The hospital on the hill - can you help?

This image is from a photo album owned by Margaret Holmes. It is reproduced here with her kind permission. It was taken at the 21st Australian Auxiliary Hospital by her father, the doctor and Army Medical Corps commanding officer at the time (1918), Lieut. Col. W.H. Read. We know nothing more about these two than the caption on the photo.

In 1914 the whole of Australia seemed to be enthusiastic about the Great War, and was generally united in supporting the British Empire in defeating the Central Powers. By mid 1918, things had changed a lot. There was scarcely a home that had not been touched personally by the cost to the nation. Many of the enthusiastic volunteers would never come home. Others did, seriously damaged in body and spirit.

Georges Heights, here in Mosman, was home to the third largest military hospital in Australia. But who was here? What was life like in the hospital on the hill? Many of these returning soldiers had seen serious action and had suffered serious wounds. Because it was an expensive undertaking to send trained men back home from the other side of the world, those who had been shipped home and were now at the 21st AAH were mostly men who could not be rehabilitated in England or France.

The 21st Australian Auxiliary Hospital closed in 1922 but surprisingly its buildings have survived. They had only been intended as short-term temporary accommodation but the Australian Army was still using them in the late 1990’s.

Almost a century on, they are now a valuable part of Sydney’s heritage. Now they are in the care of the Commonwealth Government’s Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. This organisation has the task of handing back to the Australian community a number of former defence establishments that were scattered at strategic points around Sydney Harbour. The Trust has set about restoring, interpreting and upgrading them as public spaces, parks and memorials.

It is planned that the 21st Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Georges Heights will have its own museum. It will present a commemorative and emotional experience. It will tell the stories of the men and women who were here – the patients, the doctors, nurses, health workers and volunteers, as well as the people of the Mosman community who had contact with them. But who were they? What were they like? What were their high moments, and their low ones? Where had they come from? Where did they go? Records are tantalisingly sketchy and it was a long time ago. Did any of your relatives or family friends have contact with the 21st AAH? Do you know the whereabouts of any letters, photographs, diaries, autobiographies, newspaper-clippings, relics or souvenirs that relate to this period of Mosman’s heritage? Can you help?

Geoff Barnes is the person researching the project on behalf of the Trust. You can email or his contact telephone number at the Trust is (02) 8969 2183 (d.) or (02) 8969 2100 (switch). Your memories would be most appreciated.

Mosman Library · 30 January 2008 · #

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