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15 October 2014
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A Visit to the Australian Army Field Hospital

by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
cambsaction
People in story: 
Irish Priestley and Kevin O'Reilly
Location of story: 
Queensland and Northern Australia
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A6537558
Contributed on: 
30 October 2005

[This story was submitted to the People's War site on behalf of Irish Priestley by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire who fully understands the site's terms and conditiions. ]

They started having mobilisation in Australia, that everybody was going to work. They would assign you to where you were best suited or you could join up, so I joined the WNELs, which is the Women’s National Emergency Legion. Then they sent us up North [from Brisbane] to Northern Queensland. You could either do office work or you drove the cars for the officers. I worked in the War Bond and Insurance Office and then I went up to Headquarters and worked at Headquarters.

By 1942, my younger brother Kevin had joined the Army when he turned 18, and they sent him to New Guinea. He wasn’t there too long and while I was working with the Army in Townsville, I received a late night call from my mother. She was quite distressed as she had just received a telegram stating, “Kevin O’Reilly, OX47145 had been in a serious accident, Sympathy, Minister for the Army”. She did not know how to get hold of him, she got no more news, she didn’t know what to do and was upset. Dad had been sent out to buy cattle for the Army. She thought that by now Kevin might have died, so she called me.

The next day, I talked to the major I worked for, and after enquiries taking half of the day, I located the Hospital where Kevin was—he was on that big Peninsula away up to the top of Australia—they had brought him down from New Guinea. The major gave me permission to go to him, but where? I got on the train out of Townsville immediately one afternoon and started going up there but I had no idea where I was going or what would happen when I got there. So, I met these two Air Force guys going home on leave on the train and they told me how to get there. I was go to a certain place so far up and then I had to get off the train, having arrived in Atherton at 2 a.m. Then I had to get on a bus that would go up this big range that was so steep that there were gates at the bottom and gates at the top and when the bus was going up, they closed the gates so that nobody could come down while the buses were going up. Then they would reverse it.

I had no idea where I was going to stay. These two Air Force boys asked the bus driver, “ Do you know where she could stay because she is going to go up and try and find her brother”? He said, “I’ll take her home,” so he took me home to his house. He had a really nice wife and two little kids that were 1 ½ and 2 ½. So I went to bed and the next morning when I got up she had a bath ready for me and told me that her husband had come back and told how I could find Kevin. I had to go down and get on a small motor train, like a “putt-putt” train. We went out in the bush and the driver of the train pulled up the train and I got off and had to scramble down the side and he told me to walk about a mile or so through the bush and to try to keep going straight and that I would find some white tents, and that is where the Army Hospital is.

Today, I would be scared to do it, but it didn’t faze me at all in those days. I was just wondering if I would find it because he told me to try and stay in a straight line—don’t wander to the left or right, otherwise, you would get lost. He gave me the time he would pick me up on the return trip in the afternoon.

When I got there, Kevin had just regained consciousness that day at the Army Field Hospital and had been unconscious for several days. He was a mass of bandages. He had broken part of his back, had a fractured skull and a fractured arm, and a smashed kidney—he was in pretty bad shape. When I arrived, a soldier was lighting a cigarette for him. I remarked that he had not smoked before and his reply was that when some soldiers found him lying on the ground, injured, when his military bike hit a rock during manoeuvres in the bush, one had lighted and given him a cigarette, hoping it would help his pain.

The surgeon said I could come stay with him every day, maybe they would ask me to move outside the tent when others needed attention. I stayed a week, going this route and the Doctors said my presence had added greatly to his recovery. But his recovery was long and painful.

I used to go up there every morning and go “home” just before it got dark at night. [The two men who ran the small train were so helpful to me as were the bus driver and his wife. She insisted I stay with them during my stay in this area, and I always stayed in contact with her for many years. Her husband joined the Services after that and was killed in New Guinea.]

After his release from the Hospital and convalescence, Kevin went before a Review Board and was advised he could receive a discharge from the Army or decide to stay in the Army. When his parents asked why he chose to remain in the Army instead of taking the discharge, his reply was that a younger brother, 17 years, had just enlisted and he didn’t feel right accepting a discharge

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