|The 13th Australian
General Hospital was formed at Melbourneís Caulfield Racecourse on 11
August 1941. Its personnel and equipment were assembled over the ensuing
fortnight, and it sailed, from Melbourne, for service overseas on 2
September 1941. At the time of its departure the 13th comprised 18
officers, 44 nurses, 3 masseuses and 146 other ranks; it was equipped to
treat 600 patients.
Arriving in Singapore on 15 September
1941, the hospital established itself at St. Patrickís Boys School on
the islandís south coast, but initially treated few patients. Many of
its nursing staff were attached to other units or establishments,
including the Singapore General Hospital, while those that remained
spent much of their time training in the treatment of tropical diseases
and modern military surgical practices.
Between 21 and 23 November 1941, the
13th relocated to the Malayan mainland and occupied a newly-built, but
not quite finished, mental hospital at Tampoi, six and a half kilometres
from Johore Bahru. The 13th was still at Tampoi when the Japanese
launched their invasion of Malaya on 8 December. Their rapid advance
soon forced the withdrawal of the 10th Australian General hospital from
Malacca to Singapore, leaving the 13th as the only Australian hospital
in Malaya. As a result, it was ordered on 11 December to double its
patient capacity to 1,200. At the time it only had 359 beds open; but by
18 December, 945 were in operation.
The 13th treated most of the
casualties that resulted from the AIFís battles in Johore, and, as the
fighting got closer, it effectively became a large-scale casualty
clearing station Ė the most forward surgical unit in the armyís
medical organisation. Eventually, the approach of the Japanese also
forced the 13th to withdraw to Singapore, commencing on 23 January.
Thirty-eight hours later it was re-established as a 700-bed hospital
back at St. Patrickís.
Like all medical units, the 13th was
hard-pressed during the fighting for Singapore. It was subject to
bombing, sustaining hits to both its kitchen and a ward, and had to
operate under complete blackout conditions at night. Mounting casualties
soon outstripped the hospitalís ability to accommodate and treat them
and patients had to lie on the lawns around the hospital. With defeat
appearing imminent, the 13thís nursing sisters were progressively
evacuated on three ships. The last contingent of 27 left aboard the
ill-fated Vyner Brooke on 12 February.
In the final days of the fighting, the
13th found itself in a problematic position at the edge of the British
Commonwealth perimeter around Singapore City. A nearby canal was the
only anti-tank obstacle for some distance, requiring infantry and
artillery to be positioned around the hospital, thereby placing its
protected status in jeopardy. Repeated requests had to be made to
combatant troops not to establish their positions in the hospital area.
On the night of 13 February the perimeter was pulled back, leaving the
hospital in no manís land until the Commonwealth forces capitulated on
the night of 15 February. By 19 February the 13th was treating 1,273
patients, its maximum effort during its short history, and had absorbed
the staff of the 4th Casualty Clearing Station, the 2nd Mobile
Bacteriological Laboratory, and the 2/10th Field Ambulance.
Between 22 and 23 February the 13th
re-established itself in buildings at Selerang Barracks, part of the
sprawling prisoner-of-war complex on the Changi Peninsula. On 6 March
the Japanese authorities directed that only one prisoner-of-war hospital
would be maintained in Changi and the bulk of the Australian medical
units, including the 13th General Hospital, were merged with the British
hospital at Roberts Barracks. AWM text