touched. Whatever one believes about the psychology behind it all, he came back cured.

As well as the main role, I also had to undertake some of the aeromedical work, which included visits to remote areas of Hong Kong and its islands, picking up a variety of cases that needed hospital care. The most memorable trip was to Papua New Guinea in a Hercules to deal with a serious road traffic accident. Some Gurkha engineers had been seriously injured. As well as a couple of fatalities, there were other injured patients to bring back to Hong Kong.

“Caring for a patient with a broken back in a Hercules was not made easier by a tropical storm over the Philippines!”

Gurkhas on parade

Gurkha pipers on parade

Away from Hong Kong, I also spent two weeks at the British Military Hospital in Dharan, Nepal. This cemented my lifelong bond with Nepal and its people, ultimately leading to me becoming involved with a charity that improves standards of education, health and sanitation for Nepalese communities. Little did I realise, all those years ago, what a profound effect my posting to the Gurkhas would have on me. It was a privilege to work alongside them.

Tim Mitchell opening a new facility for Gurkhas

Tim in Nepal (Courtesy of Tim Mitchell). 

Air Mail

Tim’s story first appeared in Air Mail magazine. To receive Air Mail, which is the RAF Association’s quarterly members’ magazine, become a member  and opt for Air Mail as part of your membership.