Golden Pipeline

National Trust of WA

Explore The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail

A self-guided drive trail between the Perth Hills and Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Go with the Flow. Follow the water to discover more about the audacious goldfields water supply scheme and Engineer CY O’Connor.

Discover The people and the Scheme

“Future generations, I am quite certain will think of us and bless us for our far seeing patriotism, and it will be said of us, as Isaiah said of old, ‘They made a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” – Sir John Forrest

Merredin to Yerbillon GPHT Sites

Merredin Peak Military Hospital Site

As unbelievable as it may seem, at the height of World War ll an army hospital was based not near the fighting but at the base of a granite outcrop in WA’s Wheatbelt. Water was one of the reasons.

You can drive or walk around the site to read signs that reveal its history and how it was laid out with nurses’ quarters, a surgery and wards. If it’s a cold winter’s morning you might even appreciate this nurse’s memory:

Sponging the patients was very tortuous for them, so speed was the kindest way to save them from freezing.

Women nurses in gumboots 1943.
Barbara Abel. Nurses in gumboots 1943.

For about eight months in the middle of World War II the 2/1 Army General Hospital was stationed not at the battlefront, not even close to the battlefront, but at Merredin, about as far away from the scene of fighting as it is possible to imagine.

The unit was formed at the outbreak of war with orders to have a 600 bed hospital ready to embark for Gaza in the Middle East on the first convoy in January 1940. When Australia came under attack from the Japanese in 1942 and invasion seemed imminent, the unit was immediately returned home.

View over Merredin Peak to the Military Hospital 1943.

The hospital moved to Merredin in December 1942. Merredin was located well inland making it a less likely bombing target. It was a rail junction which meant that casualties could arrive from various directions. And it had an independent water supply in the form of the railway dam which would allow it to continue operating even if the enemy destroyed the Goldfields Water Supply pipeline. Water from the railway dam was pumped to a tank at the top of Merredin Peak from where it gravitated down to the hospital.

An area of lightly wooded land at the base of Merredin Peak was cleared and a tent hospital erected. The wards consisted of 24 large tents, each holding 20 patients. The staff lived in smaller tents, each containing four or six camp stretchers. At the beginning the floors were simply dirt but these were later replaced with timber. Kerosene lamps were used until electricity was connected. The corrugated iron ablutions block, consisting of showers, wash troughs and deep trench latrines, was located in front of the wards.

The 221 patients who were admitted in 1942 were joined by another 267 in January 1943. They were transported to Merredin by special ambulance trains and then transferred to the hospital by ambulance. The staff consisted of five medical officers, 9 other officers and 188 enlisted personnel.

Ultimately the anticipated invasion of Australia did not occur and, in August 1943, the 2/1st Army General Hospital left Merredin, first for Port Moresby and then the Solomon Islands. It returned to Australia in 1945.

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