The first Belgian visit was in 1931 to four cities: Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges and Louvain. The integrated care offered in the Cancer Institute of the University of Louvain, run by Professor Maissin and Dr Morelle, appeared world-class. Bruges’ Dr Seebrechts was said to be “not only a craftsman of the first order, but had the personality and patience that marks the great teacher.”

He made great use of spinal anaesthesia in his wide spectrum of surgery. In 1956, the Society again visited Brussels and Louvain, and here again met Professor Morelle, this time at the Hôpital St Pierre. They also met Professor Christophe in Liege, a city burnt down no less than eight times (but never by the English); this rubicund, jolly professor did both general and neurosurgery, in an operating theatre with a parabolic aluminium dome.

In 1979 and 1998 the venue was again Brussels, where the Academisch Ziekenhuis (Hospital of the Free University of Brussels) had been opened in 1977 in the heart of the Flemish speaking part of Brussels; here the mobile medical teams of the Accident Service were part of a national system of emergency care. A private religious hospital, the Clinique Generale St Jean, was thought impressive, with low fees and free care for the poor, subsidised by the State. The Catholic Hospital in Louvain had been rebuilt in 1976, following a nine year gestation in which Professor Haxhe had been Medical Director and one of only four individuals (including the architect) to make the final planning decisions following wide consultation.

For the 1998 visit, most members travelled on the silk-smooth Eurostar (140 minutes from Waterloo to Brussels, where we stayed) for our visits to Antwerp, Louvain and Liege. In Louvain (Leuven in Flemish) we attended the 22-theatre suite of the University Hospital, followed by a session in the Centre for Surgical Technologies, created in 1991 to train surgeons in minimally invasive techniques. Belgian healthcare, dating from 1948, is insurance–based. At the Hôpital St Luc we saw a living donor liver transplant from mother to daughter and learnt about medical training in Belgium, in its eleven medical faculties.

At the private St Josef Hôpital in Liege, at the forefront of laparoscopic surgery, skilful endoscopic fundoplication and gastric banding were seen.

The Waterloo battlefield was again toured, this time with guest Michael Crumplin as guide after he gave a detailed presentation on the battle.