New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
A conference of senior officers convened by the DDMS 2 NZEF in Maadi Camp on 27 June studied the question of graded men. The DDMS represented that he had never been satisfied that due regard had been taken of the recommendations of medical boards as to employment of Grade III men. He thought that there should be a special officer appointed to see that men were employed as soon as possible in suitable capacities, thus avoiding disappointment and deterioration in the graded men due to periods of inactivity. It was decided that a return should be secured from all base units indicating the number of Grade II and Grade III men employed. Later, it would be decided whether the least employable of the graded men should be returned to New Zealand on the grounds of ‘services no longer required’ as well as of medical unfitness.
As opposed to conditions in England in the First World War, there was no doubt that the morale of graded men tended to deteriorate in Egypt. The long delays before shipment of some of page 245 those actually placed on the New Zealand roll also led to some degree of resentment.
Numbers of soldiers of the 5th Reinforcements appeared before medical boards soon after their arrival in Egypt, and it was obvious that many men who should never have been passed for service out of New Zealand had been sent overseas. A list prepared on 4 July 1941, which was not claimed to be complete by any means, showed seven who had been immediately graded IV for return to New Zealand on account of pre-enlistment disabilities. It was pointed out at the time that, quite apart from the waste of the country's money and the time of those charged with the men's training, the sending of unfit troops overseas caused great inconvenience, and the efficiency of units was impaired.
During July 155 men were sent by commanding officers to ADMS NZ Division for regrading, and of these 149 were transferred to Base for reboarding. Orthopaedic cases, particularly flat feet, predominated and an unduly high proportion were cases from late reinforcements. This suggested the necessity for stricter medical examinations in New Zealand. The ADMS NZ Division commented that, to say the least, it was most uneconomic to train and equip men, send them overseas, and then, as soon as they reached the Division, start them on their homeward journey to New Zealand.
Instances were still brought to notice of men who should never have been accepted for service overseas. Cases with histories of head injuries, epilepsy, asthma, and peptic ulcer were quite common. The DDMS was of the opinion that there should be used in New Zealand on medical examination a questionnaire covering the more common pre-enlistment disabilities.
Major Coverdale at that time stressed the desirability of retaining in the Division the many men whose eyesight was unsatisfactory for shooting but who could be used for other or non-combatant duties. He stated that the men deteriorated badly if sent back to Base, and further suggested that ophthalmic investigation at mobilisation camps in New Zealand would result in the elimination of unsatisfactory men from overseas drafts.
Graded men presented a problem in the Middle East from 1941 onwards. Their numbers steadily increased and it became more and more difficult to provide them with congenial employment. From 1 April to 30 June medical boards were held on 594 soldiers, of whom 36 were placed in Grade I, 44 in Grade Ia, 102 in Grade II, 42 in Grade III, and 370 in Grade IV for return to New Zealand. The analysis of only two months' medical boards—for July and August 1941—shows that 892 men appeared before medical boards in this period, and of these 86 were placed in Grade I, 56 in Grade page 246 Ia, 247 in Grade II, 38 in Grade III, while 465 were graded for return to New Zealand. The most common disabilities in the last group of 465 were: functional nervous disease 76; organic nervous disease 29; accidental injuries 33; battle casualties 31; arthritis 37; gastro-intestinal disorders 25; peptic ulcer 17; otitis media 24; asthma 21; skin disease 21; respiratory disease 23; and rheumatic fever 11.
An analysis of the 600 graded men, other than those already on the New Zealand roll, at Maadi Camp on 30 September 1941 showed that 113 were Grade Ia, 415 Grade II, and 72 Grade III. Their disabilities were: foot disabilities 126; functional nervous diseases 70; accidental injuries 66; arthritis 41; cardio-vascular disorders 36; eye disabilities 33; otitis media 25; deafness 24; fibrositis 20; mental dullness 19; dermatitis 15; asthma 14; battle casualties 12; respiratory diseases 11; organic nervous diseases 11; gastro-intestinal disorders 10; others 67—total 600.