Surgeon Captain Morgan O’Connell FRCPsych joined the Royal Navy in 1965 as a Medical Cadet whilst studying medicine at Galway University on the West coast of Ireland from where he qualified MB BCh BAO in 1968. It had not been his intention to serve more than the five years of a Short Service Commission. The fact that he stayed for 31 years and that he left as Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry to the Medical Director General (Navy) indicates that something had happened to change his mind.
He did his first tour of duty at Haslar, the Royal Naval Hospital in Gosport where he was to meet his wife to be a Physio Student. He volunteered for service with the Royal Marines, or in submarines and in the inimitable way the Appointer has, he was sent on a round the world cruise in HMS Blake from which he returned having played lots of Rugby, drunk masses of beer and met many blondes in green bikinis. He thought he knew all he needed to know about the Royal Navy until he went to sea in HMS/M Walrus followed by ‘trips’ in Churchill and Courageous.
With a view to training in General Practice on completion of his submarine service, he opted to spend six months at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley near Southampton to gain some experience of psychiatry. He was allocated to the Alcoholics Ward and the week after joining decided that in the light of his cultural background he should take an interest in Alcoholism. Six years later he left Netley having obtained the Diploma in Psychological Medicine (DPM) in 1974 and Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (MRCPsych) in 1976. He was appointed Consultant in Psychiatry at the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar in 1980 and elected Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (FRCPsych) in 1990. In the intervening years he had kept in touch with the Navy by spending some time in HMS Ariadne and HMS Lincoln during the Cod Wars (1974) and returning to sea for a year in HMS Fearless in 1978 in a General Duties Capacity. This last full sea-going appointment was to convince him that he should not only stay in psychiatry but also in the Royal Navy.
By chance he found himself on the Great White Whale (SS Canberra) in 1982 as Psychiatrist to the Surgical Support Team (SST) attached to Three Commando Brigade. This ninety-nine day cruise was to change his life professionally, when he finally realised what being a Naval Trickcyclist was all about, this after spending ten years in Psychiatry in the Military!
The Royal Navy was ready and willing to recognise that, in spite of being the best Navy in the world, many of the lessons learned in previous conflicts had been forgotten in the intervening period, particularly in matters psychological. With this support, Surgeon Captain O’Connell was able to develop his interest in the aftermath of war and the emerging study of what had become known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; a new name for an old condition. This interest led to the Department of Psychiatry at the Royal Naval Hospital becoming involved in the aftermath of a number of disasters including that of the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge, Lockerbie, Piper Alpha, Clapham Rail Crash, Kings Cross Fire and others. Surgeon Captain O’Connell introduced the SPRINT (Special Psychological Rapid Intervention Team) to the Royal Navy, the forerunner of the TRIM, so endorsed by the Royal Marines.
Currently Surgeon Capt. O’Connell is enjoying life in ‘retirement’. He provides a Consulting Service in the Southampton/Portsmouth area. His primary aim, is to improve on his golf handicap. With four of his five daughters married into the Army and his son having recently completed an SSC in the Micks, his knowledge of the Army is gradually increasing. To date his knowledge of the Air Force has been confined to the occasional trip as a passenger.
Susie, his wife, has finally come to accept that being married to a Psychiatrist does not necessarily mean that everything she says and does is analysed in depth, this does however continue to amuse her friends. To read his 2008 presentation click here
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