New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
The large majority of the New Zealand casualties were evacuated to the New Zealand base hospitals then sited at Helwan and El Ballah, and some were admitted to our hospital then functioning at Beirut. Numbers were, however, still evacuated to the British hospitals in the Canal area and many to Palestine. Many of the more serious cases came by air to Helwan and arrived in good condition. It was noted that less surgical attention than usual had been given in the forward areas, especially during the beginning of the battle. The cases which had had surgical toilet had arrived with cleaner wounds.
A large proportion of very severe wounds from anti-tank and anti-personnel mines was noted, and bilateral crush fracture of the os calcis was present in several cases. Some serious and infected chest cases were seen. The amputations were generally satisfactory, but skin traction had not been fully utilised. The importance of the avoidance of the introduction of fluid or drops into the ears following blast injury was stressed.
In a few cases of fracture sent back without splints very definite evidence of shock was seen, in marked contrast to the condition of those adequately splinted, which arrived at the base in excellent condition. The deleterious effect of long journeys in severe cases was particularly noted by 2 NZ General Hospital at El Ballah, this corresponding with their experience at Garawla during the Second Libyan Campaign. The cases seen at Beirut arrived in good condition by hospital ship from Alexandria.
The Consultant Surgeon 2 NZEF, in a survey at the time, said:
Summing up, one's impression of forward surgery at the battle of Alamein is one of exceedingly efficient work. The administrative arrangements for evacuating the wounded were excellent. The provision of many new forward surgical units allowed a great many cases, though not all, to be dealt with. Abdominal cases were able to be operated on in large numbers, and post-operative treatment in the forward areas was good. The provision of beds for the serious cases, mainly abdomens, held during the critical periods in the forward operating centres, has rendered satisfactory nursing possible. Head injuries were mostly evacuated to the Head Centre at Cairo. Fractures were dealt with adequately and splinted very well, page 401 especially the femurs. The too-frequent changing of dressings was prevented, many cases arriving at the Base with their field dressings on, which in the great majority of cases, meant sensible discretion on the part of the forward units. It is being realised more and more that a real wound toilet means operative treatment, that re-dressing a wound means another chance of contamination. The corollary is that for efficient wound treatment the maximum of forward surgical operating teams is essential. Our own New Zealand units are to be highly commended for their hard and efficient work.