ON JULY 5, 1948, Aneurin (better known as Nye) Bevan, the Labour Government’s health secretary, opened the first National Health Service hospital at Park Hospital in Manchester.

It was the culmination of years of work bringing universal free health care to the United Kingdom.

In Scotland during World War II, a massive government funded programme of hospital building had taken place and half of Scotland was already covered by state-funded medical care.

In the Highlands and Islands 35 years earlier, the Highlands and Islands Medical Service had been set up and in 1935 the air ambulance service began.

It is also worth noting that Scotland was dominated by medical schools rather than the English private practice system and as early as 1946 the Scottish NHS Bill was ready for parliament but delayed.

Bevan simply created a nationalisation of an existing service in Scotland but he brought the system under one umbrella with free healthcare for all.

In 1948 all these hospitals were incorporated into the new National Health Service. One such local hospital was Airthrey Castle Maternity Hospital at Bridge of Allan.

Airthrey Castle had been designed by Robert Adam in 1791 for estate owner Robert Haldane. In 1891 the front entrance was re-built and ornate wood panelling was installed by which time it was owned by Donald Graham, a partner in William Graham and Company, East India Merchants of Glasgow.

Graham died in 1901 but his widow remained until she leased the estate in 1924 to ship owner Charles Donaldson, who died at the castle in 1938.

In 1939, Dr E. Neil Reid, medical officer of health in Stirling, was charged with setting up an emergency maternity hospital under the department of health for Scotland’s emergency evacuation scheme, and it noted that there was room at the Donaldson home.

Dr Reid later said Mrs Donaldson was "a joy to work with", as they set about clearing the bedrooms. One of the large bedrooms became the maternity room and next to it was a bathroom which doubled up as the examination room.

Planks were laid over the bath and this created the examination table. The castle took delivery of around 25 beds and equipment including crockery and cutlery and opened its doors to the first batch of mothers on September 12.

Dr Eva Taylor Cairns, a local general practitioner who worked at the maternity unit at Stirling, accepted overall clinical charge of Airthrey.

Other staff included a matron and a sister who was a qualified midwife. There were also two registered midwives and two auxiliaries.

Mrs Donaldson also played her part in helping to run the hospital, until she left in May 1941 when her lease was up.

In 1940, there were just 43 confinements, as most mothers had their babies at home and the hospital was purely for evacuees, and this led to a discussion about closing the unit. However, in 1941, following the bombing raids on Clydebank, the hospital came into its own as it was taken over by the government and its administration fell to Stirling County Council. With Mrs Donaldson leaving, this allowed the five to ten bed unit to increase to 40.