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Extracts from: "From Blue to Khaki"
(Part 2 - Service in the Middle East 1941-1943)
2/1ST A.G.H. GAZA,PALESTINE
NOVEMBER 1941 - MARCH 1942.
Commanding Officer: Col. J. Steigrad.
Matron: Miss Constance Fall
V.A.D. Commandant: Miss L.B. Irwin, Asst. Miss E. M. Brown.
The arrival of the Voluntary Aids on the 23rd November 1941 lessened some of the staffing problems at the 2/1 A.G.H. The girls were ready and willing to serve as nursing orderlies, ward orderlies, senior and junior clerks, and also as assistants in specialised departments such as X-ray, pathology, physiotherapy, dispensary, dental clinics and the and the operating theatres.
Any spare time they had available was spent attending route marches, air-raid drill, physical training and nursing lectures.
On the 28th November some of the VA.s enjoyed day and evening leave and on the 1st December they attended a party in the Sergeants' Mess at Monserrat, dining on turkey, goose and salad. A sing-song was held after the dinner. On the way to Monserrat they saw fields of vegetables and the mud huts occupied by the local people.
On leave, the VA.s were able to visit Tel Aviv by bus and they saw hedges of prickly pear bordering the road and Arabs riding donkeys. The women they saw from the bus were carrying jars on their heads. Most oŁ the buildings passed were built of mud but some were constructed of stone. They passed through Jaffa and its orange groves.
The VA.s were told that they would be able to relay messages through the Australian Broadcasting Commission on the 1st December 1941 and Barbara Donkin, Alice Burns and Gladys Batty all recorded messages home.
Christmas decorations were put up in the wards in preparation for the Festive Season and in Ward 2 a little tree was placed in the centre of the ward, decorated with sweets and envelopes for everyone.
In December the rains came. (Louis Bromfield would have been impressed!) Some blamed the deluge on the Arabs who had been praying for rain. It was so heavy that Ward 23 collapsed under the strain, just as the patients were eating their Christmas dinner of turkey, vegetables and plum pudding. (There was also an issue of two bottles of beer to each man.)
Red Cross parcels were also given out to the patients at Christmas time, which contained biscuits, cocoa, a book, fruit, shaving gear and handkerchiefs.
Christmas dinner in the V.A. mess was very enjoyable. A small tree was secured in a tin of sand and illuminated by four large candles (due to failed electricity) as well as lanterns. Parcels were arranged around it. The table was loaded with cake, biscuits, nuts, fruit salad and cream and the meal was accompanied by Cherry Brandy, which the girls drank in small liqueur glasses purchased in Gaza. On Christmas night the VA.s were invited to a party given by the Pioneer Training Battalion.
Roads became impassable and communication was non-existent, and to add to the gloom there was no mail. Food could not be heated because of the lack of electricity and the sound of the rain beating down on the roofs made conversation impossible. Gum boots were prized possessions in the effort to keep dry feet. Even the 2/1 Convalescent Depot had to close briefly. When the downpour ceased, just by way of a weather change, there was a cold front. For the first time in twenty-five years there was snow in January in the Middle Eastern cities of Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, and cities in Syria.
(Part 6 - South-West Pacific Area)
2/9th A.G.H. Morotai
Page 109 …
… The A.A.M.WS. grew gardens which they lovingly tended; the seeds they planted sprang up quickly in the tropical climate.
Lt. Allen also visited a forward R.A.A.F base, further along the island where the vegetation was different. There were fewer coconut palms but more bananas and paw-paws. She was given bunches of bananas and paw-paws to take back with her and when she returned they were placed in a darkened room to ripen. The vegetation was more colourful in this part of the island, where she saw huge trees laden with blossom.
One of the hazards of living in the tropics was the invasion of various kinds of insects and animals such as crabs, into the tents; one really couldn't remain unguarded under these conditions.
As the war situation eased, members of the unit were permitted to indicate that they were serving in the Netherlands East Indies and they were also able to use Japanese invasion currency, and mention exchange rates and their pay.
Besides working in the hospital wards, the A.A.M.WS. staffed the Blood and Serum Unit and the dental clinics.
Because the beach was part of their compound the girls were able to swim at the beach without having to travel too far.
Early in August 1945 the A.A.M.WS. were given a series of lectures every day for a period of five weeks.
On the 15th August the unit received a radio announcement that the Japanese had surrendered to the Allies in accordance with the Potsdam terms, with the proviso that their Emperor remain in authority in Japan.
The official surrender ceremony on Morotai was held at the No.1 Australian Corps Sportsground on 9 September 1945 and 22 members of the women's services were able to witness the proceedings. Sir Thomas Blamey, as Commander-in-Chief, accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces from Lt. General Teshima, the Commander of the Second Japanese Army.
Life became more relaxed on Morotai with the cessation of hostilities, and the A.A.M.W.S. hosted dances in their mess with its newly constructed concrete floor.
A hairdresser joined the unit and her services were welcomed by the female personnel. Her well set up salon was quite a morale booster.
Because there was more leisure time towards the end of the Army's stay on Morotai, the library was well attended, and correspondence courses provided by Army Education became a popular way of filling in time and preparing for the future.
On the 1st September 1945, approval was given for the marriage of A.A.M.WS. Private Mona Shortis to LAC R. P. Lalor, R.A.A.F. Morotai, to take place on the 12th September.
As the 2/9th began closing its operation on Morotai, 97 A.A.M.W.S. began staging with the 2/5th A.G.H.
British Commonwealth Occupation Forces were requiring volunteers for service in Japan at this time, and 39 A.A.M.W.S. responded to their call and were marched out to the 1st Australian Rifle Depot on the 1st November 1945.
On the 31st October, ten A.A.M.WS. from the 2/5th A.G.H. began staging with the 2/9th.
There was an influx of psychiatric patients to the hospital, who had been transferred from the 2/5th and 2/7th Australian General Hospitals and they were suffering from a variety of disorders.
The evacuation of A.A.M.W.S. really got under way on the 1st November 1945 when they departed by air, destined for their areas of enlistment on the mainland, for re-posting or discharge.
Officers N. H. Allen and J. Darvall departed for Victoria on the 15th November and the 18th December respectively. Twenty-four ordinary ranks were returned to the mainland.
For those who remained on Morotai, lectures continued to be given until the 4th January 1946 and leisure times were taken up with craft work, picnics, table tennis, sailing and all kinds of sport.
Helen Wynd, Norma Avery
Shirley Flegg (nee Rodda)
Pat Bourke, Enid Moore and Shirley Flegg
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