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Wing Commander P.J. Benjamin commenced as the initial Commanding Officer for 1 Medical Receiving Station RAAF on 29 April 1942.

1 Medical Receiving Station was established at Daly Waters on 23 March 1942. Their camp site was constructed at the 5 Mile Water Hole near Daly Waters. In their first month of operation 131 RAAF and US personnel were admitted to the hospital.

A sister Unit – No. 2 MRS served with distinction at Milne Bay, PNG in 1942.

On 29 August 1942, an advance party of 32 personnel moved into new facilities at Coomalie Creek. Their camp was located at the junction of the North - South Road to Darwin and the road to Batchelor. It was situated in the South West Corner of that junction, as then existing. Five weeks later the remaining personnel and equipment rejoined the Unit at Coomalie Creek and the re-siting of the Unit was complete. 271 patients were admitted to their new hospital in that first month.

1 MRS was a fully equipped Hospital of 60 or more beds spread over four large marquees. A separate Operating Theatre was also housed under canvass. The Wards held surgical and accident cases, and those suffering from tropical diseases and general illnesses. More substantial buildings were provided for the Cookhouse and Mess areas.

Several Medical Officers who had occupied specialist positions in these disciplines in civilian life were on the staff. Six Nursing Sisters, a Pharmacist and an X-ray Technician completed the professional staff. The medical professionals were all of Officer Rank. They were housed in separate facilities away from other ranks.

The X-ray technician was a Senior NCO. Medical Orderlies staffed the Wards day and night.

The initial Unit Doctors were:-

Squadron Leader ‘Snow’ Ahern Melbourne based Surgeon
Flight Lieutenant Arthur Uglow. Victorian Western District based General Practitioner
Flight Lieutenant George Simpson. Melbourne based General Practitioner

F/Lt George Simpson (1899-1960) is reported to have been associated with Dr John Flynn of the Royal Flying Doctor Service as early as 1927 when they were together in Alice Springs. He was experienced in tropical medicine and is said ‘to have known the inland of Australia as he knew the streets of Melbourne’. Sister Elizabeth Burchill refers extensively to Simpson’s contribution to the Australian Inland Mission in her book ‘Innamincka’. A page in the online edition of Australian Dictionary of Biography provides information about his life, vision and work.

An Administrative staff led by an Adjutant, Orderly Room etc had responsibility for matters of supply, sustenance, transport and the like. An ambulance was on hand.

Whilst the majority of patients were from the Air Force it was not unusual to treat aborigines and staff from the outlying Mission Stations.

Medical Officers appeared to have been replaced after 12 months service whilst other ranks served 15 months before being relieved. Some of the Nursing Sisters are known to have had much longer periods of service ‘up north’. Sister Martha Madge Hateley was later appointed provisional Matron of No 3 RAAF Hospital, Concord, Sydney, in September 1948. She died in 1950. A page in the online edition of Australian Dictionary of Biography provides information about her life and career.

Succession Unit Doctors were:-

Squadron Leader George Thompson Surgeon
Flight Lieutenant Lance L Edwards Sydney General Practitioner
Flight Lieutenant Hugh Ryan Melbourne Eye Specialist & General Practitioner

Wing Commander D.S. Thomson took over as Commanding Officer on 7 October 1942.

From Sept 1942 until Oct 1943, Sergeant Arthur Backholer was a Medical Orderly at No. 1 Medical Receiving Station (1 MRS), a RAAF Hospital of about 50 beds,  Arthur was 22 years old when he arrived at Coomalie Creek.

Facilities were improved in May 1943 when their Wards were rebuilt. As part of the improvements, a new X-ray machine was installed in June 1943. The canvass marquees were gradually replaced by more permanent structures built from local timbers and galvanised iron and with concrete floors. The first of these new buildings was the Pharmacy when Pilot Officer Peter Holmes was Pharmacist.

Wing Commander H.D. Phipps took over as Commanding Officer on 30 November 1943.

In November 1944, a Lockheed Hudson was used to transport patients to southern hospitals.

Wing Commander R.W.D. Fisher took over as Commanding Officer on 13 January 1945.

Towards the end of the war, 1 MRS was relocated to Nightcliff, in Darwin, NT on 16 February 1945. 1 MRS was downsized to a 45 bed hospital in December 1945. Flight Lieutenant J.H.P. Abbott took over as its last Commanding Officer on 21 December 1945.

In 2005, Arthur Backholer renewed an acquaintance with one of the Medical Officers who served with 1 MRS during Arthur's time with the unit. The Medical Officer is Dr Hugh Ryan, an eye specialist, now aged 94 (in July 2006), who is still in practice. Dr. Ryan told Arthur that he had returned to the site of their hospital and he indicated that the concrete flooring of most of the tents and other more permanent places were still intact.


Photo:- via Arthur Backholer

No. 1 MRS Operating Theatre Staff Darwin 1943
L to R: Sgt George Warren, Dr Lance Edwards, Sister Scully, Dr George
Thompson (Surgeon) and Sgt ‘Dusty’ Hill, all facing, the Operating Table.
 (Note the Canvass Walls of tent, the lamp and the Oxygen bottles, and the Operating table)


Photo:- via Arthur Backholer

No 1 MRS Sergeants Mess, Coomalie Creek, 1942

L to R: Rear: Prowse (X-Ray), Gil Ledger (Adjutant’s Office), “Dusty’ Hill (Medical Operating Theatre),
‘Snowy’ Round (Transport), Gordon Morgan-Payler (Cook), George Warren (Medical Operating Theatre).
Front:’Rocky’ Hill (?), Dennis Stainsby (Stores), Arthur Backholer (Med Orderly)


Photo:- via Arthur Backholer

Nursing Sisters at 1 MRS Darwin 1943
L to R:- Sisters Madge Hateley, Joan Scully, & Joyce Young,
Matron Dutton, Sisters Betty Bray, & Sheila Wynne.

This photo of the Female Nursing Staff at 1 MRS is taken from RAAF LOG 1943
Page 58 - Prepared by RAAF Directorate of Public Affairs


Photo:- via Arthur Backholer

Pharmacy Building 1 MRS Coomalie Creek 1943


Photo:- via Arthur Backholer

1 MRS Sergeants’ Mess, Coomalie Creek, Darwin. 1943 - things have improved since 1942!!
Note the silhouettes at the rear and the numerous ash trays.
The periodic replacement of some personnel had occurred.

L to R Standing: ‘Dusty’Hill,   ?   ,Hawkins, Prowse, George Warren,
Sitting: ‘Rocky’ Hill, Arthur Backholer, Dennis Stainsby, ‘Snowy’ Round, Gil Ledger.


Photo:- via Arthur Backholer

X-Ray facilities at 1 MRS 1943
Sisters Hateley and Wynne with
Sgt F/Sgt Bill Rapp (X-Ray Technician)


Arthur Backholer remembers the Japanese air raids on 31 Squadron RAAF. On one occasion 26 bombs destined for 31 Squadron's aircraft landed within the hospital grounds. The following is his recollection of this bombing raid at Coomalie Creek:-

Japanese bombers appeared to favour the full moon for their air raids. The light from the full moon and the clear atmosphere of the tropics cast bright shadows at ground level. On 13 August 1943, near midnight, Japanese planes attacked Fenton and Coomalie Creek airfields. Located within 5 km of 31 Squadron RAAF at Coomalie Creek, 1 MRS became a victim of this raid when within minutes of the sirens being sounded, 26 bombs exploded in the Hospital grounds. There were no causalities at 1 MRS, but it was a dreadful experience for those few bedridden patients who were unable to go to the slit trenches.



23 Nov 42 Coomalie Creek
27 Nov 42 (03:56 - 04:46 am) Coomalie Creek, Hughes & Strauss airfields
2 Mar 43 (2:34 pm) Coomalie Creek airfield
13 Aug 43   (11.12 pm) Fenton & Coomalie Creek airfield
21 Aug 43 (03:07 am) Fenton & Coomalie Creek airfields
10 Nov 43 Coomalie Creek


I'd like to thank Arthur Backholer, Medical Orderly at 1 MRS 1942-1943, for his assistance with this web page.


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This page first produced 9 July 2006

This page last updated 13 January 2020