The War Effort of New Zealand
New Zealand Hospitals in Egypt
New Zealand Hospitals in Egypt.
The history of New Zealand hospitals in Egypt commenced with the arrival of the two New Zealand Stationary Hospitals in June and July, 1915, respectively. As little provision had been made for the separate treatment and disposal of the New Zealand sick and wounded, they were admitted to the British and Australian General and Convalescent hospitals until, in April, 1915, the Egyptian Army Hospital, Pont de Koubbeh at Cairo, was very kindly offered by the Sirdar for the use of the New Zealand force and was staffed by R.A.M.C. and N.Z.M.C. officers, nurses and men.
It was a large stone building, two stories high, with deep verandas, and was erected during Lord Kitchener's tenure of office in Egypt. Though there was only accommodation in the building for about 250 patients, it had a large quadrangle which, when taken over by the No. 2 N.Z. Stationary Hospital, was covered with marquees.
These two stationary hospitals—the only complete medical hospitals which left New Zealand, and from which were drawn officers, nurses and men for such units as the No. 2 and 3 N.Z. General Hospitals and the 4th Field Ambulance—have been likened to Mary and Martha, and it was certainly an excellent analogy. The No. 1 N.Z. Stationary Hospital, which became the N.Z. Stationary Hospital, remained as such until after the Armistice. This hospital had a long and interesting history; and, though it was enlarged and its personnel changed, there always remained a nucleus to instil into the newcomer, whether M.O., nurse, or orderly, that esprit de corps which upheld its characteristic individuality. Its establishment consisted of seven medical officers, one quartermaster, and 86 other ranks, and it had provision for two hundred beds; but after its arrival in Port Said nurses of the N.Z.A.N.S. were attached and the accommodation was increased to 600 beds. The hospital was beautifully situated on the promenade facing the Mediterranean. It comprised the buildings of the American page 114Mission School, for surgical cases, and marquees for the less severe medical cases and convalescents.
The No. 2 N.Z. Stationary Hospital, immediately on its arrival in July, 1915, took over Pont de Koubbeh, including 25 N.Z. Army Nursing Sisters, who had been attached there for duty some weeks previously. It was rapidly enlarged to 500 beds, but with the heavy casualties during the August advance the number was constantly increased. Later, to the chagrin of the staff, it was eventually transformed into a base hospital of 1,040 beds (for 40 officers and 1000 other ranks), and its name changed to that of the No. 1 N.Z. General Hospital; and in June 1916, the staff and a large part of the equipment were transferred to Brockenhurst, England. This rapid expansion threw a very great strain upon the staff, and the work was extremely arduous especially as the wounds, practically without exception, were septic. Indeed, during August 1915, cases arrived at the hospital from Gallipoli with the first field dressing still on.
The need for convalescent hospitals was first realised in May, 1915. A house was taken over at Zeitoun, Cairo, but as it proved quite inadequate to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers, a convalescent hospital was opened by Lady Godley in Alexandria, where the men could have the benefit of the more bracing sea breezes.page 115
In October, there arrived in Cairo the Aotea Convalescent Hospital, equipped by the residents of Wanganui. A house was taken at Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, and even though the accommodation was raised to 80, and later to 100, the establishment was always taxed to the utmost. This hospital remained after the Division had embarked for France, and was the convalescent centre for the N.Z. Mounted Brigade until the Armistice. It was in every respect an ideal establishment, and was thoroughly appreciated by the "diggers," especially after the departure of the N.Z. General Hospital and the closing down of the other convalescent hospitals.
It was only after the later experience of hospital methods and administration in England and France that one could realise the tremendous difficulties which beset those who bore the burden of the day in Egypt during the summer of 1915. In those days there was a shortage of drugs, and of equipment, and though the glory of the battlefields was not the lot of those who worked in them, yet these New Zealanders by their enthusiasm and devotion to duty established and built up an organisation which proved to be, then and later, of inestimable benefit to their sick and wounded countrymen.