17TH STATION HOSPITAL, US ARMY
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

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The 17th Station Hospital disembarked at Melbourne, Victoria on 4 June 1942. They erected tents at Camp Pell just outside the city. It was wet and cold, mess facilities were poorly organised and their supplies had not arrived. Their nurses were sent immediately to the 12th Station Hospital in Townsville.

After conferring with the Chief Surgeon, an advance detachment, including some officers, was sent by train  to Cloncurry in inland Queensland on 15 June 1942, to make preparations for the arrival of the whole of the hospital. They changed trains several times due to the different rail gauges present in each state in Australia. They had one night's break during the 7 day journey when they camped at Armstrong's Paddock in Townsville. There were not bunks so the men slept on the ground outside their tents.

The Detachment finally arrived in Cloncurry on the Sunday afternoon of 21 June 1942. They found Cloncurry very dry and with an abundance of red dust. There were wide unpaved streets, lowset houses made of timber or galvanised iron, two story hotels and no vegetation. Many of the troops envisaged they were in one of the frontier towns of the old west.

There were very few units left in Cloncurry. The few Air Corps personnel left in the area were rapidly moved out. The men of the 17th Station Hospital found some vacant lots near the Shire Hall to erect their tents. The enlisted men and headquarters were in two adjacent areas and the officers were located in the yard of the Branch Manager of the Queensland National Bank. Within a day a separate mess was established.

While the 17th Station Hospital were establishing themselves, the enlisted men of the 33rd Surgical Hospital were started to occupy their new hospital which was a renovated Cloncurry Shire Hall. A mess hall wing and a clinic building wing were added to the Shire Hall. 

Sanitation was a major problem. There were numerous flies and several probably associated diarrhoea epidemics. Waste water was difficult to dispose of. The ground was rock hard and not good for drainage. Even deep holes filled with rock sand sand were almost useless. 

One solution was a series of long shallow rock-filled trenches leading from a covered drainage pit to areas where the water could evaporate in the hot sun. Another solution for the disposal of shower and wash water was to filter through rocks and sand, store in a rubble pit from which the water was pumped into a reservoir ten feet above ground level. From here the water was sprinkled over the camp area to evaporate.

The town water was chlorinated in the town reservoir tank located on a hill west of the town.

Lectures and demonstrations in medical and surgical techniques soon commenced. A field sanitation course was readily augmented by practical experience. A local Ordnance unit (possibly 450th Ordnance Company Aviation B) trained the men in the use and care of firearms. Small groups of men were taken to the local rifle range.

Some of the enlisted men of the 17th Station Hospital were sent to work with the 33rd Surgical Hospital in the new hospital in the Cloncurry Shire Hall. Two casual medical officers joined the 17th. One of the officers was placed on temporary duty with the 48th Quartermaster Regiment in Mt. Isa.

The local churches held dances and parties for the men of the 17th who were becoming bored and frustrated due to having so little to do. Tennis and baseball games were played along with some supervised Kangaroo shooting expeditions.

The men of the 17th Station Hospital worked in a small dispensary run for Australian and American soldiers in the area.

The Surgeon, Base Section 2 and the Chief Nurse, USAFIA inspected the 17th Station Hospital and ordered the unit to Mt. Isa. An advanced party left Cloncurry on 21 July 1942, followed by the main body of the unit three days later. Three medical officers and fifteen enlisted men were left behind in Cloncurry to maintain the dispensary and establish a camp style hospital.

The 17th Station Hospital took over premises used by the 33rd Surgical Hospital. They had taken over the Women's Club on Mineside in Mt. Isa. The 33rd Surgical Hospital left most of their equipment behind when they left Mt. Isa.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank John Daly for his assistance with this home page.

 

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This page first produced 28 December 2004

This page last updated 28 December 2004