DURING World War II, the United States 44th General Hospital was based at Black River, west of Townsville. Over the two years, 1943-1944, it served as a 1,000 bed hospital, which was built using prefabricated buildings in 1943.
The hospital was located on the southern (or inland) side of the Bruce Highway side of Black River. Colonel J.W. Waddell served as the Commanding Officer in May 1944.
However, it was Lieutenant Walter Teague, who was the photographer behind the following photographs of the hospital, its vicinity and Townsville in general.
The story of Walter Teague’s involvement at the hospital appeared in 'Love in War: Fifty years ago, American soldier Walter Teague lived....' [rest of title obscured] and was most likely published as part of the 'Australia Remembers: 1945-1995' celebrations.
“Walter Teague’s wartime tale is like one of those black and white films that still occasionally screen late on a Saturday night,” the 1995 article stated.
“There were shipwrecks, brave rescues, crazy pilots, a pretty nurse, and all the drama of an army hospital on the far side of the world.
“Although now a retired Lieutenant Colonel and living near Washington DC, Mr Teague still has vivid memories of Townsville.
“Those memories are still being relived this week as he takes part in VP50 celebrations and visits the sights he last saw in 1943.
“Mr Teague came to Townsville with the 44th General Hospital in 1943. Getting here was a story in itself.
“’We landed in Sydney and immediately reloaded and took off for New Guinea,’ Mr Teague said.
“’We picked up a corvette escort off Townsville on the other side of Magnetic Island. In all, there were seven liberty ships and three corvettes.
“’But on the third night out, we ran straight up on a reef – all seven liberty ships.
“’I remember it vividly, it was December 18 at 9pm and we had a calm sea.
“’The corvettes took us off the next day. There were 3000 troops on the seven ships and they got us off without so much as a sprained ankle.’
“Mr Teague said the troops were dumped in Cairns on December 23, ruining the Carins mayor’s Christmas lunch.
“The troops were then railed back to Townsville and the 44th General Hospital was set up at Black River instead of New Guinea.
“After years of trying to find the story of the disastrous voyage, Mr Teague finally wrote to the Australian Defence Force Academy.
“He got a 41-page letter in reply, outlining every detail of the ill-fated voyage, including the trial of the three officers charged with running the fleet aground.
“’We were here for about a year and of the 50 doctors we had, all of them are dead but seven,’ Mr Teague said.
“’We’re holding a reunion in September and we’ve been waiting 50 years to thank somebody for getting us off that reef.
“’All the doctors are going to sign a letter of thanks.
“’Those three officers in charge paid with their careers for putting us on the reef but the next day when they got us off, they were heroes.’
“Mr Teague was a keen amateur photographer and during the war years took more than 150 rolls of mostly stolen film.
“He developed those rolls in his tent at night.
“During that same year at Black River, the young lieutenant also met and romanced a pretty young nurse called Eda Pollock.
“His photographs show aerial shots of the hospital, taken with the assistance of some of those “crazy” pilots based here, shots of downtown Townsville, and of course Eda.
“’We didn’t get married of course,’ Mr Teague said.
“’If you got married, they separated you. We were in the Philippines when we heard the bomb had been dropped – we went home, got married and raised five kids.’”
SPECIAL THANKS to Bronwyn McBurnie and her team at JCU’s Special Collections for providing access to the Walter Teague photo collection. All photos from the Walter Teague Archive, James Cook University Library Special Collections.