Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
The more seriously wounded were invalided back to New Zealand on the Maunganui, which arrived at Port Tewfik on 22 May on her first voyage as a hospital ship, with Col D. N. W. Murray1 in command and Miss E. M. Lewis2 as Matron. To take most of the wounded men the ship was kept in port until 10 June, when she took on board 338 New Zealanders and 40 Australians for the journey home. Between January and April the ship had been refitted at Wellington as a floating hospital, thoroughly up-to-date in every way and fully equipped with the latest medical and surgical appliances. Her interior was as impressive as her striking outer appearance, with its gleaming whiteness relieved by a green band round the hull and huge Red Crosses on each side. The operating block—main theatre, plaster room, and X-ray department—was an object of special pride, often admired by the staffs of other hospital ships.
The patients had come from Cairo by hospital train overnight, and embarkation began early on 10 June. The system of embarkation had been well planned beforehand and in three hours all the patients were on board, including 79 stretcher cases. Surprise was expressed by the British embarkation officers that loading had been completed so quickly. During the morning General Freyberg and Brig MacCormick talked with the patients on the ambulance train and on the ship.
Whether walking or on stretchers, the patients came on board with broad grins, pleased at the thought of going home. Guides page 147 or stretcher-bearers took them to their beds in the wards, whose cool green and cream walls were a restful contrast to the glare of the desert. The sisters ensured that the men were comfortable. The first meal on board was a revelation. An abundance of New Zealand produce kept fresh in the freezing chambers made the patients realise what they had been missing.
The Maunganui finished taking on oil and water in the afternoon and set sail on her month's voyage to New Zealand, calling at Colombo and Fremantle, where the men able to go ashore were entertained by local residents. Then came a welcome for all at Wellington, where the patients passed into the care of the Casualty Clearing Hospital at Aotea Quay. After a few days the Maunganui turned her nose again to the Middle East for the second of her steady round of voyages. On the way to Egypt the medical staff cleaned up the ship and prepared for the next intake of sick and wounded.
Before the Maunganui reached Port Tewfik again in August the Netherlands hospital ship Oranje had called there for a load of Australian and New Zealand patients. The Oranje, a magnificent new ship, large and fast, had been made available to Australia and New Zealand to bring home sick and wounded from the Middle East. Fitted out earlier in the year as a hospital ship, she had a composite Dutch, Australian, and New Zealand medical staff. The New Zealand complement remained on board throughout the war, though later the ship was mainly engaged in taking British invalids to the United Kingdom. On 7 August the Oranje embarked 199 New Zealand and 431 Australian patients.