112 General Military Hospital (Brisbane)

Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital

Type
Medical facility
Region
Brisbane City

83 Nicholson Street, Greenslopes 4120

The Greenslopes Hospital was built in 1941–42 as Brisbane’s first purpose-built, permanent military hospital. It became the largest World War Two military hospital in Queensland. It played an important role in caring for the military survivors of the torpedoing of the hospital ship Centaur, including Sister Nell Savage. At war’s end it conducted medical checks for personnel prior to their demobilisation and became a repatriation hospital that catered to the medical needs of Queensland’s returned service personnel.

History

In 1940, the Commonwealth Government decided to establish a major military hospital in Brisbane as part of its plan to construct base hospitals in each state to cope with the expected war casualties. Windsor’s Rosemount Repatriation Hospital (established in World War I) was still in use. Although small military field hospitals already existed in Brisbane (e.g. Redbank, Enoggera), a larger permanent hospital was required to meet the demand for medical care of the many servicemen returning from the Middle East or Britain. Several temporary camp hospitals (e.g. Chermside Camp’s 2/1st Australian General Hospital) were later established to serve troops in training.

A 19-acre Greenslopes site bordered by Newdegate, Peach, Nicholson and Peach Streets was selected for the hospital. The land had existing sewerage facilities. Tenders for excavation of the site were called in April 1941. Excavations began on 24 May 1941. The initial plan was to construct a 200-bed hospital for £250,000. Later, the plan was changed to have a permanent section for 400 patients with a temporary section for another 200 men. Pavilion ward blocks and a boiler house were constructed first, followed by an army nurse and medical staff quarters, a guardhouse and an administration block. World War I had shown the need to provide for post-war rehabilitation and repatriation so the majority of the buildings were designed as permanent structures.

According to the Architectural and Building Journal of Queensland, each bed would have its own radio point, light over the bed and bedside table. Stephenson & Turner (Melbourne & Sydney) and T.R. Hall & L.B. Phillips (Brisbane) were the architects. The engineers were Gordon, Gutteridge, Haskins & Davey (Sydney, Melbourne, & Brisbane). By July 1941, construction began and a tender accepted for £38,600 from Messrs. F. and H. Heaven to build three ward blocks. The boiler house contract went to W. Greene for £7597. With the exception of the three timber ward blocks, all other buildings were of concrete and brick. The three pavilion wards were arranged end to end at an angle behind the administration block. In February 1942, Hall & Phillips called for tenders for building three more temporary pavilion wards. Suburban Constructions’ tender was accepted in April.

On the 3 February 1942, The Courier Mail reported that the first 40 patients accompanied by staff arrived at the new Greenslopes Military Hospital. The staff came from the forward elements of the Australian 112th Army General Hospital (AGH) unit then based at 'Yungaba', Kangaroo Point. Approximately 60 patients followed immediately. The newspaper described the wards as “modern” and “hygienic": In a survey of the first ward to be opened, with its cream-painted walls and beds, stained woodwork, pale green ceilings and floor coverings, the occupants agreed with one of their number that “Home was never like this". Tiled bathrooms with shower cabinets and a well-equipped kitchen and service hatch with a refrigerator and heated food trolleys are among the features that make for the comfort of patients".[1] On 4 March 1942, the bodies of Able Seaman A.E. Bartch and Steward E.R. Harrison plus Warrant Officer H. Theeman who had had his legs severed were brought to Greenslopes. They were the three RAN causalities from the 'Tamar Incident'. Theeman died of his wounds at the hospital.

By April 1942, the 112th AGH was concentrated at Greenslopes. Construction continued for the hospital was planned for completion by August 1942. By the end of 1942, three permanent wards, three temporary wards, a boiler house, a temporary operating theatre, occupational therapy building, patients’ mess and a public canteen had been built. In 1943, three new timber pavilions (Wards 7, 8, & 9), an artificial limb factory, nurses’ quarters, wardsmen’s quarters and storage buildings (including a mortuary) were added. In October 1943, the site was designated 112 (Brisbane) General Military Hospital. A combined Catholic and Protestant Chapel was built in 1944. In February 1945, three new permanent wards began construction. This gave the hospital the capacity to accommodate 600 military patients. As well, a new laundry block, some small ancillary buildings, boiler house extensions and new roads were built and the administration building was finally completed.

The Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC), the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) staffed the hospital. VADs were volunteers trained by the Red Cross in assisting with nursing and domestic duties. Several hundred VADs served at Greenslopes. In December 1942, the VADs were enrolled in the new Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS). In May 1943, the hospital was registered as a training facility for nurses. Initially the AANS staff lived in tents though they had a separate mess building. Former AANS nursing sister Vera Bradshaw recalled the new hospital:

For the first few months, conditions were fairly rough. All the staff including the sisters were housed in sheds or pavilions and I recall that our chapel was a tent. But before long, more comfortable quarters were built for the doctors and sisters and we had, if not all the comforts of home, then at least some of them.[2]

With the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, the demand for medical facilities became more urgent. In April 1942, Minister for the Army Frank Forde announced that the Australian Army had undertaken to provide medical care for US wounded for three months. In addition to army patients, the 112th AGH at Greenslopes treated personnel from the Australian Voluntary Defence Corps, RAAF and Merchant Marine. Some Netherlands East Indies merchant sailors were treated there during the Papuan Campaign. US military personnel were also cared for at Greenslopes accompanied by their own medical staff. After the sinking of the Australian hospital ship Centaur off Cape Moreton on 14 May 1943, the 64 survivors were delivered to Brisbane the next day. The 29 civilian crew and the Torres Strait pilot went to the Brisbane General Hospital at Herston, while the 39 Army personnel including the sole woman survivor nurse Lieutenant Ellen Savage went to Greenslopes miliary hospital. Extra staff were called on duty and mobile patients moved to canvas chairs in preparation for the numerous ambulances that ferried the survivors to Greenslopes. These patients included many with severe burns. On 25 October 1944, 86 Australian former POWS, survivors of the sinking of the Japanese prison ship Rakuyo Maru (on 12 September 1944) were brought from Newstead Wharf No.3 to the hospital. The POWs had arrived aboard the minelayer USS Monadnock.

By wars end, Greenslopes Military Hospital was the largest in Queensland. The immediate post-war period was a busy time for the hospital as large numbers of returning POWs required urgent medical care. Greenslopes also provided medical examinations for the thousands of returning service personnel. These checks were compulsory prior to a discharge from the military. By November 1945, it had 1,120 patients and 900 staff.

[1] “New war hospital", Courier Mail, 3 February 1942, p.5.

[2] Vera Bradshaw, “The 112th Australian General Hospital - recollections half a century on". Unknown source. Copy held by Greenslopes Red Cross Centre.

Source/comments

BCC Heritage Unit citation; NA digital plan

Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit citation

Architecture & Building Journal of Queensland, April 1941 p. 8

Architecture & Building Journal of Queensland, July 1941 pp. 12.

Architecture & Building Journal of Queensland, September 1941 p. 13.

Architecture & Building Journal of Queensland, October 1941 p. 14

NA file Series BP262/2, Item 9178, Joint Parliamentary War Expenditure Advisory Committee visit to Queensland, October 1944.