One hilarious incident took place during a soccer match
when a water cannon was used for the first time in Malta.
This was a method whereby the Police used high-powered
water hoses to control unruly crowds. Sadly, they had
serious teething problems that day. It was inadvertently
directed towards the VIP box, resulting in some very
wet and disgruntled celebrities!
Marlene and I had concocted the idea of cutting bits
of newspaper into tiny squares. As dad was being driven
up the hill, we threw all the hundreds of tiny bits
of paper towards his car. The aim was to cover dad’s
official Police Volkswagen Beetle with them. After a
while, we perfected our aim and became real experts.
The first time we tried our unusual welcome for dad
he was not very amused. After a while he realised that
it was a perfectly innocent and harmless practice. He
eventually decided to accept the situation. Indeed he
had started to quite enjoy our unorthodox ‘welcome
home’ for him!
Youth is a fantastic time. However, it can also be
very taxing. We constantly seek to establish our own
identity. One lives only for the present, and the future
is so far away. It virtually does not exist. I was living
life in the very fast lane. My student colleagues gave
me a nickname which has stuck to me ever since. The
Maltese words “Caqlaq dinja” mean mover
of the world.
I then had an uncanny resemblance to the film star
Anthony Perkins. He became famous as the mad murderer
“Norman” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The woman’s murder by stabbing in the shower schene,
is a cinema classic. I loved scaring the nurses on the
wards or the telephonists by appearing behind frosted
windows at night, brandishing a scalpel in my hands!
In the process I was learning much from my patients.
A certain young man was one of those persons. He had
given all doctors and patients at our hospital inspiration
by his determination to remain alive against all odds.
He was a fine man who in his late teens was tragically
involved in a fireworks explosion. Consequently, he
lost one of his legs and also suffered mangled arms.
He lost much blood and was in danger of dying when
brought to hospital. After a long, difficult surgical
intervention, his condition improved.
It was a very exciting time. A completely new world
very different from the civilian one I had been used
to in the past! Saluting, discipline and conforming
to well-set standards became the order of the day. One
‘bible’, which we all tried religiously
to conform to, was the booklet "Customs in the
British Army". I found Mess life difficult to come
to terms with. There were so many formalities involved.
The regimentation of everyone and everything in the
process was obvious.
Famagusta was an absolute jewel of a town. It was one
of the most sought-after holiday resorts in the Mediterranean
and was full of top-class hotels, restaurants, night
clubs, discotheques and numerous shops. It was the envy
of other resorts in that part of the world. The sandy
beaches and limpid sea were a joy to be relished by
all. The resort was teeming with uniformed Scandinavian
United Nations soldiers wearing their characteristic
blue berets. They walked along the seafront invariably
with some striking young lady accompanying them. They
gave the impression that they owned Famagusta. Life
there was a buzz in mid-1974.
It is a reflection of the sad state of affairs that
Nicosia remained the last divided city in Europe up
to the recent Kosovo crisis. That’s a grand total
of 25 years. Indeed, Turkey’s rape of Cyprus in
1974 is causing problems with Turkey’s and Cyprus’
negotiations to join the European Union.
The medical climax of my Berlin odyssey, and probably
of my 27 years in the British Army, was the fact that
I looked after Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s Deputy.
He was known as Prisoner Number 7. In a way I was lucky
that the experience came my way. It was usually the
visiting Hospital Consultant Physician who had this
responsibility. He came over to Berlin regularly from
the British Army of the Rhine, or BAOR.
One day, out of the blue, I was called to see that
Consultant Physician, Brigadier (later Major General)
Sammy Moore. He casually asked me if I would like to
look after Hess’s health during the British month.
For a moment I thought I had possibly misinterpreted
“Did you actually say Rudolf Hess, Sir?”
“Yes I did, Ray” was his blunt answer.
The first day I visited Spandau Prison to see my new,
‘prize’ patient, I was suddenly seized by
a peculiar feeling of unreality. Was all this true?
Was I Raymond Alfred Bencini, on the point of entering
that most notorious prison which had held seven of the
top German War Criminals after the famous Nuremberg
Trials? It was now accommodating just the one solitary
prisoner, Hess Prisoner Number 7, the previous almighty
Deputy Führer of Nazi Germany, my new patient.
When I use the word “notorious”, I use it
not simply because it held those prisoners. It is because
of its infamous history during the years of the Second
World War. Many prisoners were sent there as a result
of the decisions of the Nazi War Criminals to whom it
had subsequently become home in 1946! Indeed it was
a Clearing Station for political prisoners, Jews and
other undesirables, including Poles, who were kept there
before being dispatched to the relevant concentration
Our son Alexander was born on the 16th January, 1989.
What a momentous episode that was! My wife and I were
extremely worried towards the end of her pregnancy.
An anomaly had appeared on the ultrasound, indicating
the possibility that Alexander had a kidney abnormality.
As a doctor, I was probably even more worried than my
wife. I did not want to show my concern for fear of
upsetting her. I started refreshing my memory about
all sorts of kidney problems. It was one sure recipe
to make myself a nervous wreck in the process. I burned
the midnight oil during that time. Indeed, I became
a bit of an authority on kidney abnormalities.
Another incident which took place while we were living
in Münster was the completely unprovoked shooting
of two British soldiers by the IRA. They were shot just
outside York Barracks as they were returning. It was
less than a mile from our residence. That made it even
more worrying for all the British Service families in
the vicinity! Both soldiers miraculously survived. One
of them was extremely lucky to be alive since a main
artery in his leg was hit. He bled profusely. Thankfully,
medical attention, in the form of one of my colleagues,
arrived on the scene very quickly and arrested the massive
We had to do a bit of adapting to the Hong Kong way
of life. It took some time to “sink in”
that the shops remained open during the weekends. It
made life much easier. We also enjoyed two New Years
within the space of a few weeks since we also celebrated
the Chinese New Year. Our children really enjoyed shouting
“Kung Hei Fat Choi”, which was the equivalent
of a “Happy New Year!” Since the Chinese
New Year is in late January or February, it was even
more of a celebration for my family. My daughters’
birthdays are on the 10th and the 19th February. There
was one year, 1994, when we celebrated Ramona’s
birthday and the Chinese New year on the same day. All
that to add to our celebrating Philip’s birthday
on New year’s Day!
I soon learnt not to ask my Hong Kong Chinese patients
what their Christian name was. They are not Christians
and have first names instead. I found that out at my
own expense when questioning a soldier. The Chinese
are also addressed with their surname first.
On the clinical front I was seeing some rather varied
medicine. I diagnosed a couple of cases of tuberculosis
among our Chinese patients. It is still rife in Hong
Kong. Consequently, we were giving anti-tuberculosis
vaccinations, called BCG, to all the newborns and children.
Another interesting clinical happening occurred when
I had to deal with a pregnant Nepalese lady who came
complaining of abdominal pain. As she was waiting for
me to examine her, she vomited up a one-foot slimy worm
onto the floor of the surgery! It was a large roundworm
called Ascaris Lumbricoides. Not
unexpectedly, she fainted!