IF THE name of the UK’s Harefield Hospital sounds familiar, it could be because this was the hospital, in 1983, where renowned surgeon Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub performed the world’s first heart and lung transplant.
Harefield today enjoys a reputation as a first-class facility, but it’s the hospital’s origins that should be of particular interest to Australians. The hospital began its life as an Australian World War I hospital, after ex-pat Charles Billyard-Leake donated his manor house to the Australian Government to use as a wartime hospital.
The ABC, which has visited Harefield as part of its Gallipoli Centenary coverage, has reported that nurses arrived from Australia to prepare for the first patients who began to arrive from the Western Front in June 1915.
As increasing numbers of casualties were admitted, a series of huts was erected to accommodate them. At its peak, Harefield could accommodate 1000 patients and by the end of the war, a staggering 50,000 injured Diggers had been treated there.
More than 100 Diggers are buried at Harefield, but far from lying forgotten in a foreign grave, these men have been taken into the hearts of village residents.
Every year Harefield residents gather at St Mary’s, the village church, for a special Anzac memorial service. Children from the nearby school place flowers on the graves and remember the sacrifice these young Australians made.
“I am amazed at the amount of Australians who came over to fight for what was, at the time, ‘the mother country’,” church warden Rowena Scott told the ABC.
“I think it’s a real privilege that we have actually got some Australians buried here and we can actually honour their names and remember them ... let them not be forgotten.”
If you’ll forgive the personal indulgence, I can tell you that at one time I worked for the Uxbridge Gazette newspaper and attended the Anzac service at St Mary’s with my Harefield reporter colleague.
The service was moving, but what was even more touching was the number of Harefield residents who, upon hearing I was Australian, went out of their way to tell me that the sacrifice of the young Diggers was remembered. It may be a century since that fateful day on the Gallipoli shore, but we do indeed still remember them.
- Jody Springett
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.