United States (US) 2nd Station Hospital
Mareeba State School
- Medical facility
- Atherton Tablelands
cnr Atherton and Constance Streets, Mareeba 4880
Strict censorship meant that most Australians were unaware that a crucial battle was taking place off the coast of north Queensland during early May 1942. Japanese plans for the invasion of Port Moresby were thwarted by American and Australian naval and air forces during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Instead of proceeding with expansion of Cairns airfield the United States Army Air Force decided to establish a more secure advanced operational base at Mareeba on the Atherton Tableland.
Work on Mareeba airfield was started on 12 May four days after the Coral Sea battle ended and the first gravel strip was in use in just ten days. Mareeba would become the main operational airfield in far north Queensland. Between May and July the 28th, 30th and 93rd Bombardment Squadrons of the 19th Bomb. Group began moving from outback bases at Cloncurry and Longreach to their new quarters at Mareeba airfield. From July 1942 to May 1943 thousands of American servicemen of seven heavy bomber squadrons from the US 19th and 43rd Bomb. Groups made Mareeba their home. During this time they launched missions against Japanese targets in New Guinea and throughout the South West Pacific Area.
American presence at Mareeba grew rapidly with the arrival of other support units. As work began on the airfield, Mareeba State School was taken over by US 2 Station Hospital in expectation of casualties. The timber-frame, weatherboard-clad school comprising three main blocks built around a central quadrangle, was developed into two large wards with separate operating theatre and morgue, dental clinic, staff accommodation, and a mess block. The hospital was fully equipped and had its own mechanised laundry.
The first state school was built on the arrival of the railway from Cairns in 1893 when the surveyed township of Granite Creek was named Mareeba. During the early 1900s the old school underwent conversion and new buildings were erected and extended. Substantial remodelling of the later school took place during 1937 about five years before Japan’s entry into World War II.
On 8 July 1942 US 2 Station Hospital was established with 250 beds under tents in the grounds of the state school. It was set up by a detachment of the US Army 46th Engineer General Service Regiment and plans were prepared at the Townsville office of the Allied Works Council for conversion of the main school blocks to permanent hospital facilities. State school students were taught at the nearby Catholic school of St Thomas of Villanova. For a period of two years during World War II, St Thomas’s School housed the entire student population of Mareeba.
A detachment of US 2 Station Hospital at Mareeba was sent to Gordonvale in November 1942, to set up a 150 bed hospital by taking over the Gordonvale Hotel and Commercial Hotel in the town’s main precinct, in preparation for the arrival of the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment at Gordonvale.
US 2 Station Hospital continued to operate from the school until after the transfer of the USAAF heavy bomber squadrons in mid-1943 moving closer to the New Guinea frontline.
After departure of the American hospital Mareeba State School was taken over by units of the First Australian Army, based around 1 Australian Army Headquarters and Signals, a rear echelon command. Advance parties of the First Army began transferring from Mareeba to New Guinea in April 1944 and by October that year most of the unit had moved from Mareeba State School to new quarters at Lae on the north coast of New Guinea.
Administration of Mareeba State School was subsequently returned to the Queensland Education Department and continues as an important community learning centre for Mareeba and the Tableland.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Hugh J Casey. Engineers of the Southwest Pacific 1941–1945, Vol. VI: Airfield and base development. US Government Printing Office, Washington, 1951.
Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993.
Howard Pearce (Ed.). Heritage Trails of the Tropical North: A heritage tour guide to far north Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2001.
Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009.