Royal Reels: Gambling


The present cover appeared at an Australian auction site, but a scan only of the front was available. It was sent On His Majesty’s Service to Miss H.B. Hetherington, Matron, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Missenden Road, Camperdown, Sydney, N.S.W. It had a 1d Queen Mother stamp postmarked with an indistinct NAVAL P. O. HERNE BAY/ N,S,W,-AUST in 1945 (month not seen) and it was endorsed with a manuscript ‘Concession Rate’. In addition it had a purple double oval hand stamp with PRINCIPAL MATRON/ R.N. HOSPITAL SYDNEY (Figures 1 & 2).

The Herne Bay Naval P.O. (a suburb of Sydney) was open only for a short time from 25.6. 1945 until 18.6. 1946. An example of this postmark is seen in Figure 3.

Matron Helen Butt Hetherington could not be found on the internet but an email to the Honorary Director, RPA Archives and Museum produced rapid results. Helen Budd Hetherington was a daughter of a Sydney NSW doctor and she commenced her general nurse training at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (R.P.A.H.) in December 1916. She completed her training in 1920 and was awarded the Alfred Roberts Medal for General Proficiency. She was appointed to the staff of the hospital in 1920 and remained on staff for a further three years before going to England for obstetric training at the Queen Charlotte Hospital, London. She also visited hospitals in Canada and the USA..

On her return to Australia she was appointed a member of the Bathurst District Hospital, and then the Royal South Sydney Hospital. She was appointed Matron at the Molong Private Hospital and remained there for six years. She returned to the R.P.A.H. in 1936 when she was appointed in charge of the newly opened Gloucester House (named after Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester who later became the Governor-General of Australia from 1945-47), and she was appointed Matron of R.P.A.H. in January 1941. Miss Hetherington retired from the hospital as Matron in May 1947.

Whilst researching the handstamp PRINCIPAL MATRON/ R.N. HOSPITAL SYDNEY and Herne Bay I came up with an event during World War 2 in Sydney which I had not heard about at that time, perhaps because there may have been some security concerns. The area of Herne Bay (since 1957 known as Riverwood) is only 18 km south west of the Sydney Central Business District. During World War 2 in 1942 the Australian Government agreed to establish a large army base hospital barracks for the Americans (118th General Hospital US Army). The hospital was built at a cost of £1 million and consisted of 490 barrack type buildings containing approximately 4,250 beds. The hospital was staffed by doctors and nurses from the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, who had been in Sydney for quite some time and had difficulty finding premises.

The Americans had been using the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath as a hospital and they were relocated and moved into the first section of the Herne Bay premises in May 1943. By November 1943, 1700 beds were being utilised , and the site was visited by General MacArthur, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Artie Shaw’s Band and Bob Hope. Other premises had also been previously utilised, particularly the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at a time when Helen Hetherington was the matron.

In October 1944 the main US hospital had left for the liberation of the Philippines, although some American patients and staff remained on site until January 1945. In that month the Royal Navy opened a hospital to treat wounded members of the British Pacific Fleet in the vacated buildings. It received and treated 9003 patients. The Australian army occupied some of the other vacant sections up until March of 1947. However most of the structures after the war were converted to the Herne Bay Housing Settlement. The entrance gate to the Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital at Herne Bay as well as an aerial view of Royal Navy Hospital Herne Bay are shown in Figures 4 & 5.

The envelope was most likely sent from the Principal Matron to Matron Hetherington in 1945 when the major occupancy of the hospital was by the Royal Navy, but to date the Principal Matron has not been identified.

I acknowledge the wonderful assistance of Helen Croll, the Honorary Director, RPA Archives and Museum, who provided the entire biography available on Matron Helen Budd Hetherington.