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January—February 2013

Volume 12 Issue 69

The Avondale Historical Journal
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Incorporated

The building of Mob 6: 1943-1944

View of Avondale College, unknown date. Provided by Don Gwilliam.

by Lisa J Truttman
The following comes from the Official War History of the Public Works Department, 1939-1945, by Frank Geoffrey Grattan (1948), as well as from Archives New Zealand files held at Auckland. In March 1943, the US Naval Operating Base in Auckland wrote to the New Zealand authorities requesting that Mobile Base Hospital No 6 (Mob 6) be constructed. The Public Works Department received instructions to prepare plans for this, the second American Naval Hospital to be built in Auckland. An area at Avondale bounded by Rosebank Road, Victor Street and Holly Street was chosen, a portion of the site (closest to Holly Street) already designated by the government as land for a future school. Because of this, Tibor Donner’s design (the project overseen by the department’s resident architect in Auckland, Eric Price) incorporated a ready conversion at the end of the facility’s miliNext meeting of the tary and medical use to being that of a primary and intermediate school (later this was changed to an intermediate and technical Avondale-Waterview high school). Construction began in the middle of May 1943.

Historical Society: Saturday, 2 February 2013, 2.30 pm St Ninian’s Church
St Georges Road, Avondale (opp. Hollywood Cinema)

Step out onto Avondale College grounds today, and you’ll see a fairly expansive complex. Back when I was attending the school, though, from 1977-1981, I would have had a hard time imagining just how vast the American hospital once, and briefly, was. The full scope of the Mob 6 project was to provide 2000 beds in 22 wards with 11 lavatory blocks, a mess and galley, clinic, four

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into a near-bog by rain and a progression of American vehicles; the Labourers’ Union reported that their members were often working in 1 foot of muddy slush, without the benefit of employer-supplied gumboots (the gumboots being unavailable.) The labourers asked for an extra 2d per hour in lieu of the gumboots under the terms of their award, over and above the 9d daily wet place allowance they were already receiving. The department made a counter-offer of 1 ½ d per hour plus the 9d daily allowance. In September, there was additional urgency to complete the project as soon as possible, with the announcement of the intention to use the hospital for shock cases from both American and New Zealand forces. The department’s district engineer appealed to the Master Builders’ Association that they “kindly make a survey of any teams engaged on work not of National importance with a view to having them transferred to Avondale. Such action will help, not only the US forces, but our own boys who may be urgently requiring treatment.” The Association responded that they couldn’t find any spare teams, but pointed out that “it is apparent that the Fletcher Construction Co have considerable numbers of men engaged on less essential work and it might be suggested that some of this work be carried on with skeleton staffs so that the work at Avondale and Pukekohe can be carried on with greater dispatch.” I don’t know if this exchange helped speed things up at the hospital site or not. The first patients were admitted 21 October 1943, five and a half months after construction began. The maximum number of patients at any one time ended up being 1050. Even so, as at February 1944 there were some wards still in an unfinished state. James Fletcher, as Commissioner of Works, wrote: “The work on the Avondale Hospital has now reached the stage when every effort must be made to get the wards that are unfinished completed and handed over for occupancy. It must be recognised that the Hospital buildings are temporary, and it would appear that too much emphasis is being placed on the general finish of the building which is resulting in delays which can be avoided.” It could be said that the hospital complex was never truly completed; an intended chapel by the time buildings were demolished existed only as a set of foundations, the work on it having been stopped at an earlier point. The hospital ceased to function from 10 May 1944, and work then began to convert the site to the two schools. Portable cranes were brought in to remove the temporary housing units, many of which ended up as part of the transit camp at Western Springs. Education Board architect Alan Miller stepped in, and was in charge of the setting out of the two future schools. The mess and galley were demolished, moved in sections, and became the manual training wing of the new technical high school (now Avondale College). The central portion of

surgeries, physiotherapy and occupational therapy facilities, X-ray department, dental clinic, sick officers’ quarters, ships service room, its own post office, and quarters for the American Red Cross. Temporary housing units of State House standard, built by Residential Construction Ltd of Penrose, were also added to the site for accommodation purposes. There was a standalone laundry, morgue, boiler and generating houses, garages (35 motor vehicle capacity, with greasing racks, car washing facilities, repair shop and gasoline storage tank), a fire station, a brig (enough for 40 men, including offices, guard room, and a “bull pen”), and crews recreation quarters. At one point, an adjoining piece of land along Eastdale Road was considered for lease to be used as a baseball diamond, but this didn’t eventuate during the brief period the hospital was in operation by American armed forces. There were also 16 barracks (barracks in the original proposal were to have housed around 500 corpsmen and 100 chief petty officers), 14 stores and a guard house built from pre-fabricated steel units. In total 60 buildings were erected on the site, with a total floor area of 388,000 square feet. According to Grattan: “The permanent buildings comprising the school proper were constructed on concrete foundations, with timber framing covered externally with brick veneer up to sill height and rusticated weather boarding above. Fabricated wooden truss roofing was sarked and covered with corrugated fibrolite. The interior was panelled in plywood to dado height with fibrous plaster above and pinex ceilings.” The principal contractor was Fletcher Construction Ltd. As it so happened, James Fletcher was the wartime Commissioner of Works. A total of 450 men were employed during the project’s duration to both construct the hospital, and later to demolish and convert the site and remaining buildings to school use. There is a belief that the school buildings were constructed by American forces, the Naval “Seabees” (construction units) – but out of those working on the project, only 150 belonged to those units, and they assisted with the steel temporary buildings. The original parts of Avondale College and Avondale Intermediate were built by New Zealand contractors and tradesmen, to New Zealand design. There were issues almost immediately during construction. In late June, Fletcher Construction complained to the Public Works Department that “we are hemmed in more or less all the time by drains, and at most times by deep ditches, which are right alongside our job. This means we have no hope of getting the timber carted by our trucks anywhere near the site.” The drainlayers were, apparently, under contract direct with the department. Fletchers asked for more money as an extra to cover the time spent hauling timber over the drains. This was also a project undertaken during an Auckland winter, with the former market gardens transformed

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Auckland Star 26 December 1940

ON PARADE. WOMEN IN KHAKI. NATIONAL SERVICE CORPS. With heads held high, and with military precision, members of the Women's National Service Corps paraded at the Avondale racecourse this morning, when they were inspected by Brigadier P H Bell, DSO, officer commanding the northern military district. For the past week approximately 150 members of the corps have been in camp there, and training to a schedule has been carried out. When Brigadier Bell arrived at the camp this morning the corps, in charge of their commanding officer, Miss D M Hawking, marched to the parade ground near the totalisator house and drew up in battalion formation, then marched past in column of platoons. They formed up again, advanced in review order, and received Brigadier Bell with the general salute. At the conclusion of the parade, which was in full dress, the general salute was again given. The brigadier inspected the corps and the camp, and before leaving spoke highly of what he had seen. He said that it was a most excellent performance, and the drill was extremely good. The camp was a fine example of what a military camp should be. He added that the training had a definite purpose and it would provide sections for various activities should the necessity arise.

the ships service and the laundry block were similarly reused as a home science wing. The crews’ recreation building was shifted to become the school’s engineering workshop. Total cost of the project, excluding demolition, was £641,727. To the dismay of the Education Ministry, given to understand the contrary at the outset by James Fletcher, the cost of converting the hospital fell onto the vote for education funds, rather than those of the war assets realisation department. Discussions, correspondence and negotiations regarding valuation and quantity surveying was still ongoing for the school buildings right up to May 1945. In October 1945, the Labourers’ Union was still in dispute with the Public Works Department, claiming for their members a 1½d per hour demolition allowance, while the department argued that the workers had been engaged in dismantling, rather than demolition, and therefore were not entitled to the allowance. The union countered by quoting the dictionary meaning of the word “demolition”. Whether they were successful in obtaining the backpay for their members is unknown.

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First public parade in Auckland of Women’s National Service Corps, Auckland Weekly News 24 December 1940, ref. AWNS19401224-34-4 , Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

The corps would be a big asset and of great value in time of emergency. The members of the corps are having a happy time under canvas and the work is varied enough to make it interesting. There is ample opportunity for recreation, with a canteen where at stated hours ice cream and soft drinks are procurable, while the site of the camp is surrounded with every facility. When the parade was held to-day it was full dress, which meant wearing stockings, but when in working dress about the camp, the girls in khaki are bare-legged and they are getting just as much tan as they would on an Auckland beach. The corps at full strength numbers about 400. A good many members are absent on vacation, but those who have elected to spend their holiday week at Avondale have probably had as good a time as they would have had anywhere else. The drill is taken seriously, as shown by the military bearing of the young Aucklanders in all their activities. They rise early to start a day of routine, and those who happen to be on guard are alert at their posts throughout the night. The catering is on

generous lines, and there is ample plain food without striving for luxury. The midday meal is a simple repast in which bread, cheese and lettuce figures, and that is the sort of midday meal that most people would prefer. Some of the corps are in their element when they get on cookhouse duty, and there are others who have discovered that the preparation of a meal can be a fascinating occupation. Visitors to the camp have been impressed with the tidy way in which the tents are kept. There is a distinct feminine touch in the way bedding and clothing is so meticulously folded, but apart from that the general appearance of everything is strictly military. At the gate one meets a determined looking young lady, with a baton in her hand, who stands smartly to attention as she requests the visitor's pass and authority for entrance. And when that is produced the next stage is to headquarters, where the military atmosphere is even more marked. Yet there is a courtesy and kindness with it all, which visitors appreciate just as much as they admire the high standard of efficiency which the Women's National Service Corps has reached since its inauguration. From Auckland Star 31 December 1940

The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by: the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc. Editor: Lisa J. Truttman Society contact: 19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600 Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804 email: Society information: Website: Subscriptions: $10 individual $15 couple/family $30 corporate

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