DOCTOR Arklay Steel sounds like a Marvel Comic character - and it was his superhuman efforts that created the modern-day Hillingdon Hospital.

He saw its transformation into one of the biggest district hospitals in the country, attracting dignitaries including the future Queen and Nye Bevan, founder of the National Health Service.

Steel’s plans were first delayed by World War Two and then the austerity of the post-war years, but he refused to give up.

A colleague described him as “reliable and competent rather than brilliant but what he lacked in flair and virtuosity he made up in meticulous care and hard work”.

The new medical director inherited in 1934 a ramshackle collection of buildings and outhouses in that would have shocked modern day hospital inspectors.

The war bought a violent halt to any redevelopment plans, although temporary hutted wards was quickly built to accommodate a further 400 beds.

The hospital received a mix of civilian and military casualties, the former from German bombing raids and rocket attacks while military personal were sent from campaigns like D-Day.

More than 500 bombs were dropped on Hillingdon, including one that hit the hospital in 1943 injuring two nurses.

A former rear admiral was drafted in to help and the wards that were used to treat soldiers were subsequently named after ships.

There was a strict pecking order, with officers housed in the main hospital while subalterns made do in the draughty makeshift huts.

The number of beds rose to more than 900 by 1943, but conditions inside the hospital were increasingly fraught.

Steel would recall later recall that “the war shattered all dreams and plans of the future, delaying the building of the hospital for too many years”.

The immediate post-war years proved equally tough, but Steel wasted no time in writing to the health minister highlighting the deplorable working conditions in which staff had to work.

The hospital made news in the Evening Standard in 1946 with the headline ‘Airport hospital shocking – may be world scandal’.

Steel was a shrewd judge of character and was loved by staff for his loyalty and belief that anyone who worked at the hospital, irrespective of their role, deserved to be treated equally.

The surgeon chaired and attended countless meetings, read numerous board papers and presided over various blueprints, designs and redesigns for the new hospital.

The Ministry of Health finally approved the first stage of redevelopment in 1957 and the Duchess of Kent opened the new maternity wing three years later.

Slowly, piece by piece, the new hospital took shape.

Our picture shows Arkley Steel, spade in hand, symbolically cutting the first turf on a cold winter’s day in January 1963.

It is an apt image of man who tirelessly laboured for a new hospital to be built when many others would have given up. It was, quite literally, his life’s work.

He somewhat prophetically said: “Many of the older members of staff may not see the completion of the buildings.”

Sadly, it included himself. He died just eight months after retiring and two years before the new hospital was officially opened in 1967.

A portrait of the great man survives, surveying his legacy with the gentle smile that won him so many friends.