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St George Hospital

Graduate

Nurses Association

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St George Hospial: War Years and Aftermath 1939-1959


In September 1939, John Burt called an emergency meeting of the Hospital Board. All had heard the news that war had been declared and many decisions had to be made on the future and the running of the St George District Hospital.


Frederick Ernest Rowe

During the six-year duration of World War II, all thoughts of future planning of the hospital's needs were shelved as a matter of necessity. As a result, much of the hospital's buildings and furbishing’s deteriorated to an alarming degree. If it had not been for the tireless and unstinting efforts of the unofficial "Patron Saint" of the St George Hospital's nurses, Frederick Ernest Rowe, things would have been much worse.


Rowe somehow managed to circumvent red tape and shore up ugly spots where they were most needed, even if it meant sending one of his own tradesmen off a building site to do the job back at the hospital. It was no wonder that when Rowe spoke at Board meetings everybody listened. He seemed to be a one-man army when it came to fixing up building and repair problems, never accepting or expecting payment. Such was his nature that when hearing of moves afoot to have an Imperial Honours award bestowed upon him, he quietly set out to discourage his nominators.


Enlisting

Faced with the deluge of Federal Government instructions to place the hospital on a war-footing, the Board lost no time in implementing several policies of its own making, designed to discourage early enlistment in the armed services. This was not through a lack of patriotic fervor, but the realisation that loss of key medical and technical staff would leave a huge gap in the standard of treatment so jealously guarded by the Hospital.


Despite inducements and promises, several key members of the hospital staff elected to join the services. Among the first to go from the medical staff were Doctors Thomas, Saxby, Richardson and Sister Janet Kerr. Dr Thomas served with distinction until midway through the war when he was considered unfit for further service and discharged. Doctors Saxby and Richardson saw active service in the Middle East and new Guinea. Sister Kerr was to die in the Japanese massacre of Australian nursing sisters on Banka Island after the fall of Singapore in February, 1942.


Decrease in Staffing Levels at St George

By the start of 1943, the medical staff comprised the Medical Superintendent and his assistant, a resident pathologist with only two technicians, one obstetrics registrar, three senior RMOs and five junior RMOs on a wage of less than £5 per week. The nursing staff was even worse off - only 150 nurses to service 300 beds.


Volunteers

Although the hospital fared badly in terms of the gaps in staff levels, there was a steady flow of volunteers willing and able to help out in any capacity in the day-to-day running of the hospital.


There were plenty of chores and duties to be singled out for rostering during daylight hours, but few opted for night work. The end result was that some employees found it impossible to be rostered off night shifts for a well-earned spell on day duty. Mcintyre solved the problem by virtually closing down weekend laundry shifts to permanent staff and handing over to two teams of weekend volunteers who became known as "Mcintyre's Weekend Washers". This soon sorted out the "pretenders" from the sincere public-spirited volunteers.



Acknowledgement

Selected text republished from: Ritchie, L. The Healing Saint: A hundred year history of The St George Hospital 1892–1994. St George Hospital & Community Health Services, 1998.