Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific
XIII: Medical Services with Fiji Defence Force
XIII: Medical Services with Fiji Defence Force
When the bulk of the troops of 8 Brigade Group returned to New Zealand in July and August 1942 to form 3 NZ Division, there remained in Fiji at the request of the United States Forces some 1000 New Zealanders, mainly in anti-aircraft and commando units. The old nomenclature of 8 Brigade and 14 Brigade was now obsolete and this force became known as Fiji Section, 2 NZEF. With it in Fiji there were units of the RNZAF with a strength of approximately 1000 and a Fijian force which varied in strength from 2000 to 4000. Together, these forces constituted the Fiji Defence Force.
The medical services for the New Zealand troops and Air Force were provided by four medical officers. Owing to the scattered nature of the force, split as it was into eastern and western areas, its demands taxed their capacities. In March 1943 there was an increase in the medical officers and in May 1943 the RNZAF units page 100 became independent as regards medical services. Additional postings during 1943 provided for a Senior Medical Officer and six RMOs by the end of the year. By this time, however, the New Zealanders also had the Fijian troops under command, and although they were served by a Fijian medical officer, an Indian medical officer and native medical practitioners, this entailed added responsibilities. The Fijians were treated in civil hospitals.
Arrangements were made for New Zealanders to be admitted to American hospitals for treatment and this happy arrangement was continued until November 1944. The American hospitals were No. 71 (formerly Tamavua), No. 142 at Sambeto, and No. 18 (Johns Hopkins specialist hospital). The American units had ample capacity to cater for the New Zealanders and their service was excellent. The American custom of multiple investigations caused the average hospital stay to be prolonged by New Zealand standards. Medical supplies were drawn from the American medical supply depot.
The health of the New Zealand personnel generally was good, with a freedom from epidemics, but due to cutaneous infections, boils, septic sores and ringworm, the average non-effective strengths were considerably higher than in New Zealand. Gastro-enteritis and upper respiratory tract infections were also a common cause of hospitalisation. It was felt that the men took inadequate steps to prevent and treat early insect bites and abrasions, which appeared to be the starting point of many skin infections.
The Army and Air Force drew New Zealand rations through the American authorities. The diet consisted of meat, potatoes, bread and flour products, with a certain and variable amount of fruit and vegetables. It was inferior in quality and food values to the American rations, against which however the New Zealanders had a prejudice. The development of unit vegetable gardens and the issue of fruit juices helped to build up the diet to a more satisfactory standard, although at times there were deficiencies.
It was necessary to increase the supervision of hygiene and sanitation in the numerous widely dispersed camps of 2 NZEF and Fiji Military Force units, and reinforcements of a hygiene officer and NCOs were sent from New Zealand in August 1943. The problem of keeping mosquitoes under control was an important one in itself, apart from checking on water supplies, septic tanks, drainage, kitchens and food storage.
An optician unit was sent to Fiji in July 1943, and its services were availed of by Americans as well as New Zealanders.
The nucleus of a stretcher-bearer company was sent from New Zealand in December 1942 to train and organise a modified field ambulance for the Fiji Medical Corps. By the end of 1943 the page 101 officers and NCOs had trained stretcher-bearers, who were competent at bush evacuation and first aid, nursing orderlies, who were considered capable of acting as RAP orderlies, and a transport section.
Some of the Fijian battalions went forward to the Solomon Islands in a combatant role. On 12 March 1944 a section of Fijians of the Bearer Company went with a battalion to Bougainville, returning to Fiji on 4 August. They accompanied patrols in action or acted as extra regimental stretcher-bearers, but they could not be fully used in a battalion area because they were not armed, and all evacuation behind battalion areas was carried out by United States medical services who did not require assistance.
In February 1944, when a Fijian battalion returned from the Solomon Islands and brought with it malaria cases, their treatment became a responsibility of the Bearer Company, which relinquished to some extent its field status and built a small hospital at Tamavua. The number of malaria cases eventually led to 142 US Hospital admitting some of the cases as they were beyond the combined resources of the Bearer Company and the civil hospital. When the departure of this American hospital was imminent, the Bearer Company established a 50-bed holding hospital at Nausimu on the former site of 18 US Hospital.
This emergency hospital was taken over by the civilian authorities at the end of 1944.
Apart from epidemics of dengue fever, a disease which affected to some extent at different times the New Zealand forces on the various Pacific islands, the health of the troops in Fiji remained reasonably good. Early in 1945 there were fears that trachoma, which was endemic in Fiji, was becoming widespread among New Zealand troops. Opthalmologists were immediately sent from New Zealand to investigate the position. It was proved that cases which had been diagnosed as trachoma by a local specialist were really those of mild papillary hypertrophy, and conjunctivitis or catarrhal condition of the eye, but of mild degree and of benign form.
Nevertheless, an opthalmologist was appointed from New Zealand to supervise the eye treatment of all servicemen in Fiji. In addition, measures were taken to instal hot showers and to increase supervision of laundry, and a recommendation was made that the maximum period of service for army personnel in Fiji be defined.
(In this latter connection a survey of 940 troops made in September 1943 showed that the sickness rate for troops in their first twelve months of service was relatively light, that in the second twelve months it became relatively high, and that furlough in New Zealand after fifteen months' service did not reduce sickness to a rate comparable with that for the first twelve months.)page 102
With the departure of the last of the American hospitals from Fiji at the end of 1944, New Zealand hospital cases were admitted either to the RNZAF station hospital at Lauthala Bay, where there were fourteen beds with an NZANS sister in charge, or to the civil Colonial War Memorial Hospital. The superintendent of the latter hospital was most co-operative and agreed to the SMO of the New Zealand force performing any surgery necessary on New Zealand patients.
Medical officers remained in Fiji after the return of the bulk of New Zealand troops in 1945 and undertook the medical boardings of the Fiji Military Forces at their demobilisation, and they themselves finally returned to New Zealand in October and November 1945.page 103page 104