In a truly amazing medical career that spanned 40 years, the skill and knowledge of Island consultant plastic surgeon Anthony Roberts has saved countless lives.

But a modest man, Anthony merely reflects: “That can be said of any surgeon. A lot of my work entailed reconstructive surgery which was all about getting people functioning again.”

Anthony, supported by his wife Vivian, herself a former GP and police surgeon for 18 years, has travelled the world using his expertise to treat victims of wars and other disasters ranging from horrendous fires to earthquakes.

But that is only part of an incredible journey for a man, who again with the help and support of his wife of 41 years, embarked on a new reconstructure venture just over a decade ago – that of restoring Haseley Manor to its former glory.

It was a challenging project the couple have enjoyed, and it was where I met Anthony to discuss the many aspects of his life that in 2011 was recognised with an OBE for his services to the medical field, ornithology and to the community on the Isle of Wight.

After a career change from chemical engineering, Anthony moved into medicine, eventually becoming consultant plastic and hand surgeon and director of a regional burns unit. Apart from working in more than 20 countries over five continents, Anthony still attends many of the leading sporting and social events in England as a member of St John Ambulance. That line of work takes him to such venues as Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and Lord’s Cricket Ground – on call for injuries to members of the public, and also to look after the needs of members of the Royal Family and senior politicians on State occasions. For 35 years he was also involved in motor racing doctoring, including 10 years at Formula One level, providing immediate and vital treatment to drivers who suffered serious injuries and burns following accidents on the track. He smiled: “I have also treated a few pop stars, who I have to admit I had never heard of.”

Anthony was born in Woodford, Essex – which is now a district of London. As his father was in the Air Force, he celebrated his first seven birthdays in seven different counties. But because he had tuberculosis as a youngster he did not start school until he was seven years old.

After primary school in the Essex area, he won a scholarship to a small public school in Epping Forest. After leaving school Anthony went to Leeds University to study chemical engineering, and spent 10 years in the industry. But after being told constantly he would have to take a two-year management course to further his career he opted for a change of direction, smiling: “I decided I would chop people up instead!”

He trained to be a surgeon in universities at both Oxford and Cambridge. He mused: “There are not too many who have been to both Oxford and Cambridge, but if people kept giving me scholarships it would have been churlish to refuse them. I always wanted to do surgery before I got into medicine and fortunately I made it.

“I was 28 and people told me I was a bit old to go through the whole training scheme, particularly plastic surgery which is the most competitive of all specialities – and always technically challenging.”

He spent two years at Cambridge, three at Oxford and then a further six months each at Cambridge and Reading.  He also worked for six months in the bush in Africa, before looking for the senior house officer position that took him back to Oxford to do plastic and accident surgery.

His next port of call was Birmingham in 1974 to work in plastic surgery at the burn unit of a hospital for three years before moving to Newcastle and then Leeds and Bradford. During that time Anthony also spent a year in Australia to undertake micro-surgery training in Melbourne. He has also worked and taught regularly in Hong Kong and with the military service in Egypt. As a consultant Anthony covered all aspects of plastic surgery, from head, neck and hand to burns, breast reconstruction and skin cancer. He had already been appointed to Stoke Mandeville and was working his three months notice at Bradford at the time of the horrendous fire at the town’s football stadium in 1985 that claimed 56 lives and resulted in hundreds more being injured, many of them with severe burns.

“I was on call for three weeks after the fire,” Anthony recalls. “One of the most memorable things about it all was the fact that it was being televised live as it happened. I was watching television shortly afterwards, saw a repeat of what was going on and knew that I was needed at the hospital!

“Although six of the most seriously injured went to the burns unit at Wakefield, initially we had 57 patients admitted, and then a further 220 outpatients the following day. I oversaw the whole operation for the first eight hours, and perhaps that was the start of many traumatic incidents that I was involved in.”

Anthony’s knowledge and experience in plastic surgery almost inevitably took him worldwide – wherever there was a major incident in which he could play such a vital role.

He found himself in Athens to treat victims after a major petrol refinery fire, and was later in Hong Kong to help youngsters injured when caught up in a fire on a mountain.

He has also been on hand to help rebuild the lives of war victims, having worked tirelessly in Sarajevo at the height of their conflicts as well as in Azerbaijan and Kosovo. Indeed he has used his professional skills working and/or teaching in more than 20 countries spread over five continents.

“The majority of those were in developing countries, and I was particularly concerned with wars and disaster management. I acted as advisor to the Government of Botswana, the Royal Air Force, the United States Air Force and the Egyptian Army,” he said. “I was also in Haiti shortly after their earthquake three years ago, mainly treating crush injuries.” He said: “I was just doing whatever needed doing –amputations and occasionally burns.”

During his time at Stoke Mandeville Hospital Anthony and his team treated around 400 major and minor burns victims each year from an area that covered five million people, but he admits he was never one for statistics so has no idea just how many patients worldwide he has treated.

He has seen many advances in the treatment of burns, some of them too gory to go into detail. But he prides himself on the fact that during his time at Stoke Mandeville he reduced the average time of a patient’s stay from 26 days down to nine days because of early surgery, rather than delay operations, a procedure that had always been the norm.

Anthony set up a research charity at Stoke Mandeville to raise funds to look into the healing of burns. It remains an active charity, and has raised around £2million in 21 years. Although he retired from the Health Service in 2001, his work load remains as high as ever. He has taught nurses, paramedics, military personnel and St John members, and now instructs doctors in advanced trauma – returning from a teaching mission in China only recently.

Away from surgery, Anthony has always been keen on wildlife. His interest has taken him from the Arctic to the Antarctic, particularly in the study and ringing of birds. Add to that the fact he represented the British Universities at sailing and ice hockey; had an Olympic trial in sailing; played in university teams at badminton and squash, and College teams at cricket, tennis and athletics.

He first came to the Island at a cub camp in 1948, returning in 1962 as assistant secretary to Seaview Yacht Club, and later buying a home in Seaview. Anthony and Vivian acquired Haseley Manor in 2000 – a house originally built in the 14th century – following on the work of the previous owner Ray Young, they are rightly proud of their continuing wonderful restoration work, a mission that would have been a full-time job for most people. If that is not enough Anthony returned to scouting in 2009 after a long absence, and is now County Commissioner on the Island for the Scout Association. He reflected: “I am not the sort to sit still – you only have one life.”