The War Effort of New Zealand
The New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Salonika.
Salonika which was founded about 300 B.C. was named after Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great, who married Kassandra the founder of the City.
The city has been successively in possession of the Romans (148 B.C.), Saracens (904 A.D.), Normans (1185), Boneface (1204), Epirotes, Venetians (1423), and Turks (1430). On November 8th, 1912, Salonika, with a Turkish garrison of over 20,000 men surrendered to a Greek army attacking from the West. Bulgaria desired the possession of the city, but in the Balkan war, which arose over the division of the spoils, she had to concede this part of Macedonia to the Greeks. The present population is given as 180,000 of which half are Jews, one-fifth Greeks, one-fifth Turks, 10,000 Bulgarians, and the rest western Europeans and others.
The New Zealand Stationary Hospital had been established for a little more than three-and-a-half months at Port Said when the welcome order to proceed to a "certain destination near the sea and with a mild, equable climate" was received. The unit sailed from Alexandria on October 19th, 1915, on H.M.T.S. Marquette. On the Marquette was also the 29th Divisional Ammunition Column, with its transport and animals. The vessel took a devious course, and on the morning of October 23rd, when entering the Gulf of Salonika, was torpedoed. The vessel sank rapidly—the time was estimated as seven-and-a-half minutes from the striking of the torpedo. Of the whole ship's complement about 170 were lost, amongst whom were the following "personnel" of the hospital: 10 sisters of the N.Z. Army Nursing Service; 22 other ranks of the N.Z. Medical Corps (four of whom were "B" men attached) and four native Egyptians, attached.
The most distressing feature of the sinking of the Marquette was the loss of the sisters. The alarm post for these ladies was the saloon companion way, and the boats allotted to them were the forward port and starboard boats. Almost immediately after being struck the vessel listed heavily to port. This rendered the lowering of the boat on the starboard side difficult, and the difficulty was made an impossibility by the presence of an open iron door on the mule deck below, which projected just underneath the davits. A few nurses got into this boat, but were thrown into the water when it struck the door. The forward port boat was filled with occupants and was lowered into the water according to programme. There were, however, a number of sisters still in the ship to be rescued. The second port boat had been lowered and though still in the falls appeared to be resting on the water. Someone by reaching out secured a loose rope attached to the davits, and the remaining sisters were by this means enabled to slide down into the boat. As the ship sank the list was corrected, but she gradually page 107went down by the head, and the second boat, being still attached to the davits and evidently free of the water, came forward under the influence of gravity as the bows of the vessel went down, and fell on the first boat. Some of the nurses were injured and both boats were damaged and rendered unseaworthy.
A fact generally overlooked when a vessel was torpedoed was that the impetus she had when struck carried her some distance before she sank. Consequently those who remained late on the ship had the advantage of such flotsam as boats carried free, rafts, hatches, deckhouses, etc.. On the other hand those who left the ship early dropped behind out of reach of this wreckage. The fear of being sucked down by the sinking vessel appeared to be largely unfounded. Only one instance of this having occurred came to notice, although, of course, there may have been other experiences.
The vessel was struck about 9.15 a.m. Many of the survivors remained in the water until picked up late in the afternoon by a French destroyer (the Tirailleur) and a British mine sweeper (the Lynx). One party in boats reached the coast of Greece, and some of them were later taken off by the Lynx though others who had gone inland to search for food and shelter were conveyed down to Larrissa, and thence to Volo until finally they succeeded in returning to Salonika on the 27th.
Salonika at this time was greatly congested. Three French and two British divisions (subsequently increased to five divisions each) were quartered there, and several divisions of Greek troops had also been mobilised in the locality. The streets were crowded with human beings of many races. German and Austrian officers were among them. The unloading of British and French ships was carried out at one small wharf, which was totally inadequate for the purpose. Transport was scarce and confusion prevailed generally. The "obstruction" of the Greeks was obvious at every turn. Later this "obstructiveness" almost developed into active hostility. Many British soldiers were stabbed.
The unit, which had been billeted in the city, moved out to Lembet camp about three-and-a-half miles away where the French and British troops were quartered. On November 12th it took over the site and tents occupied by the 25th C.C.S. On November 19th the officers who had gone to Egypt returned with equipment and reinforcements, and the construction of the hospital went rapidly forward. The tents sent over from Egypt for the hospital were large marquees of the E.P.I.P. pattern and formed excellent hospital accommodation.
From November 27th-30th the weather was very cold with strong winds, sleet and snow, described locally as a "Vardar blizzard" because it came down the valley of the Vardar River. It was this blizzard which swept over Gallipoli and caused so many casualties there.
A few days later a number of severe cases of frost bite were admitted to the hospital, from a little north of Doiran, where the front line then was. These men stated that they had been standing in trenches with water over their boot tops, and that during the blizzard their blankets and great coats had been frozen rigid. As the 10th Division had only recently arrived from Gallipoli, where most men had suffered from dysentery, this violent change of climate had naturally had a very severe effect.
The news from the front at this time was vague and uncertain but it appeared quite clear that our troops were retiring and that a line of trenches was being constructed on the other side of the crescent of hills, which on the north, bounded the flat land on which Salonika and Lembet were situated. This defensive line was then occupied by the British as far as Stavros on the Gulf of Orfano. The requirements for the defence of this line were minimised by the inclusion in it of the Lakes of Langaza and Beshik. page 110The British left flank joined the French, who carried the line to the Vardar River and thence down the river to the marshes at its mouth. In front of the British three lines of trenches and entanglements was the Langaza Plain, seven to nine miles wide. The enemy was said to be about to attack almost daily, but this part of the line was never attempted.
On December 30th the camp was visited by enemy aeroplanes which dropped numerous bombs. As a protection against further raids a large red cross 30 yds. by 20 yds. was painted on the ground on each side of the ridge on which the hospital was situated, and it is only fair to say that, although enemy aircraft frequently came over afterwards no bombs were dropped as close to the hospital as on the first occasion. A further precaution adopted was the discolouring of all the tents with mud. Later, in France, a stain was provided for this purpose, but the mud served us admirably though the rain washed it off and it required to be reapplied. Potassium permanganate solution was used by some units, but it made the canvas almost black and rotted it.
On December 31st the German, Austrian and Turkish consuls were arrested and placed on a French warship, because the Allies "regarded the bombing of Salonika as a violation of Greek neutrality and an act of war." A number of other Germans and Austrians were also arrested and deported. On January 7th, 1916, however, the camp was again severely bombed, causing a number of casualties, and about 3 a.m. on January 31st Salonika was visited by a zeppelin which dropped many bombs on the city and in the harbour, and a few on Lembet Camp.
On February 10th a sergeant of the N.Z. Ordnance Department arrived from Egypt on the Achaia with a large quantity of gift material from New Zealand, but during the night a fire broke out on the ship and destroyed it all. We later received much gift material from New Zealand, and needless to say it was always most welcome and useful; but it is doubtful if we ever required it more than on that occasion, and to lose it when it was actually at our door was bitterly disappointing.
On March 1st we were notified that the unit was to page 111proceed to Egypt on H.S. Lanfranc. Two days later the vessel arrived with the No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital which was to relieve us, and on the 7th we left for Port Said. It was with great regret that the unit left Salonika. It had observed order grow out of apparent chaos, defensive positions constructed, positions said to be capable of with-standing any onslaught likely to be made by the enemy; it had made many friends, and as a unit it had become one of the oldest inhabitants.
We had accommodated our patients in the large E.P.I.P. tents, with tarpaulins for flooring. Around the marquees were deep trenches, and the heating was with oil stoves. In fine weather the sides of the tents could be easily taken down to admit the sun; and, periodically, all patients were removed, the tarpaulin lifted, and the sides thrown open. The operating theatre was one of these tents, but with a raised wooden floor, and strong incandescent light. Many operations were done there. An X-ray room was also built, and the plant was in working order some time before the unit left. All paths had been gravelled and a road built up to the hospital. All water had to be carted up. For the nursing sisters a compound bad been made by erecting tents on terraces on the hill-side, and dug-outs were constructed for protection against bombing and possible shelling.
That the unit was efficient and did work of considerable value in Salonika was the opinion of others as well as of itself; and the D.M.S. at Salonika, Surgeon-General (now Sir William) MacPherson, C.B., expressed his great appreciation—an appreciation to which he gave very practical expression in the great kindness he showed the unit subsequently in France. Others also expressed their admiration of the unit's work, and that at a time of stress when compliments were not thrown about freely. The efficiency, which the unit justly claimed, was to be attributed almost entirely to the careful selection of the staff, in which the principle followed was to employ men in their military capacity in positions for which their civil occupation fitted them, giving each man so employed an understudy similarly qualified. A number of expert clerks, able to write shorthand and to typewrite, page 112some of them from responsible positions in good business houses, proved invaluable in the orderly room. Expert carpenters and plumbers were made most useful everywhere. The cooks, although trained in well-appointed kitchens, worked with wonderful efficiency under, often, very adverse conditions.
Of the technical work done by the hospital at Salonika, the medical portion was by far the most important. It comprised chiefly the treatment of cases of typhoid, para-typhoid, dysentery, trench-fever and frost-bite. Para-typhoid at this time was recognised as a definite entity, and, as such, the cases were treated in separate wards. The cases of dysentery sent to us had occurred chiefly among the 10th Division, transferred from Gallipoli to Salonika. Trench-fever was identified at Salonika as a separate affection first of all by the Staff of No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, and this matter formed the basis of a discussion at one of the first meetings of the Salonika Medical Society. During the retreat of the 10th Division from Serbia many cases of severe frost bite occurred, and the hospital received several hundreds of them. The majority of the cases required evacuation by hospital ship for further treatment elsewhere.
During the latter portion of the stay in Salonika laboratory facilities became available. This, needless to say, was of the greatest possible assistance in the exact diagnosis of the enterica and dysenterica groups of intestinal disease. Surgically, during the greater portion of the stay of the hospital in Salonika, the work consisted of the ordinary treatment of adult civilian life, with a large proportion of accidents. In addition to these we had cases of wounds received as a result of the many enemy air raids which took place.
During the months the hospital spent at Salonika, the formation of the Salonika Medical Society with the Director of Medical Services, Major-General Sir William MacPherson, K.C.M.G., C.B., as its President was of the greatest possible value in promoting and stimulating interest upon the many subjects which presented themselves for decision, and the Society was undoubtedly a very valuable means of affording the medical officers belonging to the different services opportunities page 113of seeing each others' hospitals and, thereby, having a variety of interests provided for them which ordinarily would not have been available.
New Zealand Hospitals in Egypt.
The history of New Zealand hospitals in Egypt commenced with the arrival of the two New Zealand Stationary Hospitals in June and July, 1915, respectively. As little provision had been made for the separate treatment and disposal of the New Zealand sick and wounded, they were admitted to the British and Australian General and Convalescent hospitals until, in April, 1915, the Egyptian Army Hospital, Pont de Koubbeh at Cairo, was very kindly offered by the Sirdar for the use of the New Zealand force and was staffed by R.A.M.C. and N.Z.M.C. officers, nurses and men.
It was a large stone building, two stories high, with deep verandas, and was erected during Lord Kitchener's tenure of office in Egypt. Though there was only accommodation in the building for about 250 patients, it had a large quadrangle which, when taken over by the No. 2 N.Z. Stationary Hospital, was covered with marquees.
These two stationary hospitals—the only complete medical hospitals which left New Zealand, and from which were drawn officers, nurses and men for such units as the No. 2 and 3 N.Z. General Hospitals and the 4th Field Ambulance—have been likened to Mary and Martha, and it was certainly an excellent analogy. The No. 1 N.Z. Stationary Hospital, which became the N.Z. Stationary Hospital, remained as such until after the Armistice. This hospital had a long and interesting history; and, though it was enlarged and its personnel changed, there always remained a nucleus to instil into the newcomer, whether M.O., nurse, or orderly, that esprit de corps which upheld its characteristic individuality. Its establishment consisted of seven medical officers, one quartermaster, and 86 other ranks, and it had provision for two hundred beds; but after its arrival in Port Said nurses of the N.Z.A.N.S. were attached and the accommodation was increased to 600 beds. The hospital was beautifully situated on the promenade facing the Mediterranean. It comprised the buildings of the American page 114Mission School, for surgical cases, and marquees for the less severe medical cases and convalescents.
The No. 2 N.Z. Stationary Hospital, immediately on its arrival in July, 1915, took over Pont de Koubbeh, including 25 N.Z. Army Nursing Sisters, who had been attached there for duty some weeks previously. It was rapidly enlarged to 500 beds, but with the heavy casualties during the August advance the number was constantly increased. Later, to the chagrin of the staff, it was eventually transformed into a base hospital of 1,040 beds (for 40 officers and 1000 other ranks), and its name changed to that of the No. 1 N.Z. General Hospital; and in June 1916, the staff and a large part of the equipment were transferred to Brockenhurst, England. This rapid expansion threw a very great strain upon the staff, and the work was extremely arduous especially as the wounds, practically without exception, were septic. Indeed, during August 1915, cases arrived at the hospital from Gallipoli with the first field dressing still on.
The need for convalescent hospitals was first realised in May, 1915. A house was taken over at Zeitoun, Cairo, but as it proved quite inadequate to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers, a convalescent hospital was opened by Lady Godley in Alexandria, where the men could have the benefit of the more bracing sea breezes.page 115
In October, there arrived in Cairo the Aotea Convalescent Hospital, equipped by the residents of Wanganui. A house was taken at Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, and even though the accommodation was raised to 80, and later to 100, the establishment was always taxed to the utmost. This hospital remained after the Division had embarked for France, and was the convalescent centre for the N.Z. Mounted Brigade until the Armistice. It was in every respect an ideal establishment, and was thoroughly appreciated by the "diggers," especially after the departure of the N.Z. General Hospital and the closing down of the other convalescent hospitals.
It was only after the later experience of hospital methods and administration in England and France that one could realise the tremendous difficulties which beset those who bore the burden of the day in Egypt during the summer of 1915. In those days there was a shortage of drugs, and of equipment, and though the glory of the battlefields was not the lot of those who worked in them, yet these New Zealanders by their enthusiasm and devotion to duty established and built up an organisation which proved to be, then and later, of inestimable benefit to their sick and wounded countrymen.
New Zealand Hospitals in the United Kingdom.
It is difficult to realise that until only a comparatively few months ago the New Zealand Expeditionary Force had three large general hospitals, a section of a special jaw hospital, a convalescent hospital, and officers', and also a nurses' home in the United Kingdom! …. Yet if we look back we can remember how each of these units from time to time was the scene of great activity, anxiety, and ceaseless toil,—when the inspiration, hope and brightness of officers and nurses had a most cheering and stimulating effect upon the patients.
Immediately after war was declared many hundreds of New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom offered their services to their country and were examined by New Zealand medical officers resident there. No separate New Zealand hospital however was yet required. The first of our hospitals to be founded there was the New Zealand War Contingent Hospital at Walton-on-Thames, which opened its doors to receive New Zealand patients on 1st August, 1915.
Its first cases arrived within two days of its establishment, consisting of men from Gallipoli. Never will those who saw the admission of these men forget the delight they exhibited when they found that they were within a hospital which bore the name of their own country, was officered and run by New Zealanders, and, above all else, had a New Zealand "atmosphere" permeating its wards and surroundings. From then onwards, until the closing of the institution, Walton-on-Thames became one of the "big homes" in the United Kingdom for New Zealand soldiers.
After the first convoy, fresh cases arrived almost daily. As many of our lads as possible were transferred there, also, from British hospitals to which they had been sent, more especially from those institutions in outlying places away from London. Priority was always given to solitary men, or those in other hospitals in small numbers. Those who could not enter Walton were, as far as possible, concentrated in the Second London General Hospital.
The grounds at Walton were delightful with beautiful page 118walks, flower beds, and green fields. The garden was well kept, and the fine old English cedars and other trees lent a peculiar charm to the surroundings. On one side of the ground the banks were swept by the Thames, and the delight of our lads in watching the river with the numerous boats constantly passing up and down never dwindled. Boating on the river, and swimming, became favourite pastimes. But the New Zealand atmosphere of the institution, perhaps after all, appealed to the lads more than anything else, and they were very sorry when, cured of their complaints, it became necessary for them to be transferred—in the early days to Weymouth, and, at a later period, to Hornchurch. People living in the neighbourhood were, from the opening day of the hospital, anxious to show hospitality to the patients, and we all feel grateful for the numerous acts of kindness which were bestowed upon the men by the residents. Boating parties, picnics on the river, theatre parties, and visits by motor to Windsor and other important places left no time for a man to be dull or homesick. The constant invitations to local homes from some of the best people in the neighbourhood, made for mutual understanding and kindly feeling.
New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom early learned to look upon Walton as the centre at which they were likely to find sick or wounded New Zealanders who had been transferred to the United Kingdom, or where they would be most likely to hear of the whereabouts of their soldier friends who were still in Imperial hospitals.
Some very serious cases were early admitted. One was a man who had some forty wounds. He did well, but unfortunately, after some four or five weeks of hope and confidence he suddenly sank and died. He was the first New Zealander to die in a New Zealand hospital in the United Kingdom.
One funeral, the fifth to take place in Walton, will always remain a vivid picture in the minds of those who attended. It had been agreed to bury our dead in the Walton Cemetery, portions of which contiguous to each other had been allotted to those belonging to the Church of England, and the Roman Catholic, and Non-Conformist faiths, the intention being that page 119at the end of the war a commemorative monument should be erected in the grounds. However, in this particular instance the relatives of the man wished the body to be sent to Scotland. It was a day of heavy snow, and the gun-carriage and military band were prevented from arriving at Walton at the agreed time. We, therefore, requisitioned one of our ambulances and placed the coffin upon it. The procession to the railway station which was about one and a quarter miles distant was most impressive. Behind the snow-covered ambulance marched the men in their blues, their hats snow-laden; the trees and buildings along the route were all white, and from 12 to 15 inches of snow lay on the road. Nought was to be heard except the muffled sound of the wheels. We marched slowly along and at last arrived at the station white in its pall of snow. The coffin was reverently placed in the special van and was taken by rail to the relatives in Scotland. Every man present felt particularly sad.
The name of the hospital was changed after a few months to the New Zealand Military Hospital. Later, when the N.Z. Expeditionary Force took it over from the New Zealand War Contingent Association, it became known as the No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital. At that time the accommodation was for about 350 patients, the hospital building holding about 100, and the annexe over 200. There was also a special ward for infectious diseases. The annexe had been built in such a manner that if necessary additions could be made to bring the number of beds up to 520. These additions were found advisable immediately the military took over the hospital. After a while, still further accommodation being required, the large hotel at Oatlands Park was taken over and altered to make a section of the hospital. Oatlands Park was specially used for medical, limbless, and tuberculous cases. Altogether, toward the end of 1918, Walton Hospital was able to accommodate nearly 1,900 patients. Various alterations were necessary from time to time, and accommodation was also made for 50 officers.
It is also a source of gratification and pride that the people of Walton have been good enough to say very kind things concerning the New Zealanders, who, with indeed very few exceptions, behaved in the most creditable way.
The main surgical work for "other ranks" was performed at the Lady Hardinge hospital, Balmerlawn being used for medical cases. The administration of this hospital was most satisfactory. The work of the medical officers, the nursing sisters, medical orderlies, v.a.d's., and all those connected with the hospital, was, at Brockenhurst, as in all New Zealand hospitals, of a very high order.
Codford hospital was taken over by the New Zealand authorities a few months after Brockenhurst and was known as No. 3 New Zealand General Hospital. Its situation in the Salisbury Plain area enabled it to afford accommodation for the sick from Codford Camp just opposite, and Sling Camp a few miles away by road. As the New Zealand Command Depot at Codford accommodated 2,500 men it was obvious that a hospital in the immediate vicinity was required. This hospital was nearly as completely equipped as its sister institutions, but obviously the cases received were not, for the most part, as serious as those admitted from France to Walton-on-Thames, or Brockenhurst. Certainly many bad medical cases gained admission and occasionally surgical ones.
Hornchurch Convalescent Hospital.
The surroundings of the hospital and huts were healthy, and in some parts were made beautiful by well-laid-out gardens. The parade ground was sufficiently large for all necessary purposes. The New Zealand War Contingent Association, here as elsewhere, built a hall for the accommodation and amusement of the men. The New Zealand Y.M.C.A. also erected a fine edifice. The deepest gratitude was felt by all medical officers towards these two bodies for their assistance in the edification and comfort of the New Zealand sick and wounded.
Brighton Convalescent Homes.
Two New Zealand officers' homes, run conjointly, were instituted at Brighton, that great seaside resort dear to the hearts of all Londoners. The two houses at Lewes Crescent which were used for this purpose, were offered gratuitously by Mr. and Mrs. Knight the owners, to whom New Zealand owes a debt of gratitude. They were excellently situated overlooking the sea with magnificent gardens attached. The furnishing of the houses was arranged in the most tasteful manner. In front was a greensward with tennis grounds, and, at the foot of the sea-cliff, facilities for sea bathing and boating. Although the houses provided for 50 convalescent officers, there were occasions when the accommodation was severely taxed. It was always a great pleasure to visit the home and see the happiness and contentment written on all faces. The air was good, while the care and attention given by the medical officer and nursing staff, together with the page 126massage treatment, soon made sick-looking officers appear once more robust.
There was also at Brighton a Convalescent Home for the New Zealand Army Nursing Sisters. It answered a similar purpose to that of the officers' home, and was excellently run.
From May 1st, 1916, to the time when the New Zealand hospitals were closed there were about 70,000 admissions of New Zealanders to New Zealand and Imperial hospitals in the United Kingdom. Walton-on-Thames admitted over 25,000 patients, and Brockenhurst well over 20,000.
Looking back over the period of their existence one might safely say that the New Zealand hospitals in the United Kingdom fulfilled their purpose. They accommodated and gave the necessary treatment to the vast majority of New Zealand officers, nurses, and other ranks. In them was created perhaps indefinably a New Zealand "atmosphere," and this gave to the men a feeling of contentment, assurance and happiness. The medical officers, nurses, v.a.d's., and all the other men and women, who in various ways contributed to the care and happiness of the patients, gave of their best; and the high order of the giving was always fully appreciated by the patients.
The work performed at New Zealand Medical Headquarters, London, where were carried out the organisation, equipment, and administration of the New Zealand hospitals, and other details, the framing of the general medical policy, the compilation of statistics, the arranging of medical boards, hardly comes within the scope of the present chapter which deals with the hospitals only.