New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
On arrival, the ADMS found that the site chosen for the Base Camp was in the desert east of Maadi, eight miles up the Nile from Cairo, where a British garden suburb had been laid out very attractively since the First World War. The camp overlooked the Nile valley and was sited on an extensive empty area of raised rocky plateau which was covered by only a thin layer of sand. The site was an excellent one, much superior to the site at Zeitoun occupied by 1 NZEF in the 1914–18 War. Except on the side nearest the river, where Maadi township lay, there were no inhabited areas anywhere near the camp and there was plenty of room for expansion.
The New Zealand troops came under command of HQ BTE (British Troops in Egypt), and the special services of that command, as well as its knowledge and experience of local conditions, were made freely available.
Already preparations were well ahead, and British and Indian engineers employing Egyptian labour had laid out the camp. Seven miles of tarmac road, six miles of water mains, and more than four miles of drains had been laid down. More than 150 huts had been built to provide cookhouses, messrooms, canteens, and shower-houses, though all the huts were not completed. Colonel MacCormick reported that the camp was only half finished when the troops arrived, and that, under these conditions, it was impossible to carry out fully many of the necessary health precautions. Accommodation for personnel was provided in tents, which were very difficult to erect because of the hard ground. The troops, wearing serge on disembarkation, arrived at Suez and reached Maadi by train, and were welcomed into their camp by details from British units who had made preparations, including the provision of a meal, for their arrival. The sick cases which required hospital care were transferred to a British hospital at Moascar, and the eighteen nursing sisters were sent to 2/10 British General Hospital at Helmieh. Fortunately, the force arrived during the most healthy period of the year.
Shortly after the echelon arrived the ADMS gave a lecture to the commanding officers and the medical officers on important aspects of hygiene, disease, and sanitation. He pointed out the necessity for taking every health precaution because of the very low standard page 43 of cleanliness and sanitation of the fellahin and the prevalence of dust and flies, the plagues of Egypt. Many diseases were endemic and widespread, though the local inhabitants had developed a high immunity to many of them. Troops, especially New Zealand troops, on their arrival in the country were very susceptible to these diseases, above all to dysentery. The medical arrangements that were instituted to safeguard the health of the troops and the special problems encountered will be considered in appropriate sections.