1995 – Australia Remembers WWII 1945 – 1995

 

Donald Beard AM FRACS FRCS

 

 

This address was delivered at the Foundation Day Address Ceremony held at Royal Adelaide Hospital on 12 July, 1995.

 

 

This is the year of Australia Remembers – remembering World War II and the fifty years subsequent.  I want to discuss its impact on the Royal Adelaide Hospital and its staff.

 

I stand with three emotions – honour, pride and humility.  Honour that you have asked me to address you, proud to have played a part on the staff of this hospital for about ten years and finally, humbled by the tremendous efforts of those of the staff who went away and those who stayed behind.

 

In 1939 as our hospital was being congratulated on being honoured with the Royal prefix, over Europe there were storm clouds gathering and finally they erupted.  At that time I was a student just over the road at Adelaide Technical High School.  Neither then nor in 1944 when I commenced as a medical student here at the hospital, did the impact really strike home.  It was all so far away and everyone thought it would end so soon.

 

Initially the war had little effect on the running of the hospital and work went on with only a few of the members of the staff in the initial call-up.  But with the entrance of the Japanese there was a dramatic change.  Trenches were dug in the gardens, buckets of sand and water appeared in the corridors already partly occupied by patients.  The windows had to be blacked out and the boy scouts were called in to assist in pasting them up.  Hurricane lanterns were issued but these too were partly blacked out and it created all sorts of problems in caring for the patients.

 

In the backs, in the poor light, many nurses were burnt on the sterilisers.  Suddenly, call-ups to the services escalated.  Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, administrators etc were called-up at a week’s notice and it left a tremendous hole.

 

Suddenly the hospital was a place under stress.  There was tremendous pressure on senior nurses and when they were off duty their places were often taken by final year nursing trainees who suddenly found themselves in charge of a ward and some of you no doubt will remember in the same way the honorary medical staff disappeared overnight – some of them, leaving those who were too old to be called up to then work day and night.  Similarly, final year medical students were called to fill the gaps of the departing house surgeons.

 

Illness and injury continued in the State unabated but staff and supplies rapidly diminished.  Somehow the board had to continue the service by rationing and recycling.  Patients with old fractured hips were recalled to remove their Smith Peterson pins.

 

But what of those who volunteered to serve for king and country.  Initially they volunteered with a sense of great patriotism.  There was no thought of the danger and hardships ahead.  It had been known throughout the 30’s of the imminent dangers in Europe and many of the staff, medical, nursing, administrative etc were already in reserve units.  Suddenly they were called up and whisked away in a state of fervour.

 

It’s very difficult to discuss all of those who served and all of those who stayed, but to them I dedicate this address.

 

THE MEDICAL STAFF

 

Some went as junior medical officers to serve in infantry battalions, naval ships and air force squadrons.  Some went as specialists to serve in hospitals.  Some served a dual role at home as specialists at the hospital and also consultants to the services.  Some, like Krantz and Hobbs, became prisoners of the Japanese and performed work just as good and just as devoted as ‘Weary’ Dunlop.  Bob Magarey served with great distinction on the Kokoda Trail.

 

How can I make just one or two examples of the medical staff and their work?

Dudley Byrne and Alan Campbell were working in a practice in Hindmarsh for the beginning of the war.  Dudley was training to be a gynaecologist and Alan to be a surgeon.  Fate took them both to Tobruk.  Dudley in a field ambulance and Alan, patrolling in a destroyer offshore and evacuating the casualties, one of whom was Byrne.  When he was taken on board, his old friend from Hindmarsh, not only cared for him but then gave him his own bunk.

 

All of the medical staff served with great distinction in the various services and they worked under dreadful conditions and many times in great danger.  But what of those who stayed behind?

 

They were either too old or medically unfit to serve but they rose to the occasion of serving the sick and injured of South Australia.  Doctors such as Hone, Jose, Messent, Burnell, Southwood etc took on huge workloads here at the hospital and at the same time had to earn their living in private practice – not only for themselves but also supporting those specialists who’d gone away.

 

Few recognised the difficulties and the hardships.

 

THE NURSING STAFF

 

It is fitting that this Foundation Day should be held in this chapel which is dedicated to those of the nursing staff who gave the supreme sacrifice.

 

The senior nursing staff here at the hospital were even more depleted.  Some remained like Clifford, Potts, Carr etc.  They worked day and night, not only looking after the patients but also training the young nurses and all this at a time when hands-on nursing was even more important because of the lack of any antibiotics, anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory drugs and technical equipment.  It had to be the nurse who cared for the patient.

 

The young nineteen or twenty year old nurse was suddenly thrown into a position of great responsibility.  They rose to the occasion but it took a lot out of them.

 

What of those who joined the services?  The initial trickle became a flood.  They realised from the history of World War I, how much they would be needed.  They gave no thought to the hardships that they were going to endure.  Who will I choose as my example from amongst the nursing staff; of those many hundreds who served as trained nurses and later as AMWAAS?

 

Captain Huppatz was in the first call-up and went to Alexandria in North Africa in 1940 where she served with great distinction and eventually, of course, she was to return after the war and become our matron.

 

Will it be Betty Westwood who was a theatre sister for Jose and Lindon and when she volunteered, the matron told her to go to Mr Jose to seek his permission.  He said to her ‘I admire your enthusiasm, come back to us when it is all over’.  Little did either of them realise how long it would be before it was all over.  Westwood too, had great service in the islands.  Incidentally, last week she had a laminectomy for intolerable back pain and sciatica and is fortunately recovering.

 

Will it be Matron Butler who took with her on the 27th May 1940, twenty RAH nurses who formed the Second Third Australian General Hospital in Alexandria and that team included Captain E Uren SFX3062, certainly a very early volunteer.

 

Will it be Bentley and Church who went to Singapore and were evacuated under fire at half an hour’s notice.  Three years later, Lt Church wrote, ‘We are still anxious about our patients and friends whom we left behind.  At the dawn of each day, we hope we shall see them again.’

 

I commend to you the reading of this book The Australian Army Nursing Service 39-45.  Some of you no doubt were at the launch at Keswick Barracks last month.  It includes letters from many of the nurses whom I mentioned, many of the nurses from this hospital.

 

I’ve written in the front, ‘I’m proud to have been associated with some of these nursing sisters.  RAH Foundation Day 12th July 95.  Donald Beard.’  And so I thought that perhaps as a dedication to all of the sisters, that I would just present it to one.  But who? …. … It’s got to be the one who looks dominating and a little domineering.  I think she could still be today. …  Would you accept that – if you have it, give it to somebody else?

 

Next to her of course is a wonderful sister of a friend of mine, Campbell with whom I’ve worked, not only at the hospital and in other ways, but in the army.

 

But that book is obtainable at Keswick Barracks and it’s certainly a wonderful series of letters from a variety of the nursing sisters.

 

THE PHYSIOTHERAPY DEPARTMENT

 

Physiotherapists were in great demand in the army.  The surgeons could do so much in repairing the wound but the limb was useless unless the function returned and this is where the physios were magnificent and worked day and night – not just in the periods of intense activity like the surgeons.

 

Honour Cameron Wilson was one of the early physiotherapists to go to the Middle East and the great plastic surgeon, Sir Benjamin Rank, Major Rank at that time, soon found her and attached her to his unit and this she continued on return to Australia, rehabilitating what had seemed to be destroyed.  Her book on South Australian Physiotherapists in the Services is in the hands of the printers at this moment.  So watch out for it.

 

The physiotherapists, Audrey Simpson and Marjory Hill, went together from the RAH to Malaya and then to Singapore and were on the last ship to be evacuated.  It was shelled and bombed several times but never sunk.

 

The physiotherapists had answered the call very quickly to the tune that I think the whole of the 1939 or 1940 graduating physios, immediately volunteered.  Unfortunately, all this imposed great hardship at home at this hospital and some of the nurses in the services had to be recalled to fill the gap here.

 

THE PHARMACY DEPARTMENT

 

There were many volunteers including Jack Richardson who was killed in the RAAF, Ivor Evans and Fred Walsh.  This again left staffing problems at home.  Everything became difficult, including drug supplies, particularly from the German firms.

 

Bayer at that time produced Mersalyl, the mercury based diuretic.  In fact, anything with a mercury base, including disinfectants, was in short supply because the mercury was being used in detonators etc.

 

There were some unusual things like lanolin and soft paraffin which the pharmacy needed to produce ointments.  They were impounded by the government for firearms lubrication and so the pharmacy decided to render down lard which they got from the abattoirs, brought it back to the hospital but they had no facilities to boil it and this was done on behalf of the pharmacy in the hospital kitchen.

 

The Royal Adelaide Hospital became the depot for morphine, cocaine and Picric acid, the latter being for the treatment of burns which were thought would become in great quantity if the war reached us here.  They were all stored in the basement of Ayers House, forgetting the explosive nature of the Picric acid.  Fortunately it didn’t go up.

 

There was great excitement in the pharmacy when the first trickle of penicillin arrived, I think in late ‘43.

 

ADMINISTRATION

 

The whole hospital was affected, not just the ones that I’ve mentioned.  The kitchen had food rationing, maintenance of the hospital was in the hands of those older and physically not so fit.  Administration was reduced.  Mr Lyons volunteered and he left a hole here but fortunately at the end of the war, returned to give such wonderful administrative service.

 

In conclusion, this address as I said before, is dedicated to all those who served in hardship and in danger and some died and some were captured.  But it is also dedicated to those who stayed behind and worked so very, very hard.  Amongst them, who are the heroes and heroines?

 

I venture to say, all of them.

 

We’re fifty years on and we still remember them.  I certainly do.  Thank you.

 

 

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