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The War Effort of New Zealand

The New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Salonika

The New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Salonika.

Salonika which was founded about 300 B.C. was named after Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great, who married Kassandra the founder of the City.

The city has been successively in possession of the Romans (148 B.C.), Saracens (904 A.D.), Normans (1185), Boneface (1204), Epirotes, Venetians (1423), and Turks (1430). On November 8th, 1912, Salonika, with a Turkish garrison of over 20,000 men surrendered to a Greek army attacking from the West. Bulgaria desired the possession of the city, but in the Balkan war, which arose over the division of the spoils, she had to concede this part of Macedonia to the Greeks. The present population is given as 180,000 of which half are Jews, one-fifth Greeks, one-fifth Turks, 10,000 Bulgarians, and the rest western Europeans and others.

The city presents a striking appearance from the harbour. Numerous graceful white minarets arise in the city, the
N.Z. Stationary Hospital at Port Said.

N.Z. Stationary Hospital at Port Said.

page 106White Tower forms a prominent object on the water front, while on the hill behind is the old Citadel with its ancient walls. The main street, which runs along the water front, is a fine broad avenue; but most of the streets are narrow and dirty.

The New Zealand Stationary Hospital had been established for a little more than three-and-a-half months at Port Said when the welcome order to proceed to a "certain destination near the sea and with a mild, equable climate" was received. The unit sailed from Alexandria on October 19th, 1915, on H.M.T.S. Marquette. On the Marquette was also the 29th Divisional Ammunition Column, with its transport and animals. The vessel took a devious course, and on the morning of October 23rd, when entering the Gulf of Salonika, was torpedoed. The vessel sank rapidly—the time was estimated as seven-and-a-half minutes from the striking of the torpedo. Of the whole ship's complement about 170 were lost, amongst whom were the following "personnel" of the hospital: 10 sisters of the N.Z. Army Nursing Service; 22 other ranks of the N.Z. Medical Corps (four of whom were "B" men attached) and four native Egyptians, attached.

The most distressing feature of the sinking of the Marquette was the loss of the sisters. The alarm post for these ladies was the saloon companion way, and the boats allotted to them were the forward port and starboard boats. Almost immediately after being struck the vessel listed heavily to port. This rendered the lowering of the boat on the starboard side difficult, and the difficulty was made an impossibility by the presence of an open iron door on the mule deck below, which projected just underneath the davits. A few nurses got into this boat, but were thrown into the water when it struck the door. The forward port boat was filled with occupants and was lowered into the water according to programme. There were, however, a number of sisters still in the ship to be rescued. The second port boat had been lowered and though still in the falls appeared to be resting on the water. Someone by reaching out secured a loose rope attached to the davits, and the remaining sisters were by this means enabled to slide down into the boat. As the ship sank the list was corrected, but she gradually page 107went down by the head, and the second boat, being still attached to the davits and evidently free of the water, came forward under the influence of gravity as the bows of the vessel went down, and fell on the first boat. Some of the nurses were injured and both boats were damaged and rendered unseaworthy.

A fact generally overlooked when a vessel was torpedoed was that the impetus she had when struck carried her some distance before she sank. Consequently those who remained late on the ship had the advantage of such flotsam as boats carried free, rafts, hatches, deckhouses, etc.. On the other hand those who left the ship early dropped behind out of reach of this wreckage. The fear of being sucked down by the sinking vessel appeared to be largely unfounded. Only one instance of this having occurred came to notice, although, of course, there may have been other experiences.

The vessel was struck about 9.15 a.m. Many of the survivors remained in the water until picked up late in the afternoon by a French destroyer (the Tirailleur) and a British mine sweeper (the Lynx). One party in boats reached the coast of Greece, and some of them were later taken off by the Lynx though others who had gone inland to search for food and shelter were conveyed down to Larrissa, and thence to Volo until finally they succeeded in returning to Salonika on the 27th.

Salonika at this time was greatly congested. Three French and two British divisions (subsequently increased to five divisions each) were quartered there, and several divisions of Greek troops had also been mobilised in the locality. The streets were crowded with human beings of many races. German and Austrian officers were among them. The unloading of British and French ships was carried out at one small wharf, which was totally inadequate for the purpose. Transport was scarce and confusion prevailed generally. The "obstruction" of the Greeks was obvious at every turn. Later this "obstructiveness" almost developed into active hostility. Many British soldiers were stabbed.

On October 29th the nursing sisters sailed on the hospital ship Grantully Castle for Alexandria, and I might state here page 108
Views of N.Z. Stationary Hospital at Salonika.

Views of N.Z. Stationary Hospital at Salonika.

page 109that they did not return. The wisdom of sending them back was amply confirmed later when we experienced very severe weather and numerous other discomforts. Two officers were also sent back to procure hospital and personal equipment as, of course, everything of this nature had been lost in the Marquette. A few orderlies were also returned on duty on the Grantully Castle.

The unit, which had been billeted in the city, moved out to Lembet camp about three-and-a-half miles away where the French and British troops were quartered. On November 12th it took over the site and tents occupied by the 25th C.C.S. On November 19th the officers who had gone to Egypt returned with equipment and reinforcements, and the construction of the hospital went rapidly forward. The tents sent over from Egypt for the hospital were large marquees of the E.P.I.P. pattern and formed excellent hospital accommodation.

From November 27th-30th the weather was very cold with strong winds, sleet and snow, described locally as a "Vardar blizzard" because it came down the valley of the Vardar River. It was this blizzard which swept over Gallipoli and caused so many casualties there.

A few days later a number of severe cases of frost bite were admitted to the hospital, from a little north of Doiran, where the front line then was. These men stated that they had been standing in trenches with water over their boot tops, and that during the blizzard their blankets and great coats had been frozen rigid. As the 10th Division had only recently arrived from Gallipoli, where most men had suffered from dysentery, this violent change of climate had naturally had a very severe effect.

The news from the front at this time was vague and uncertain but it appeared quite clear that our troops were retiring and that a line of trenches was being constructed on the other side of the crescent of hills, which on the north, bounded the flat land on which Salonika and Lembet were situated. This defensive line was then occupied by the British as far as Stavros on the Gulf of Orfano. The requirements for the defence of this line were minimised by the inclusion in it of the Lakes of Langaza and Beshik. page 110The British left flank joined the French, who carried the line to the Vardar River and thence down the river to the marshes at its mouth. In front of the British three lines of trenches and entanglements was the Langaza Plain, seven to nine miles wide. The enemy was said to be about to attack almost daily, but this part of the line was never attempted.

On December 30th the camp was visited by enemy aeroplanes which dropped numerous bombs. As a protection against further raids a large red cross 30 yds. by 20 yds. was painted on the ground on each side of the ridge on which the hospital was situated, and it is only fair to say that, although enemy aircraft frequently came over afterwards no bombs were dropped as close to the hospital as on the first occasion. A further precaution adopted was the discolouring of all the tents with mud. Later, in France, a stain was provided for this purpose, but the mud served us admirably though the rain washed it off and it required to be reapplied. Potassium permanganate solution was used by some units, but it made the canvas almost black and rotted it.

On December 31st the German, Austrian and Turkish consuls were arrested and placed on a French warship, because the Allies "regarded the bombing of Salonika as a violation of Greek neutrality and an act of war." A number of other Germans and Austrians were also arrested and deported. On January 7th, 1916, however, the camp was again severely bombed, causing a number of casualties, and about 3 a.m. on January 31st Salonika was visited by a zeppelin which dropped many bombs on the city and in the harbour, and a few on Lembet Camp.

On February 10th a sergeant of the N.Z. Ordnance Department arrived from Egypt on the Achaia with a large quantity of gift material from New Zealand, but during the night a fire broke out on the ship and destroyed it all. We later received much gift material from New Zealand, and needless to say it was always most welcome and useful; but it is doubtful if we ever required it more than on that occasion, and to lose it when it was actually at our door was bitterly disappointing.

On March 1st we were notified that the unit was to page 111proceed to Egypt on H.S. Lanfranc. Two days later the vessel arrived with the No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital which was to relieve us, and on the 7th we left for Port Said. It was with great regret that the unit left Salonika. It had observed order grow out of apparent chaos, defensive positions constructed, positions said to be capable of with-standing any onslaught likely to be made by the enemy; it had made many friends, and as a unit it had become one of the oldest inhabitants.

We had accommodated our patients in the large E.P.I.P. tents, with tarpaulins for flooring. Around the marquees were deep trenches, and the heating was with oil stoves. In fine weather the sides of the tents could be easily taken down to admit the sun; and, periodically, all patients were removed, the tarpaulin lifted, and the sides thrown open. The operating theatre was one of these tents, but with a raised wooden floor, and strong incandescent light. Many operations were done there. An X-ray room was also built, and the plant was in working order some time before the unit left. All paths had been gravelled and a road built up to the hospital. All water had to be carted up. For the nursing sisters a compound bad been made by erecting tents on terraces on the hill-side, and dug-outs were constructed for protection against bombing and possible shelling.

That the unit was efficient and did work of considerable value in Salonika was the opinion of others as well as of itself; and the D.M.S. at Salonika, Surgeon-General (now Sir William) MacPherson, C.B., expressed his great appreciation—an appreciation to which he gave very practical expression in the great kindness he showed the unit subsequently in France. Others also expressed their admiration of the unit's work, and that at a time of stress when compliments were not thrown about freely. The efficiency, which the unit justly claimed, was to be attributed almost entirely to the careful selection of the staff, in which the principle followed was to employ men in their military capacity in positions for which their civil occupation fitted them, giving each man so employed an understudy similarly qualified. A number of expert clerks, able to write shorthand and to typewrite, page 112some of them from responsible positions in good business houses, proved invaluable in the orderly room. Expert carpenters and plumbers were made most useful everywhere. The cooks, although trained in well-appointed kitchens, worked with wonderful efficiency under, often, very adverse conditions.

Of the technical work done by the hospital at Salonika, the medical portion was by far the most important. It comprised chiefly the treatment of cases of typhoid, para-typhoid, dysentery, trench-fever and frost-bite. Para-typhoid at this time was recognised as a definite entity, and, as such, the cases were treated in separate wards. The cases of dysentery sent to us had occurred chiefly among the 10th Division, transferred from Gallipoli to Salonika. Trench-fever was identified at Salonika as a separate affection first of all by the Staff of No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital, and this matter formed the basis of a discussion at one of the first meetings of the Salonika Medical Society. During the retreat of the 10th Division from Serbia many cases of severe frost bite occurred, and the hospital received several hundreds of them. The majority of the cases required evacuation by hospital ship for further treatment elsewhere.

During the latter portion of the stay in Salonika laboratory facilities became available. This, needless to say, was of the greatest possible assistance in the exact diagnosis of the enterica and dysenterica groups of intestinal disease. Surgically, during the greater portion of the stay of the hospital in Salonika, the work consisted of the ordinary treatment of adult civilian life, with a large proportion of accidents. In addition to these we had cases of wounds received as a result of the many enemy air raids which took place.

During the months the hospital spent at Salonika, the formation of the Salonika Medical Society with the Director of Medical Services, Major-General Sir William MacPherson, K.C.M.G., C.B., as its President was of the greatest possible value in promoting and stimulating interest upon the many subjects which presented themselves for decision, and the Society was undoubtedly a very valuable means of affording the medical officers belonging to the different services opportunities page 113of seeing each others' hospitals and, thereby, having a variety of interests provided for them which ordinarily would not have been available.