By Ivor Jones
It was January, 1942 and Australia was at war against the Axis Forces of Germany, Italy and Japan and as such the Armed Forces of Australia were suffering casualties as armies engaged in conflict always do. Military Occupation
Where to send the wounded troops, airmen and naval personnel? Well one such place well away from zones of conflict would have to be the Hills district of Sydney.
A letter was sent from the Eastern Command of the Army to the Freemasons in NSW requesting that they make Masonic Schools at Baulkham Hills available as a site for a Military Hospital. The Freemasons agreed as long as the complex was returned, after hostilities ceased, in the same condition as when the Army took control.
As it turned out, however, much damage had been sustained by the Masonic School during the military occupation but there were also some improvements in that a sewerage system had been installed and some roads had been laid down.
The school had not been returned to the Freemasons at the cessation of hostilities and the Minister for Defence was asked why. Repairs to the school after it was eventually returned to the Masons were in the vicinity of 58,741 pounds of which the Army eventually paid 50,000 pounds.
After some preparatory work on buildings and grounds the Military Hospital, named the 103rd General Hospital, had moved in by September of 1942. Ten school dormitory blocks had been converted to hospital wards.
Other buildings were converted into the main kitchen, an operating theatre, dental surgery, dark room and x-ray room. Tents were also erected as temporary accommodation for staff which were eventually replaced with 52 prefabricated huts in October 1944.
The army also erected ablution and latrine blocks and accommodation huts for the nursing sisters and other personnel. Slit trenches were dug in the grounds to provide protection from air raids.
The ABC Staff War Funds Committee organised the building and equipping of a recreation wing at the hospital and a Red Cross Centre was established. The school’s swimming pool was well used for relaxation by the staff and by the patients, many of whom were amputees, who also used the facilities for specialised physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
It had been proposed back in January 1942 that the school would be a 1200 bed General Hospital however it was revealed in January 1943 it had only 700 beds available for those suffering wounds or malaria from the front lines in New Guinea and the Middle East. It was not until the following September that it was able to cater for more patients.
After the repairs to the school had been completed and the Army had moved out, the complex was officially reopened as a school in November 1947 when the children returned. By 1974 many of the buildings were in need of repair and changes in ideas of institutionalising children were being reconsidered.
The Masons decided to sell the site and the, then Baulkham Hills Shire Council,(now The Hills Shire Council) bought the site, subdividing and selling off some of the site for residential homes.
Areas were retained for recreation and sporting purposes and many of the buildings for use by community groups including a building currently used as a museum operated by the Hills District Historical Society and another nearby building for a community radio station and studios operated by Alive 90.5. Both are worthwhile community organisations with which I have had past association, serving in Executive positions with both groups.