DR SAM BENADY – Literary endeavour and medical expertise

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words | Mike Brufal

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Sam Benady, 79, was born in Gibraltar into a family that had been on the Rock for more than 280 years. The family was immortalised by James Joyce in “Ulysses”. Molly, in her final soliloquy, mentions that she has burst open a bag of biscuits from Benady Bros.

The Second World War saw the family evacuated to London via a short diversion to Rabat. The family stayed first at King’s College and then North End House, two large blocks in West Kensington. His father subsequently rented a flat in a house nearby which in 1943 suffered a direct hit by a German bomb. Providentially, his father had entered hospital and arranged that his family would return to the evacuation scheme at North End House whilst he was away. The next day, Sam saw that the wall of the flat had collapsed onto his bed. It so happened that a cousin, Juggie Benady, was sleeping in the basement and managed to survive. A photograph of him with a bandaged head standing outside the collapsed building with his wife Violet was sent round the world as propaganda.

The family moved to the Midlands for a year to stay with a cousin who lived near Willenhall. His father managed to secure a job in a factory. A rumour was heard that those on the evacuation list were soon to be sent back to Gibraltar. His father swiftly returned the family to evacuee status and they were sent to Northern Ireland – Camp No 4, Saintfield, County Down – where they were billeted in a Nissen hut.

After time in the camp, the family moved to digs in Belfast and waited for their number to come up when they returned to Gibraltar on a converted French freighter the Cap Touraine. During the voyage home, there was much excitement when out in the Bay of Biscay a tremendous thump was felt everywhere in the vessel. The dreaded word ‘Torpedo’ was heard which resulted in much panic. Fortunately, it turned out to have been caused by an escorting man of war who had bumped into its stern. The ship limped into Gibraltar harbour with a large gash just above the waterline.

Sam's 7th birthday, London
Sam’s 7th birthday, London

On arrival, the family home was deemed to be uninhabitable due to the many soldiers who had lived there during the war. His father rented a flat in Cornwall’s Parade and the family stayed there for five years, moving to the then new Shorthorn Estate in 1951. He went to Brympton School, which at the time was at Castle Road before it moved to South Barrack Road. The teachers who made an impression included Miss Enid Simpson (headmistress), Miss Benzaquen (French), Reverend Basil Ney (Religious Education and Music) and the art teacher Mr Brinton Lee, who was a member of the London School of Painters and a collector of books on Gibraltar. After his death, Sam was able to buy this collection from his estate. Pupils he remembers include Robert Seruya, Tony Loddo, Augustus Reyes, Daisy and Yvonne Seruya and Dorita Montegriffo. He also believes that a fellow pupil was the late Peter Cook whose father was the Financial Secretary. Mary Loddo was a fellow pupil but he has no recollection of meeting her at the time, although her brother Tony was a good friend, as she was a couple of years younger. After meeting her many years later, they decided to write the Bresciano stories together and by this time she had married and became Mary Chiappe.

The Eleven Plus was passed and he entered the Gibraltar Grammar School which was first at Plata Villa and then at Sacred Heart Terrace. Brother Foley was Headmaster, later succeeded by Brother D’Arcy. The latter was a brilliant teacher of mathematics which enabled Sam to pass A level maths at scholarship level. He remembers Brother Taylor who gave him his love of the English language. There was only one lay teacher in the school, Mr Hermida, who taught art. Sam never took part in competitive sport but was an active participant in the Debating Society, the Chess Club at the Calpe Institute and table tennis. He wanted to take sciences at A level but at that time the facilities to teach these subjects did not exist. Instead, he took and passed history and Spanish. Sam was not daunted and so he took the A level science courses by correspondence. His studies were helped by Brother D’Arcy’s brilliant teaching and that of Mr Harvey at the Technical College. His history and Spanish results were enough for a place to be offered at London University.

By this time, he decided that he wanted to read medicine and the subsequent A levels enabled him to enter the medical school. At this time, there were only two scholarships available. The Gibraltar Government scholarship had gone to someone who had been promised it from the previous year. This left one John Mackintosh scholarship which was divided between Paul Gomez and himself; both were to read medicine and both were to become eminent paediatricians. The next year, the half was made up to a full scholarship. At that time, other than those on teaching scholarships, there was no Government requirement to work for a number of years on the Rock.

Sam, aged 19, went to St. Mary’s Medical School, Paddington, which is part of London University and spent one year obtaining first MB, followed by two years second MB and then three years clinical study. In his final year, he was awarded the paediatrics prize.

During these years, he met, became engaged and married his wife. Sarita came from Tetouan and was in London to learn English at a Secretarial College. Their eldest daughter, Ilana, was born shortly after he qualified.

He returned to Gibraltar and worked as house surgeon for six months, assisting Mr Toomey in the old St Bernard’s Hospital. In those days, there were few consultants and there was an enormous amount of surgery to be done by Mr Toomey.

In order to be a specialist, the young doctor had to practise to gain experience and to be a member of the Royal College of Physicians. This required a written examination in adult medicine. He moved for a year to a hospital in Lincoln as a senior house officer in medicine and then moved to a position as registrar in a hospital near Middlesbrough. In 1999, he passed the exams and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. Now he was able to practice as a paediatrician and so was appointed a registrar at Southmead Hospital in Bristol. During this time a second daughter, Yael, was born.

Unexpectedly, Aurelio Montegriffo, Minister of Health, called on him asking him to consider returning to the Rock as Dr Henry Triay, the local paediatrician, was about to retire. He would be appointed his assistant with a view to succeeding him. He agreed and so in 1969 became a Medical Officer Grade A. Upon arrival, he found that he was to be also an assistant to Dr Jaime Giraldi at the KGV hospital. A house was provided in Mount Road and his neighbours were Solomon and Francis Seruya. Solly’s decision to move to Israel influenced him in his next career choice.

By 1971 Sam decided that his practice was going nowhere and, with Sarita, decided to move to Israel. As a result of the Six Day war in 1967 both had become emotionally involved with the future of the State of Israel. A short visit confirmed his desire and so a job was arranged and the move completed. After some initial difficulties with the Professor who had offered him the job, he entered the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem which resulted in him working in welfare clinics in town. They lived in a rented flat for about a year and then bought a flat. By this time he was fully occupied as a paediatrician and also with assessing children with learning and physical difficulties.

French Hill, Jerusalem, Israel in the 1970s. Sam, Ilana and Sarita with two friends
French Hill, Jerusalem, Israel in the 1970s. Sam, Ilana and Sarita

By the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War Sam was not yet an Israeli citizen as he had not completed the three year domicile requirement. As the majority of doctors had been called up, he found himself in charge of a large medical paediatric department assisted by a few female doctors and those too old for military service. This was hard work. After becoming a citizen, he served in the medical reserve and was sent to be the doctor at a military training camp. He moved to be the medical officer to a battalion that was not a crack unit as its soldiers were recruits who had managed to avoid the call up. As Sam had never taken the military medical course, he never became an officer and was probably the oldest private in the Israel army. Had he completed the course, he would have worn two dull green stripes as a Lieutenant. As it was, he proudly wore a white stripe prominently inscribed “Medical Officer”. At the time the way for soldiers to travel within Israel was to hitch a lift, so Sam’s medical insignia ensured lifts as the drivers always wanted to talk about their health problems.

Eventually, there were problems in his place of work, The Centre for Child Development, as the professor who had given Sam his job disappeared without trace. Ultimately, it was discovered that he had been in a serious car crash. The funding ran out and the centre was taken over by the Ministry of Health and Sam appointed its head doctor. In 1975, the Professor turned up after extensive convalescence and was furious to find he had been replaced by the Health Ministry. Sam enjoyed the job, but it had nothing to do with his true love, acute paediatrics.

A sabbatical year came in 1976 and Sam returned to London as a locum for Professor Dubowitz at the Hammersmith Hospital. The Professor was a specialist in muscular problems in children. After six months, he moved to the Bristol area, as another Professor had arranged for him to visit handicapped children living round the South West of England.

In 1977, he flew to Gibraltar for his father’s 70th birthday. Whilst there, he met Dr Ernest Imossi, the pathologist who was the chairman of the Society for Handicapped Children. He told Sam that Gibraltar needed a paediatrician and asked if he would consider returning to Gibraltar. Sam said that if this is what the authorities want then he would return. It so happened that Aurelio Montegriffo was still the Minister for Health and readily agreed to the suggestion. Sam returned to Israel to wind up his affairs and started his position in 1980 after doing a locum in England to learn all the latest techniques in paediatrics. Sam spent the next twenty two years as the only consultant paediatrician on the Rock. He insisted that he would only accept referrals from a G.P. This was because when he started, every family who had a sick child thought that he should be dealing with it. At first, this did not go down well but was eventually accepted. Sam did both hospital and welfare clinics which was hard work and was having to work both night and day.samcolour-4

He was also appointed consultant to the Royal Naval Hospital. Mr Lionel Jarvis was the consultant surgeon at the RNH and the visiting paediatrician, Dr Chris Kershaw, had been Sam’s registrar at the Hammersmith Hospital. Sam and Chris decided that there was a problem. Sick babies at the Naval Hospital who required specialist treatment could be put on a Hercules aircraft and flown back to a military hospital in England but would have to be accompanied by a doctor. Patients from St Bernard’s Hospital were even worse off, as they could only be sent to Britain if they were fit enough for a commercial flight.

Chris and he came to the conclusion that it made much more sense for sick civilian and military children to be sent for treatment in Spain. Hospitals were visited in Jerez and Malaga. Both were good but Sam opted for Malaga hospital as it could deal with the problems of young children in addition to babies. Sam could now transfer children to a hospital in Malaga although he had to accompany each patient. He retired in 2002 on his 65th birthday. His successor was Dr Higgs, a South African. Today there are three paediatricians, a luxury that Sam could only dream of!

In 2007, he was appointed M.B.E for services to health care and voluntary work for heritage.

As if his work load was not enough, Sam, in 1994, wrote a history of the Colonial Hospital, subsequently St Bernard’s. He also, whilst practising, wrote two Sherlock Holmes short stories and a historical novel called ‘The Keys to the City’ recently translated into Spanish and published in Spain as ‘Las Llaves de Gibraltar’. After retirement, he wrote the biography of General Don, followed by a couple of books on the Yellow Fever epidemic, co-authored with Professor Larry Sawchuk. Larry had started the book but asked Sam so many questions that he told him that ‘as you have almost written half the book you should be co-author’.

Sam Benady and Mary Chiappe
Sam Benady and Mary Chiappe

In 2006, Sam was approached by Mary Chiappe to discuss writing together a detective story set on the Rock. As she would need so much historical background and medical knowledge, Sam was invited to co-write the story. It has turned into a remarkable literary partnership. They would meet to discuss the book, what the crime was to be, the characters who would appear and an outline of the plot. The main character is Giovanni Bresciano, a Gibraltarian of Anglo-Genoese descent. For the first novel Sam wrote the first chapter, sent to Mary for her comments. She wrote the second chapter, he the third and so on until the final chapter. Mary wrote the first chapter of the second story and so it went on until the final book in the series.

In 2015, the two authors were awarded a heritage award by the Heritage Trust. As a result of popular demand, Mary and Sam recently took fans on a walk visiting most of the places mentioned in the book.

Sam has nothing definite planned although he might update the history of the hospital. He is at present involved in the research into the cemetery which was discovered when the old hospital building was being re-commissioned as a school.

Sam looks back on the Gibraltar which has been his home for most of his life, and reflects that while some things have improved for the better, the traditional nature of his home town is being irretrievably lost, with ugly, oversized and intrusive buildings being like aloes sprouting up all over the place.