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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

The Tragic Lack of Hospital Ships

The Tragic Lack of Hospital Ships.

If there was one thing that showed our unpreparedness for war on a large scale, it was the neglect to anticipate accommodation for wounded. This did not apply only to the New Zealanders—British, French, Colonial and Indian suffered alike. The regimental medical officers and stretcher bearers did more than mortal men could be expected to do. But a man hit up on Walker's Ridge or at the head of Monash Gully, after receiving his field dressing at a sheltered corner of a trench or in the regimental aid post, had to be carried in the heat, down bullet-swept valleys and along the dangerous beach. Here the surgeons and orderlies of the Field Ambulances redressed the wounds, gave the men something to eat and drink, and placed them out of the sun, away from the torturing flies. Even in these Field Ambulance dressing stations men were not immune from the shrapnel which swept the beach. The Turk could not be blamed for this, as we had, of necessity, to place our hospitals wherever there was room. Streams of men constantly arrived, some walking, many on stretchers—Zionists with tears streaming down their faces, determined Colonials and pathetic-looking Indians—wounded in our cause, now separated from their fellows, and miserable because they could not understand the sahibs' language.

When night came, the picket boats would move into the little Red Cross wharves, and the wounded men were carried to the barges. When a tow was ready, the picket boat started on its journey for the hospital ship or transport. The high ground surrounding Anzac Cove ensured that bullets clearing the crest went many hundred yards out to sea. Some days, when Turkish firing was brisk, the sea was whipped into a white foaming line where the bullets splashed angrily into page 99
Black and white photograph of the Anzac wounded.

[Lent by Capt. Boxer, N.Z.M.C.
The Tragedy of the Anzac Wounded.
Men, sick unto death, lying in the scuppers; tired, suffering, uncomplaining men with bloodstained kits and wounds that became septic before Alexandria was reached.

page 100 the water. Through this barrage of singing bullets the Red Cross barge must go. Picket boats or trawlers could not dodge from place to place like soldiers in Monash Gully, so they had to risk it, and take it in their course.
Outside the range of these “overs” were the waiting ships. The hospital ships proper had good appliances for handling wounded. A long box would be lowered over the side, the man and the stretcher placed bodily into it, and hauled up on to the deck, where he was seized by waiting
Black and white photograph of the hospital ship and hospital carrier.

[Lent by Capt. Boxer, N.Z.M.C.
Hospital Ship and Hospital Carrier in Mudros.

orderlies and whisked away to wards for a diagnosis, a hot bath, some very necessary insecticide, and a meal to suit his particular needs. But the hospital ships soon became overcrowded. Hundreds of men were accommodated on the decks without cots. They did not complain. They came to the war voluntarily, and took what was coming to them as a matter of course. Ask a sorely wounded man if he wanted anything, and if it was not a drink of water, it would be a laconic “Have you got a green?” He seemed more annoyed with the ration cigarettes than he was with the Turk.

Presently the cry would be, “Ship full!” and the next load would be taken to an ordinary transport, dirty, full of vermin, and entirely unsuited for handling wounded. But it had to be. Nothing better was offering. So the wounded men—tossing about on the barge, seasick, with their clothes stiff with blood and their heads burning with the fever resulting from wounds—were hauled up with the improvised tackle to the dirty decks of the transport. There were few page 101 medical officers. Some came from the overworked and understaffed field ambulances ashore, and laboured like galley slaves against the tremendous inrush of broken men. Naval surgeons and dressers left their battleships and toiled heroiclly among the wounded Colonials. But there were not enough doctors to do a tenth of the work. In the old British way, we were paying for unpreparedness with the flesh and blood of our willing young men. On one ship, the only man with any knowledge of medicine was the veterinary officer, who, assisted by clerks and grooms of the waiting Echelon B, saved dozens of lives by prompt and careful attention. So, with a score of men dying on each ship every night, the transports crept with their cargoes of human wreckage to the port of Alexandria—the hospital ships going on to Malta, Gibraltar, or even England. In Egypt, great emergency hospitals were opened, and everything possible was done to alleviate the dreadful suffering of the heroic and uncomplaining soldiers of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.