Name Leslie Coles Rank: Private
Battalion 13 General Hospital Australian Army Medical Corps
Place of Birth. Bristol England 18 January1908
Next of Kin Catherine Coles, his wife. They married in 1935.
Son of Ernest George and Maude Coles; husband of Catherine Alice Coles, of Milford, Victoria, Australia.
Date and place of enlistment 24 June 1941 at Royal Park
Location on enlistment Milford
Occupation Farm labourer
Date and place of death Singapore Changi 14 January 1944
Location of grave or memorial
Kranji War Cemetery Singapore
Relationship to Woorayl Shire
From 1931he lived at Milford and was a farm labourer for J B York. His address remains the same until 1943. Catherine appears to have moved to Dumbalk North during the war.
The 13th Australian General Hospital was formed at Melbourne’s Caulfield Racecourse on 11 August 1941. Its personnel and equipment were assembled over the ensuing fortnight, and it sailed, from Melbourne, for service overseas on 2 September 1941. At the time of its departure the 13th comprised 18 officers, 44 nurses, 3 masseuses and 146 other ranks; it was equipped to treat 600 patients.
Arriving in Singapore on 15 September 1941, the hospital established itself at St. Patrick’s Boys School on the island’s south coast, but initially treated few patients. Many of its nursing staff were attached to other units or establishments, including the Singapore General Hospital, while those that remained spent much of their time training in the treatment of tropical diseases and modern military surgical practices.
Between 21 and 23 November 1941, the 13th relocated to the Malayan mainland and occupied a newly-built, but not quite finished, mental hospital at Tampoi, six and a half kilometres from Johore Bahru. The 13th was still at Tampoi when the Japanese launched their invasion of Malaya on 8 December. Their rapid advance soon forced the withdrawal of the 10th Australian General hospital from Malacca to Singapore, leaving the 13th as the only Australian hospital in Malaya. As a result, it was ordered on 11 December to double its patient capacity to 1,200. At the time it only had 359 beds open; but by 18 December, 945 were in operation.
The 13th treated most of the casualties that resulted from the AIF’s battles in Johore, and, as the fighting got closer, it effectively became a large-scale casualty clearing station – the most forward surgical unit in the army’s medical organisation. Eventually, the approach of the Japanese also forced the 13th to withdraw to Singapore, commencing on 23 January. Thirty-eight hours later it was re-established as a 700-bed hospital back at St. Patrick’s.
Like all medical units, the 13th was hard-pressed during the fighting for Singapore. It was subject to bombing, sustaining hits to both its kitchen and a ward, and had to operate under complete blackout conditions at night. Mounting casualties soon outstripped the hospital’s ability to accommodate and treat them and patients had to lie on the lawns around the hospital. With defeat appearing imminent, the 13th’s nursing sisters were progressively evacuated on three ships. The last contingent of 27 left aboard the ill-fated Vyner Brooke on 12 February. On 15 February the 13th surrendered with all Commonwealth Forces in Singapore.
Between 22 and 23 February the 13th re-established itself in buildings at Selerang Barracks, part of the sprawling prisoner-of-war complex on the Changi Peninsula. On 6 March the Japanese authorities directed that only one prisoner-of-war hospital would be maintained in Changi and the bulk of the Australian medical units, including the 13th General Hospital, were merged with the British hospital at Roberts Barracks.
Les was part of the 13th General Hospital’s actions before and after surrender. He was kept at Changi until his death. Les struggled against brutal treatment, malnutrition and tropical disease until he passed away in January 1944.