New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
The climatic conditions experienced at the base camps in Egypt were exacting in the summer months as there was little protection in the thin-walled huts and the tents from the excessive heat. The strong hot desert winds, the khamsins, with their associated sandstorms, added to the discomfort. It was thought that infection was possibly carried into the camp in the sand blown from the Egyptian settlements nearby. The flying sand was thought to be responsible for some of the prevalent nose and throat infections and also for chronic conjunctivitis.
It became necessary in the summer to cease active training in the afternoon and have a rest period. Temperatures up to 116 degrees F. in the shade were registered in June and over 110 degrees often in following summers. Fortunately, it was a dry heat and little harm was done except for some loss of weight and general debility. Heat exhaustion was uncommon and when it occurred was due largely to the loss of salt associated with excessive sweating. Drinks of salted water, flavoured with lime or lemon, were used as preventatives. It was found that head covering was relatively unimportant and topees quite unnecessary. Sunburn, also, did not occur away from the seaside. Excessive sweating was inevitable and thus skin diseases, especially seborrhoea, were prevalent; the feet were especially affected.
The light drill clothing, with shorts and shirts the normal summer uniform, proved very satisfactory. In the winter months battle dress was worn and the cold nights made extra blankets necessary.
Rain was practically unknown in Cairo, falling on only two or three days in the winter.
Climatic conditions in the Western Desert are not unhealthy so long as the wind blows from the sea. But the khamsin may spring up very suddenly, leading to a rapid rise in air temperature and a saturation of the air with fine dust, particularly in parts where motor transport has broken up the surface. During one of these khamsins, in June, a number of cases were treated for heat exhaustion, but all were mild and recovered quickly. Most of the troops remained located near the coast, where the climate was more invigorating than in the vicinity of Cairo. The men felt fitter and enjoyed the sea-bathing.