Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
In July the number of flies at Alamein increased alarmingly. They were so thick and persistent that it was impossible to keep them from contaminating food or to elude their tormenting attentions. The onset of the plague lay in circumstances beyond medical control, but medical help was sought in an attempt to get rid of it. When 4 Field Hygiene Section came down from Syria it had handed over its vehicles to other units in the Mersa Matruh area, and most of the section was sent back to Maadi, while Maj Boyd became liaison medical officer with the Division. At the end of July six men from the section were called back to the desert and attached to the ADSs. Fly breeding was traced to unburied dead in wadis in the front lines and to the insanitary state of the Italian positions that had been captured. The rocky ground made good sanitation a problem. Life became extremely busy for the hygiene men with the Division, and the main body of the unit at Maadi lent its support by constructing fly-traps and incinerator latrines and making up gallons of fly poison. As they distributed this material and fought the flies, the few members of the unit in the divisional area page 217 became more popular than ever before. But the flies had a big start, and this was their best breeding season. Traps and swatting killed millions of them, but they still seemed to be as thick as ever.
In August one of 4 ADS staff, Pte F. Fleming, wrote:
‘The flies are persistent and aggressive. There seems to be no escape from them. Every meal is a battle with them. Traps have accounted for thousands. The ground for a yard or so around “killer tins” is inches deep in dead flies and you can swot them by the dozen, but it is like mopping up the Mediterranean with a piece of blotting paper. Nets are spread over the cabs of vehicles, and some men wear nets like bee-keepers’ veils over their heads. The netting on our bivvies is a blessing—it allows us to keep the numbers down inside to manageable figures, but we can see the little black devils swarming outside. They seem to hang around waiting for the curtain to be lifted, when they swarm in. I regularly catch three or four in my tea now and eat with a spoon, always keeping one hand waving over the dish.’
In the blazing August heat in the desert the men were feeling the strain of a long period in the line, which even when the action was static meant that they were tied down to their slit trenches. With practically no fresh food and the plague of flies, it was little wonder that the incidence of sickness should rise, though the rate in the Division was the lowest in 13 Corps at that time. Even among the ambulance men mild dysentery was fairly common, and cases of jaundice were beginning to appear in most units.