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Hospital 125th: Restoration project preserves memories

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Former Director of Air Force Medicine, Dr Peter Hurly, has restored an old air force ambulance.

 He has nicknamed it ‘Katy’ after a movie about army personnel and two nurses in Tobruk in 1942, who break out in an Austin K2Y ambulance. The Austin K2Y ambulances were the mainstay of the military ambulances during the war for Britain and her allies and were known as ‘Katy’. 

In New Zealand, the military have their own ambulances to transport service personnel to hospital and in 1979, the RNZAF wanted to replace the International and Land Rover ambulances that they were using.  They purchased a trial Range Rover, which was tested at the Ōhakea Air Force Base.  A further seven arrived in 1982.  Two were sent to RNZAF Base Auckland, two to RNZAF Base Ōhakea, two to RNZAF Base Woodbourne and two to RNZAF Base Wigram.  They remained in service for many years. 
When RNZAF Wigram closed down in 1995, its ambulances were sold.  One of them, ambulance 36, was purchased by a private ambulance company in Christchurch.
Peter said: “In 2003, I thought that it was time to replace the Range Rover ambulances.  They were 30-plus years old and were becoming unreliable.  I thought that this would be a relatively easy task, but I was confronted with many obstacles along the way, including having to justify why we needed ambulances, why four-wheel drive, why didn’t we buy the very expensive Pinzgauer ambulances that the army had bought.  Finally, after about five years, the ambulances were replaced.”
In the meantime, of the former ambulances, one ambulance had been lent to the army at Waiouru camp and had been written off and one ambulance from Base Auckland caught fire and was written off. The Air Force museum at Christchurch wanted one for their display. 
As the Palmerston North Hospital had a long association with the military in the Manawatū and also had had a military wing, and served personnel from Waiouru Camp, Linton Camp and the Ōhakea Air Force Base, I asked if one ambulance could be donated to the Palmerston North Hospital Medical Museum.  At first the Air Force was receptive to the idea.  However, when two ambulances from Base Auckland went up for auction, they realised more that the Air Force had expected and it then decided to sell off the remaining ambulance by auction.  By this time, I had become a bit obsessed with obtaining one and decided to bid for it.  However, I was beaten by a dealer in Auckland and I subsequently found out that he in turn had sold it for more than double the price. 
“I then heard that ambulance 36 had been sold to a mountain rescue and first aid company in Rotorua, who said that they were finding the vehicle too expensive to run and were prepared to sell it.  I bought it and started the removal of the vinyl cladding and did some engine and electrical maintenance. The paint shop at RNZAF Base Ōhakea indicated that they would be prepared to use the ambulance as a training aid for apprentices and repainted the vehicle.
Peter is hopeful that there will be an opportunity for ambulance 36 to take part in the hospital’s 125th anniversary celebrations in November.


- Written by Paula McCool

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