3 MEDICAL RECEIVING STATION
TOWNSVILLE, QLD
DURING WW2

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visits since 21 October 2007

 

On 9 July 1942 "Currajong" the historic house "Currajong" on Fulham Road, in Townsville was taken over by No. 3 Medical Receiving Station (3MRS). Wing Commander J.C. Fulton was the commanding Officer of 3MRS. Dr. S.F.M. Yeates was the Medical Officer. Evacuees from the Battle of Milne Bay were amongst the first patients received by 3MRS at "Currajong".

3MRS relocated to New Guinea in approximately October 1942 and "Currajong" reverted to its role as RAAF Central Sick Quarters.

In July 1943 Central Sick Quarters No. 20 was formed at "Currajong". This unit was later renamed as No. 20 Medical Clearing Station.

3 Medical Receiving Station (3MRS) returned to "Currajong" from New Guinea in April 1944 and merged with No. 20 Medical Clearing Station.

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

3 Medical Receiving Station in February 1946

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

3 Medical Receiving Station in February 1946

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

3 Medical Receiving Station in February 1946

 


 

 

“MEMORIES OF 3 MEDICAL RECEIVING STATION TOWNSVILLE”  1945/1946.

This is part of the story of my time spent at 3 Medical Receiving Station (3MRS) during 1945/1946 when the Unit was stationed alongside the 2/14 A.G.H. on the banks of the Ross River at Aitkenvale Townsville in North Queensland.

How I arrived at 3 MRS is in itself of a some interest, as working as a Medical Clerk in an RAAF Hospital was the furthest thing from my mind when I enlisted in November 1944. What I imagined the RAAF would do with me I can’t recall but it certainly wasn’t working in a Hospital Unit.

After recruit (Rookie) training at No.2 R D Cootamundra NSW, a ghastly experience, where I seemed to spend most if my time either marching or running or running and marching, all the time being yelled at by red faced Sergeants. These recruit trainers seriously believed that their sole purpose in life was to make effective killing machines of hairy arsed boys hardly capable of lifting a rifle let alone kill someone. We were also told that if we didn’t learn how to disembowel an enemy with a fixed bayonet or shoot him with a service rifle, then surely he would do this to us. Therefore, many hours were spent attacking straw filled dummies with fixed bayonets and learning how to fire a .303 rifle without dislocating one’s shoulder.

However despite their best efforts I survived and along with hundreds of others entrained to Adelaide, South Australia to No.4 School of Technical Training, as an aircraftman Trainee A or E (Administration or Equipment). It was here that my destiny was decided and after exhaustive tests I was told that I was to be mustered as a Clerk Medical Assistant and paid the princely sum of 6/- per day, and still I didn’t have the faintest idea of what such a position entailed, but I was soon to learn.

From Adelaide I was posted to No. 6 RAAF Hospital Heidelberg Victoria, where I learned the basics of Medical Clerking, this also included a stint at mock up tropical hospital in the bush at Larundel. Lots of P/T (Physical Training) at this unit, cross country running as well as callisthenics. Finally we all were given extensive medical (inoculations for all sorts of tropical nasties)) and dental examinations (I had six fillings in one session and still have those teeth today) and declared fit for tropical service. If we were to be killed at least we would be as healthy as the RAAF could make us.

From here I was posted to the embarkation depot at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, to await embarkation leave and forward posting to an operational unit, No. 3 Medical Receiving Station at Townsville Queensland.

The RAAF had three types of medical units. CCS Casualty Clearing Stations, (frontline units.) Medical Receiving Stations, (2nd line of defence units) and RAAF Hospitals, in major cities, these were fully staffed and equipped hospitals.

3 MRS was located on the banks of the Ross River at Aitkenvale, sharing the site with the Army 2/14th AGH (Australian General Hospital).

The site was well laid out with all the amenities of a forward base hospital. An administration centre, medical and surgical wards, kitchen and messing facilities, recreation huts, laundry etc. Not forgetting the parade ground or “Bull Ring”.

On the opposite banks of the Ross River 84 Mustang Squadron was based in the shadow of Mount Stuart on the Ross River Airfield.

Along with some others, Medical Orderlies, Nurses etc I arrived at Townsville in the middle of the night and transported to No.3. MRS. Among those arriving that night was the new Adjutant Flight Lieutenant Jack Galvin.

The duty sergeant directed me to my new home, a four man hut made of some masonite like material which I was to share with three other Airmen, Ken (Hoot) Gibson, George (Horse) Hadley and Gordon (Sledge) Hammer. In this type of confined space you soon become firm friends or simply just can’t stand each other. Luckily we were all of an age and became firm friends. Sledge Hammer came from Brisbane, Horse Hadley from Eungai Rail in NSW and Hoot Gibson came from Hastings in Victoria. After the war, when my younger brother was stationed at the Naval Depot at Crib Point, Hoot got in touch with him and the Gibson family made him welcome at their home. So friendships made during the war were often quite special, although I never saw or heard from Sledge, I did meet Horse at Camden NSW and last saw Hoot Gibson in 1977 at Hastings.

It was in the middle of the Wet Season and everything was damp and soon covered in mildew, including the straw in my palliasse. Mosquito nets were the order of the day and look out if you were caught not using them. It was however reasonable accommodation and much more acceptable than the tents that some of the troops of the 2/14AGH were billeted in.

The next morning, my first official day on duty, I reported to the Orderly Room and was introduced to the staff, including the new Adjutant F/Lt Jack Galvin. Jack Galvin was a strong, stern, no nonsense, type of bloke, a strict disciplinarian but also possessed of a good sense of humour. He had obviously already spent some time examining the systems in vogue at the office and on my arrival greeted me with “Have you ever done any filing Hay” “No Sir” was my reply, “Well you are about to learn” he said and with that he pulled the top drawer from a filing cabinet and dumped the contents on a nearby table. “This is the correct way to file “ he said and proceeded to show me an alphabetical filing system that I remember to this day and have used at various times during my business career. With huge amounts of documentation including Medical records and X Rays, a correct and accessible filing system was an absolute must and this was proved to me time and time again, especially when we were engaged in Air Evacuation services.

The Commanding Officer of 3 MRS was Wing Commander B J Basil-Jones. As well there were other medical officers including Squadron Leader Newman and Flight Lieutenant Clem McMahon. The Adjutant as mentioned was Flight Lieutenant Jack Galvin and the W.O.D. (Warrant Officer Disciplinary) was Warrant Officer Peter McLean. The Officer in charge of the WRAAF personnel was Squadron Officer Kath Markey. These people of course were supported by a large staff of Officer Nurses including a Matron.

The daily routine was typical of all RAAF units. First thing in the morning, full parade and the reading of D R O’s (Daily Routine Orders) by the W O D, if anything of notable comment was required we would get and address from the CO. The parade was then dismissed to daily duties.

As a Medical Clerk Assistant, I was the lowest rank and it would be some time before I became a fully fledged Medical Clerk. As a consequence I was the gofer and undertook all sorts of tasks from filing, to preparing DRO’s and any other routine task that the more senior members thought were beneath their capabilities. The Orderly Room Sergeant was Terry O’Neill and among others I remember a Bill King who lived in Cairns and was always on the lookout for leave to get home.

We had plenty of time for sports ,usually unorganised, including Volley Ball, Australian Rules Football (hugely promoted by the Melbourne staff) boxing, very amateurish and some times swimming in the Ross River. We didn’t have a clue about crocs. Most spare time was spent in cleaning uniforms and interminable hours of spine bashing and moaning about the food. At one stage we had a week of Scrambled Powdered Eggs for breakfast, Bully Beef Salad for lunch and Curried M & V for tea. With all respect to the kitchen staff they did the best they could with bad rations, but it was mostly unpalatable.

We had occasional week end leave and day trips to Magnetic Island were a must especially if you were lucky enough to score the companionship of a pretty young nurse. South Pacific hadn’t been produced at that time but we could have written the script.

It was pleasant during the dry season and on off duty spells I used to sit in the sun and watch the Mustangs of 84 Squadron performing their landing and take off procedures against the blue and violet background of Mount Stuart. I particularly remember one day in August 1945 when one of the aircraft crash landed and exploded in a huge cloud of black smoke. The pilot was rescued and admitted to 3 MRS with severe burns, I can’t recall if he survived. This squadron was also washed out during the floods of 1946 although I think they managed to get all the aircraft off the ground before the site became inaccessible.

Various people come to mind as I recollect my time at 3 MRS and yet so many and so much I have forgotten, but at times it seems just like yesterday.

F/Lt Clem McMahon was a great bloke as well as a extremely competent physician, he had a keen interest in all things mechanical and if you were looking for Dr. Mac. , as he was known, he could usually be found at the motor pool with his head under a truck bonnet,

Sq/Officer Kath Markey was the officer in charge of the WRAAF at 3 MRS and was also very popular, well liked and always eager to be involved in any concerts or activities that took place.

WOD Peter McLean was the RAAF equivalent of an Army Sergeant Major. A Scot he was a dedicated disciplinarian and ruled the mob with an iron fist. A thick set man with jet black hair cut short in military style and a nicotine stain on his lower lip from the cigarette that was constantly in his mouth . He was not particularly liked and referred by all and sundry as “The Black Prince”. Knowing his reputation, I generally kept a low profile and avoided him wherever possible At one time after I had been to a dance with one of the WRAAF Officers he called me to his office and pompously informed me that “It was against Air Force regulations for ordinary ranks to cohabit with officers”?????. Of course I replied “Yes Sir”. But he knew that I knew that this was a lot of bullshit and he was just flexing his authoritative muscles.

The unit barber was a chap named Wilf Zanker who came from Balranald in NSW, he was always in demand and gave a very basic but regulation short sides and back for 1/-

The American Air Force maintained a ward at 3MRS where they were attended by an officer of the US Army, Captain Deluvio. He was a very popular with our chaps as he invariably brought a carton of Lucky Strikes or Chesterfield cigarettes when he visited the unit. He was referred to as “The Educated Dead End Kid” by his patients who were as the saying went, "Overpaid, Oversexed and Over Here". Compared to us they lived the life of Riley with higher pay, better food, better clothing and far superior accommodation. I managed to get on fairly well with most of the Yanks although some of our chaps were constantly in trouble with them. One of our blokes got into a fight with one at the Rising Sun Hotel calling a very large and well built negro soldier a “Black Bastard” who promptly smacked him in the face and gave him a beautiful black eye. He was to be known ever after as “Popeye”.

3 MRS was a busy Medical Unit with a fully equipped operating Theatre. All types of procedures were carried out from fractured limb repairs to more serious surgery. Medical ward had patients suffering from tinea to rare tropical diseases, plus the more mundane complaints that we called coughs, colds and sore holes and pimples on the penis. The staff were very experienced and certainly well prepared for the busy time yet to come when we had to cope with Air Evacuation services after the conclusion of the War on the 15th August 1945, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th August.1945.

Not long after the cessation of hostilities and the formal declaration of peace on the 2nd September1945, we began to receive our first Air Evacuation Patients from forward battle zones and prisoner of war camps. This was our busiest time and required shift work by Orderly Room staff and obviously all the medical staff,

Patients, of all services and all ranks, were air lifted to Garbutt airfield at Townsville and then transhipped to Hospitals further South. Those not fit enough for constant travel were off loaded to 3 MRS where they received, cleaning, medication and any further treatment required. While these patients were hospitalised, often a matter of a few hours, new manifests had to be raised and prepared for their further onward transit.

This required the preparation in triplicate of an Air Evacuation Manifest that listed the Service No., Rank, Name and Initials, a brief description of the wounds or injuries, medication and also treatment required en route. This was a full on operation and no time could be lost collecting the medical envelopes that each patient had attached to his clothing, getting any information from the Medical Staff and preparing the new manifest. One time in extreme haste I placed the carbons in the docs I was typing back to front and as a consequence had to do the whole lot again, under pressure all the time.

Ambulances then took the patients back to Garbutt airfield for transport South. We had to take the utmost care in transcribing documents and as Sgt.Terry O’Neill often reminded us, “Make a mistake particularly with the in flight medication and you could be the death of some poor bastard in mid flight”

While we were busy we didn’t have much time to think about these poor chaps or what they had been through, but later in quieter moments it all came back and I realised how lucky I was that I had not been in their shoes. Even now I can recall some of the terrible cases that we treated and recall the words of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns, “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn”.

It was also at this time that I came face to face with the Enemy??. We had four Japanese POW’s (suffering from V D) in a secure lock up ward. They were a dirty miserable looking lot and not fierce looking warriors as I had envisaged Japanese soldiers to be. I had occasion to visit there and one of them threw me a malevolent stare and spat. I was unimpressed.

Another task that I hated was the sorting and packing of deceased patients personal effects. A stressful and ghoulish task that I detested This required reading any letters (WOD McLean said to me “you wouldn’t like a grieving wife to read a letter to her dead husband from another woman”) photographs and any other effects that would be sent to the next of kin. All service equipment was confiscated.

This type of activity, as well as the usual daily tasks, went on throughout the rest of 1945 and early 1946, when, after experiencing the tail end of a cyclone and torrential rain the banks of the Ross River Weir burst and the whole area was flooded, we only managed to get the patients out just in time.


Photo:- Jim Hay

The American Ward at 3 MRS on the washed out banks of the Ross River. The ward was
nearly washed away after the Ross River weir broke its banks during a cyclone. This ward
building would have been at least 150 feet away from the river bank before the floods.

Following this the Unit was gradually disbanded with personnel being allocated to other units in the area or posted South for discharge. I was among the last to leave and in March I was posted to 36 Squadron at Garbutt airfield where I remained until being posted to 2 PD Bradfield Park Sydney . Wherein begins another tale.

So ends my story of 3 Medical Receiving Station, an RAAF unit I arrived as a callow youth and left much wiser and sadder, very much aware of the terrible price of warfare and the havoc it created in our lives.

James Russell HAY
Ex RAAF 166302.

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Some of the Officers and Nurses of 3 MRS from the Left Clem Mc Mahon,
unknown, Jack Galvin, Kath Markey, Unknown all others

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Unknown, Kath Markey, Snow Cornish, Blue Hay and front Clarrie Wilmott

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Kath Markey and Clem McMahon beside a 36 Squadron aircraft

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Ken (Hoot) Gibson and Bill King alongside unit ambulance.

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

George (Horse) Hadlee

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Unknown Terry O’Neill, Unknown, unknown, Wilf Zanker

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Jim (Blue) Hay, Terry O’Neill, unknown WRAAFDriver, unknown, unknown, Snow Cornish, Bill King

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Ken (Hoot) Gibson and George (Horse) Hadlee

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

The entrance to 3 MRS Headquarters Office and Administration

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Jim (Blue) Hay and Ken (Hoot) Gibson

 


Photo:- Jim Hay

Jim (Blue) Hay

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Jim Hay for his assistance with this web page.

 

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This page first produced 21 October 2007

This page last updated 21 February 2008