Did 79 soldiers die of cyanide?

COMFORT BELOW: Nurses in the Second World War in the Underground Hospital in Mount Isa.
COMFORT BELOW: Nurses in the Second World War in the Underground Hospital in Mount Isa.

MORE than 75 years after the war mystery surrounds the claim there was mass death of black American soldiers in Mount Isa.

The claim is made in Alan Smith's book Outback Corridor - World War II Lines of Communications across Australia from Adelaide and Mt Isa to Darwin.

According to the book it was a quote from Sister Eileen Richardson who recalls the Americans arrived in Mount Isa and took over Hilton Hall which was owned by Mount Isa Mines, which became the 17th Station Hospital.

"She (Sister Eileen) remembers a tragic incident where 73 Negro soldiers died after drinking a home brew which was made in disused cyanide drums, which were probably surplus from the mines," Mr Smith wrote.

"The cyanide would have seeped into the inside seams of the drums. The 73 coffins were loaded on a train and sent to Townsville possibly to the US Military Cemetery in Townsville."

Mount Isa historian Bob Forsyth says the story floated round for years and while he could neither confirm nor disprove it, he was inclined to believe it.

"Eileen Richardson apparently did not actually see any of the dead or the coffins, however, her recollections of what she was told by her colleagues ring true," Mr Forsyth said.

"I believe cyanide is still used as one of the flotation agents in the lead concentrator."

This story Did 79 soldiers die of cyanide? first appeared on The North West Star.