SOUTHEND Hospital is marking the anniversary of the day the red carpet was royally rolled out for a special guest.

Forty five years ago Her Royal Highness Princess Anne came to Southend to declare the hospital’s £3 million extension, including pristine new tower block, officially open.

The princess had been due to touch down in Southend via her private helicopter but due to heavy fog she and her entourage ended up taking the train, arriving at Southend Victoria Station to throngs of cheering well-wishers who lined to streets to bid the princess welcome.

During her December 7, 1971 visit, the princess received a tour of the hospital’s extension and chatted to staff and patients.

The Southend Standard newspaper reported on the visit and described how the princess bonded with patients on the children’s ward.

The newspaper reported how she tickled some of the children with her bouquet, much to their delight, and was asked by one inquisitive youngster ‘where is your helicopter?” She answered “we had to leave it at home, helicopters don’t like fog!”

The princess also met 75-year-old World War One veteran Frank Chellin.

The former soldier had been blinded by mustard gas while fighting on the Western Front in 1918.

He was presented to Princess Anne and told her how he had regained the sight in one of his eyes for the first time in a quarter of a century thanks to the ophthalmic team at Southend Hospital.

Plans to extend Southend Hospital and to build the tower block had been in the pipeline since 1960. The plans were completed in 1966 and work on the first phase of the building project began in August that year.

The major modernisation of the hospital, which was greatly needed at the time, also saw many of the hospital’s original buildings being upgraded.

One of the wards in the tower block was named in honour of the princess’s visit. Exactly 45 years later some of the areas may have moved around, been reconfigured or redesigned but the same dedication to the care of patients still remains.

Today the Princess Anne ward is a care of the elderly ward with 29 beds specialising in dementia care and complex medical problems for the over 65’s.

Princess Anne Ward Manager Helen Cullen, said: “It’s a real privilege for our ward to be named after Princess Anne, commemorating her visit from 1971. As well as meaning a lot to staff it is also has an instantly recognisable name for older patients, many of whom are big fans of the Royal Family.”

Princess Anne returned to Southend in 1974 to open a new riding school at Belfairs Park. She also graced the town with her presence in 1986 by inaugurating the new pier railway.