Coombs Ward – Make Do and Mend

What do you do when you merge two wards together and now have a surplus of linen stamped with an obsolete name?

This was a problem faced by the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1945.

When the Magill Wards of the Royal Adelaide Hospital were established in 1939 (at Magill) there was one large ward/block that was divided into two, accommodating two female wards.  One was called “Coombs” and the other ‘Graham’. Equipment, particularly the linen, was stamped with the ward name, in this case Graham and Coombs.  The ward names were chosen in memory of William Green Coombs, who was a member of the Hospital Board for 26 years and Margaret Graham, who was Matron of the Royal Adelaide Hospital for 20 years.  However, by 1945 the whole of the block was known as Graham, with Coombs not utilized. 

Graham Ward, Magill, Ca 1950

One of the divisions of the female wards at Magill was called Coombs and the linen marked accordingly. However, the whole female block is known as Graham and the word Coombs is never used. It is considered that it would be better to call the female ward at Magill “Graham” and delete Coombs ward from Magill altogether.

Royal Adelaide Hospital Board Minutes, 7 March 1945
Wicker laundry basket used to transfer dirty linen from the ward to the laundry, Ca 1920

This left the Royal Adelaide Hospital with a surplus of linen marked with an obsolete ward name.

McEwin Block

At the same time, the hospital was in the process of building the McEwin Building, a new surgical block.  Although the building started in 1941, it was not completed until mid-1945.  Due to the inability of the hospital finding available equipment when rationing was still in full force, the McEwin Building did not open until 7 August 1946.

McEwin Building, view from North Terrace looking North, Ca 1960. X-Ray Department was on the ground floor, operating theatres on the first floor, Coombs and Ritchie Wards on the second floor and Lomman and Lundie Wards on the third floor.

The British Ministry issued its “Make Do and Mend’ pamphlet in 1943, with useful tips on how to be frugal in times of harsh rationing. As seen above, the Royal Adelaide Hospital faced its own challenges on being frugal.

Linen was one such problem, however the hospital found a work around by reusing a previous ward name – Coombs.

Rather than throw out the linen marked with ‘Coombs’, the hospital decided to ‘Make Do and Mend’. The decision was made to recycle the linen and call one of the new wards in the McEwin Block, Coombs. 

On the 7 March 1945, Cabinet approval had been received for naming the McEwin Building wards as:

  • Coomb
  • Ritchie
  • Lundie
  • Lomman

Coombs and Ritchie were post-operative ward, located on the second floor of the McEwin Building. These were almost identical wards, with one being male (Coombs) and the other female (Ritchie). Lundie (female) and Lomman (male) were general surgical wards on the third floor.

Written by Margot Way, CALHN Health Museum