Patricia Robinson (103rd General Hospital)


103rd General Hospital

Part One

Interviewee: Patricia Robinson, born 1923

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 4 March 2009

Transcription: Glenys Murray, March 2009

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee


What are the AAMWS?

The Australian Army Women’s Medical Services (actually Australian Army Medical Women's Services).

So you volunteered?

And I volunteered.

How old were you?

I was twenty, twenty yes in those days and I joined up in Tumut. My father didn’t want me to come and I said “well if I was a boy I would have been gone before”. Anyway he considered that and I came down to Sydney for an interview and some kind of a test. Then they notified me that I had been accepted. I came down to Sydney and on the 15th of February I came down and joined the AAMWS. From Sydney from Paddington way the army headquarters it would have been. I went to Baulkham Hills for a rookie school where I had my eyes opened. Every source of life the good and the bad but with wonderful friendship and I had two months at Ingleburn in the rookies camp. From there I got posted to Baulkham Hills where I stayed until the 10th October 1945.

So you joined up in February 1943 till September 1945 that was your total period of service?

Yes I have my discharge in there.

The rookie school where was that located?

At Ingleburn Army Camp.

What were you taught there?

We were taught how to march, how to use a gas mask, some of the things we never ever used but you had to be prepared. But it was mainly practical things to get us ready for where we were going to. They had a doctor that used to come and talk to us about different medical things. Our own personal health different things like that. But never actually much in the medical side it was all practical everyday things. Where you had to help one another you never went on one job on your own. There was always somebody with you. That was in the rookie camp. Today I don’t know how it would be situated today anybody who goes in.


Did they teach you for instance how to inject patients?

No we never had that because you had to be fully qualified for that. When I got to Baulkham Hills we were allotted to certain wards. A list would go up on the wall. We’d know from week to week which ward we would be going to and what our hours would be. They were all on the list. When you got to the ward where you were that is when you learnt what is happening in that ward. I did try to give a man an injection one day with Sister's guidance and I was so nervous and he said he didn’t feel a thing. When we looked I hadn’t even pierced his skin and the serum was running down his arm. But I had never done it. That was it I was so nervous.

Aerial view 1947 Masonic School Baulkham Hills

Do you remember your very first day at the Baulkham Hills what was the Masonic School what was now the hospital?

The day that we went to Masonic School we went from Ingleburn and I was the oldest girl out of the four of us that got sent to Baulkham Hills to the 103. They said to wait at Parramatta Station we would be picked up by army transport and taken out to Baulkham Hills. Well we got there round about eleven o’clock and we were still waiting there until one o’clock. Nobody came and we didn’t know what to do. At last we decided that we would go and ring up and find out. When we rang up we were on the opposite side of Parramatta Station and the army vehicle was on the other. We were so innocent none of us knew that there were two sides to the station. I had never been to Parramatta in my life. I mean I came from the bush I’d never been on an electric train really until I came to Sydney on a holiday which was not very, very often. When we were in the rookie camp when we would leave there for the weekends they would put us on a bus and drive us to Liverpool Station. You got out and the Liverpool trains used to automatically go to Central. I had an aunt that lived at Bexley and I used to spend the weekend with her. That was my first lesson with the Sydney trains and the traffic.

I had no idea of anything. When we got to Baulkham Hills I had no idea there were two sides to Parramatta Station that was the innocence of it. I learnt later. So we rang up and then they came and picked us up and they drove us out to Baulkham Hills. When they brought us into the main gate there was a big parking area there where the vehicles used to park. We did not know what to expect and we had to walk up there to our administration office which was in the centre. There were ten cottages in a row that just looked like homes, ordinary homes they looked like from the street we walked up. We went to the administration building there from there we were taken to our tents. We lived in the big American marquee tents when I first went to Baulkham Hills. It was very strange to me I’d never been in a tent before in my life. We had camp stretchers as beds with one wardrobe between two of us. We were lucky to have that. We had an administration block that consisted of a laundry section, the showers and the latrines or all the toilets were all in one building.

Which building was that before that?

It wasn’t a building it was a pre fabricated building that they’d put there for the use of.

Balcombe Heights site map 2007

Can you describe the buildings as they used to be when you started there? If you know the old use of them in the school can you tell us?

I did not know what they were used for in the school, the homes. I believe each of those homes as I will call them were alotted to different wards. The first ward was the officer ward. The second was a medical ward. The third they used to have a lot of malaria patients. I can go up like that. The main surgical ward where they did the limbs and everything were up Five, Six and Seven, I think. They were the main wards.

The whole situation was the 103rd AGH what does that stand for?

The Australian General Hospital it’s the army name for it.

(A letter dated 26 January 1942 from the Deputy Director of Medical Services Eastern Command to the Grand Lodge requested the use of the Masonic School at Baulkham Hills for the purpose of establishing a Military Hospital. This was agreed to and two days after Singapore surrendered on February 15 1942 the Army started occupancy as the 103rd General Hospital. First patients from the battlefields of New Guinea were flown direct to RAAF Richmond and there to Baulkham Hills. Some patients also came from the Middle East. After August 1943 the Army commenced major construction work and sewerage construction without the Lodge’s permission and by 1944 the hospital was an Orthopaedic Hospital with recreational facilities and many more patients. Soldiers from Japanese Prisoner of War Camps were sent to Baulkham Hills after the war ended in August 1945. The Army finally vacated the site in January 1946 and the Masonic School reopened in November 1947 after repairs and alterations were made.
Acknowledgement: Derived from searching documents at using search term "Baulkham Hills Hospital", and from Beverley Earnshaw "A Start in Life: the History of the William Thompson Masonic School 1922-1988")

The gymnasium was being used as the quartermaster’s store I think?

Well it could have been. There was one and it is still there today I believe. We never had a gymnasium.

Do you remember the quartermaster’s store?

I can remember where it was yes.

Where was it then?

It was behind the administration block. There were five cottages on the way and then the big administration block and off that to the west side there was the gymnasium.

Girls cottages (Buildings 7-11) were used as wards
1-5 at 103rd General Hospital Baulkham Hills

Now Ward One, do you remember where that was?

The Ward One was the officer’s ward for any of the officers that came in as patients that was ward one. Each ward was nominated for different things.

I believe Ward One used to be building seven in the old school?

I don’t know it was the first one. I don’t know if it was seven or not. I just knew it as Ward one I have no idea.

Do you recall the building that they used as the hospital?

We had a prefab building that was used as the hospital and that was sort of in front. It’s hard to explain. On the back of those cottages there was a walkway with a cement verandah. As you left the administration building on the left they build a prefab operating theatre there. In the early stages that was the main one. As far as I knew that was the only one that was there. There weren’t a terrible lot of big operations done there. They would have been transferred down to the bigger hospital which was the 103 at Concord, 113 I should say at Concord. The big ones were done there.

So how many wards were there altogether do you think?

Well when we first went there, there were ten. The main cottages and then later on they built they were classified as… big long buildings they were with an administration in the centre for the nursing staff. Each end would have accepted about 12 beds on either end. They used to be like twelve and thirteen ward in the first section.

A former cottage dormitory in 2004

They built four of those and people that had, had problems they were put there. Some of them were called “dirty dressing’ wards people that had sores and things that didn’t clear up and they kept them away from everybody else. Particularly in one of them because a lot of those chaps had been over in New Guinea and they came back with all kind of rashes and they were sort of on their own there so that they didn’t pass it onto anybody else.

Wards One to Ten which were the existing buildings. How many beds could fit in those?

I think there would have been either eight or ten beds in the two wards on either end. But they had the verandahs out on the front and the beds used to be out there. They used to take about four beds along there on either side that they could use that.

Tell me where the operating theatre was located? Was that the prefab that they built specially you said?

Yes that was in front of the quartermaster’s store that used to be.

Senior Boys House (now Cropley House) was occupied
by Nursing Sisters at 103rd General Hospital Baulkham Hills

Do you know what was the use of what used to be the recreation building of the school?

No I’ve got no idea about that. No idea about the recreation with the school.

But you had a recreation building too didn’t you?

We had our rec. hut yes where we joined. We would sit you could go and make coffee we had our meals there and you could unwind. We had easy chairs and an old radio somebody had brought in. But we didn’t need to be entertained because we could all talk together and do things together.

Did you have a piano in there as well?

Later on they had a piano. I don’t know where it came from whether it had been donated by anybody or not. I’ve got no idea. It wasn’t a recreation it was called the mess and that’s where we used to have… we had a little recreation up in one end. The rest of it were the tables and chairs and the kitchen was on the end of it.

Do you know what the old admin and senior boy’s house was used for?

Yes that was moved down into the Sister’s quarters.

Sisters meaning not you?

The Sisters were fully trained nurses and they had lieutenants and they had captains it all depends on the degree that they had there. They were the Sisters. There were two Sisters for every ward every day. When we were on night shift one time you would have one Sister to do two wards. There was always two nurses or two orderlies nursing males whatever they wanted to call it were on duty.

Aerial view of Cropley House with Red Cross on lawn
used for cricket pitch by boys in 1950s

Do you remember what the dental clinic looked like and where it was located?

They were all prefab buildings.

They were new buildings?

Yes all prefab they were dental and the pathology was a prefab. We had our own pathologist there. It all depends which ward. If you worked in the malaria ward one of your positions. Every day you walked around with a very sharp needle on a cork sitting in the methylated spirits. You would take the fingers of the patients and piece the finger and put the blood onto a slide and write their name on it and put it in a tin and when you did all of that you would take it to the pathology for the testing.

Did you do that?

Yes but I didn’t do the testing. You could take the blood samples.

Where was the Officer’s Mess located do you know that?

There was a building down at the back of the swimming pool. That was where the male officers were and they had the swimming pool. We were not allowed to use the swimming pool it was a “no, no”. Girls never got into swimmers in front of all those men.

Administration Building (14) William Thompson
Masonic School Baulkham Hills late 1940s

Too much for them was it? Was there a post office also?

Yes we had our own post office and that was in the administration building that was the centre one that’s still out there today out at Baulkham Hills.

The post office?

No the post office is not there but it was in there. It was a room like this.

So you take your letters there to be mailed?

You take your letters there and that was the bank. The man who worked in there he could do your bank. You’d pick up your pay cheque and everything from that.

Let’s talk a bit now about the patients that you looked after. What did the soldiers that came in mainly suffer from?

They used to come from different army section to be treated with something. If they came back from New Guinea and they had malaria sometimes they would be brought out to us because we had the malaria ward there. We used to call it the malaria ward. They would come out there and we would look after them. They would be so cold and they’d be shivering and it would be middle of summer and you had to put the blankets on them to keep them warm. Then you’d cool them down. You’d have to sponge them down. It would take them two or three days sometimes to get over the attacks that they used to have. Some of them were terribly sick with it.

The 103rd AGH was an orthopaedic hospital mainly wasn’t it? So what kind of procedures did they perform?

There were a lot of men there that came with leg problems and arm problems. They did a lot of surgery and physiotherapy on them up there. They had a special ward there that they used to do the knees. Where the men had cartilage problems where they had the cartilages removed and they had to march around the buildings there for their physiotherapy to keep them mobile. That was all done there. We had one very, very bad… it was a very sad thing, one of the saddest things that ever happened when I was at Baulkham Hills. A chap whose nickname was “Scotty” Alder (W M Alder). He had been shot in New Guinea in both legs and he had one leg that….He was so bright and so happy a young man. He had a bed on the verandah and every time anybody walked past he sang out and waved to you. He’d had his leg in plaster and when they took it out after months and months of plaster. He had to have it amputated because gangrene had set in. That was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve never seen anybody before that had to have a leg amputated. Probably I’d noticed other people that had had it done. But I hadn’t been associated with them.

How many patients do you think the hospital could accommodate at any one time?

Quite a lot I couldn’t tell you exactly how many.

Recreation Hall built for soldiers at 103rd General Hospital
Baulkham Hills

Would it be about a hundred or so?

Oh there’d be a lot more than a hundred there. There would have been a lot more than a hundred there.

What was their mental state generally?

Well we never got people with mental cases like that because we were orthopaedic and a few surgical cases. All the people that had the mental cases they went to Goulburn to the old Kenmore Hospital which the army section had taken over. I’m not to sure I think that was the 104th (actually it was the 114th).

Was it a traumatic experience for them, though, being there?

Oh it would be it was a traumatic experience when the trains that used to come down from New Guinea would bring the troop trains in. They would have patients that would probably be coming from New Guinea. They were put on the trains in Brisbane and they were brought down to Sydney and they used to come into Camellia Station which is just down here on the line to go to Carlingford. It used to stop at Clyde, Rose Hill, I think it was Camellia. The troop trains used to come in there. The ambulances used to come down from our hospital, from the 103 and their patients who had been allotted to go there would be picked up and taken to the hospital. I had one trip with an ambulance one day to assist and I just stayed with the ambulance while people were going backwards and forwards to the hospital. I think we made three or four trips that day because the ambulance would have taken only two bed patients. People that had less problems that could get around a bit you would probably take four to sit in an ambulance and then up to Baulkham Hills. Then we used to take them to the wards where they had beds to go to and just pass them off to each one.

Building 11 was Ward 5 at 103rd General Hospital Baulkham Hills

Pat, do you remember any very notable soldiers in that hospital?

Yes as I worked in Number One Ward which was the officer’s ward we had a wonderful patient there but he only came to us for about two or three days. He became known as Sir Roden Cutler.

What was he in there for?

I can’t remember what he was in the hospital for but he had already lost his leg in that time. He only came I think it was a rest period that he had before he went down to the 113th at Concord. We only had him for two or three days but a very, very refined upstanding man walked very, very tall very tall.

That’s one of our great VC (Victoria Cross) winners?

Yes, yes.

Parramatta Bus Company bus at Castle Hill shops Old Northern Road 1948

Did you have to be tough to survive as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment)?

No you had to be sensible. Sensibility is that the correct word I don’t know. But mainly everyday common sense it wasn’t being tough. You had to stand up to some patients if they would say “no I don’t want that or I don’t want this”. You would say “you are here for treatment and that is what it says on the chart and if you don’t like that you’ll have to deal with somebody else”. The majority of the time I never saw really a terrible lot of unpleasantness between any of the patients. Some of them were very, very obstinate and thought you were just there to wait on them. They didn’t realise that they had to help each other.

Could the patients have visitors?

Yes there was a visiting time. I can’t remember what….I think there used to be on a Wednesday afternoon and then on a Saturday and Sundays. I can’t remember any visiting hours of a night time can’t remember that at all. Baulkham Hills bus used to pick up at Parramatta Station and take people out there.

Was there a rehabilitation programme for patients?

Yes there was a rehabilitation programme for patients but they didn’t have it all there. When they would go home like a recess period they might have to go to physiotherapy in their own area. They would not go back to the hospital for anything like that. It was done at private places.

Not at the hospital itself?

Not in the hospital itself. Once they left there they left. Some patients had to come back because a lot of their problems weren’t fixed. I can remember people that had had their shoulders reconstructed and then they would go home. After they had, had a certain amount of physiotherapy at home and it wasn’t adjusting they would come back to us for further treatment. Sometimes they might have a minor operation to adjust it. They might be there for two or three weeks and have gone again.

How many VAD’s were working there do you think during your time there?

I can’t remember exactly, I can’t remember really but we would have had a couple of hundred there. A couple of hundred of us there would have been.

What was the companionship like between the girls? Was there a bond established?

Even today it is a wonderful thing for friendship and everything that you have. I still have my friends today that I have known since Baulkham Hills days which is sixty three years. We are still friends some of them don’t live in Sydney but they write. I have a dear friend her name was Rae Madden and she lives up in Nyngan now but when she comes to Sydney she always rings me up and we check up with one another. A letter every now and again which is absolutely lovely but quite a few of us have died. Throughout Australia there were only going to be eight thousand but they got to eight thousand seven hundred AAMWS and they didn’t have any more.

Go to Part Two