The Ellerslie Racecourse today boasts a new Grandstand Complex which may be a gem of modern architecture, but it does not hold the memories and the interests for many, many thousands of people (not all racegoers), of the old wooden buildings which were demolished to make way for the new.
Back in 1940 these were taken over by the Auckland Hospital Board to form a Military Annex, staffed by retired Nursing Sisters and volunteers from the Red Cross and St. John V.A.D.s. Patients were from the Army and Air Force. These “boys” were too ill to be in Camp but not too ill to have loads of fun once they were over the initial low feelings of mumps, ‘flu, gastro enteritis and similar ailments.
Race meetings were still held, deemed good for the morale of a country at war. The Boys were ingenious at inventing symptoms to keep them from being discharged the day before a “Big Meet”. Those well enough would then watch the procedings from the back of the stand, clothed in hospital pyjamas and dull grey dressing gowns.
The work in the wards was hard but well worthwhile, and I remember the exhilaration of running to catch the first morning tramcar from Mt. Albert, rushing from that to catch a connecting tran to Greenlane, Ellerslie, to be on duty by 7am.
The Main Grandstand was the first to be used for hospital purposes. Steward’s rooms at one end, to my amazement, had mirror lined walls, were light and airy and a joy to work in. The kitchen, between the Steward’s rooms and the public dining room was staffed by hospital cooks and dieticians supplied by A.H.B., who also male orderlies for heavy lifting and general assistance. Then came the main ward which soon had long rows of beds in four lines. Next, was the Governor’s Suite containing a large V.I.P. dining room furnished with heavy, highly polished antique furniture and the walls were lined with huge portraits in heavy frames, of former Governors and Presidents of the Racing Authority. Two ensuite rooms led off from here previously used by V.I.P.s and the Queen in peacetime. Only officers were ever admitted to this apartment. The flagstaff was atop this end of the building it was here that my ‘personal emblem’ flew for a short period. Returning from lunch on a very gusty, windy day, my Red Cross veil was whipped off and up and away it flew till it became wrapped around the flagpole. A kind orderly clambered out on the roof to retrieve it. Matron was the only one not amused.
The months went by, the war continued, so the other buildings were also taken over. I remember being intrigued by working in the Bar. This was a long shed-like place. Patients were bedded on both sides of the long wooden Bar which was scrubbed every shift. Taps over the long channel sink normally used to wash and rinse glasses were used to obtain water for the basins for bed baths. These plus soap suds were all swished down the trough.
The Tea Kiosk became home for the ‘Boys’ with limbs in plaster, while at the height of a ‘flu epidemic. Even the Tote became another ward. The smaller Stand was later used by the Americans while their hospital was being built in Cornwall Park.
1990 saw the reunion of all members of the Military Annex Staff, held in the new modern complex. We all agreed that although the new was nice and nifty it was also unusual and unfamiliar, while we would always remember the ‘Old”, though outmoded and old fashioned, as having been charming, colourful and challenging.