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The War Effort of New Zealand

Chapter VII. — The New Zealand Hospital Ships

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Chapter VII.
The New Zealand Hospital Ships.

In a great war waged overseas it is obvious that an important part of the medical service is the sea transport of sick and wounded soldiers. The high importance of hospital ships was not sufficiently recognised in the earlier stages of the Gallipoli campaign, but when the need became generally known there was a magnificent response in New Zealand to the appeal of His Excellency the Earl of Liverpool, Governor-General of the Dominion, for funds to equip the New Zealand hospital ship Maheno; and more was forthcoming when, later. a larger vessel—the Marama—was fitted out as a hospital ship. The money donated amounted altogether to £66,000; and also a vast amount of equipment and material in the nature of Red Cross stores was freely given. In addition, two motor launches were donated, one at Wellington and one at Auckland, and proved of great service, especially at Gallipoli.

The Maheno had eight wards and two operating theatres, an anaesthetising, a sterilising, and an X-ray room, a
The N.Z. Hospital Ship, Maheno.

The N.Z. Hospital Ship, Maheno.

page 128laboratory, a laundry and drying-room, steam disinfector, dispensary, telephone exchange, and two electric lifts each of which took two stretchers at a time. In short, she was complete in every detail. The result was that the New Zealand hospital ships were so well supplied and equipped that they had no superiors in any seas; and patients could be as well cared for aboard as in hospitals ashore.

Some of the special dangers and difficulties incidental to hospital ships may be here mentioned. Besides the ordinary perils of the seas, they were endangered during the whole war by floating mines. In March, 1916, the Russian hospital ship Portugal was deliberately torpedoed and sunk; so also was the Britannic, under the pretence that she carried reinforcements, and without the right of search having been exercised; and the Braemar Castle was sunk by mine or torpedo. When the German government announced the unrestricted submarine campaign early in 1917, their submarines made open war on hospital ships and soon added further unspeakable crimes against law and humanity to the long list which disgraces their record. Within a few months, with considerable loss of life in patients and personnel, there were sunk by submarines the hospital ships Asturias, Gloucester Castle, Donegal, and Lanfranc; and the Salta struck a mine in the English Channel and sank. The special difficulties belonging to hospital ship work were cramped space, rough weather, and a staff necessarily restricted in numbers and not easily reinforced.

On July 11th 1915, H.M.N.Z. hospital ship Maheno sailed from Wellington. Colonel the Hon. W. E. Collins was in military command, and the personnel included a matron and thirteen nursing sisters, five medical officers, a detachment of sixty-one orderlies of the New Zealand Medical Corps, and chaplains. Captain W. Maclean was captain of the ship. During the voyage preparation of material and the training of the orderlies were continued. Sixty-four nurses travelled from New Zealand on the ship as far as Egypt. At Alexandria, orders were received to proceed to Mudros. The Maheno arrived there on August 25th, and left on the 26th, arriving the same day at Anzac to find a cruiser and a destroyer in action near by; and a few bullets fell on the page 129deck of the Maheno which served to indicate that she was now actually in the war zone.

The sight of the ship was an encouragement to our New Zealand soldiers who had wrested from the Turk a precarious footing on the hill sides opposite. During the next afternoon, the battle of Hill 60 was fought, and in the evening the wounded began to arrive at the ship. The severely wounded were sent to the wards at once, and the lightly injured were fed and surgically dressed on deck and sent in lighters to Mudros. The two operating theatres were in constant use from the evening of the 27th to the morning of the 29th.

Embarking Patients at Gallipoli

Embarking Patients at Gallipoli

The Maheno left on the 28th with 445 patients for Mudros, where they were discharged into a hospital carrier,—formerly the German ship Derfflinger—and the ship's crew assisted in the arduous work. The wounds were severe, and deaths occurred during the short voyage. The ship was cleaned and refurnished—a heavy task—and she left Mudros for Anzac on the 30th, and there embarked 422 cases on 2nd September, including a large number of cases of dysentery; and all the patients were transferred to the Nile at Mudros. The Maheno departed again on September 7th for Anzac, where about 1,000 patients were attended to including 400 embarked on the ship. The others had wounds dressed and received medical treatment aboard, and returned again to the beach. Several of the personnel of the ship contracted dysentery, and all page 130were more or less exhausted. The ship returned on the 11th to Mudros and was ordered to Malta, arriving at Valetta, where the patients were disembarked. At Anzac again, several days later, the Maheno took on board a large draft of sick and wounded who were disembarked at Malta. She returned twice again to Anzac, disembarking the patients each time at Alexandria.

On October 8th, the Maheno sailed for England, and on arrival at Southampton was taken over by the Admiralty and docked. The vessel left again at the end of the month. On November 11th, she was at Anzac for the last time carrying thence wounded and sick to Alexandria. At the time of this visit suitable hospitals had been erected ashore, and a hospital barge was in use which could accommodate from 200 to 300 patients. The Maheno proceeded to Malta, where orders were received to return to New Zealand. Patients were carried from Malta to Port Said and to Suez. New Zealand patients were embarked at Suez, and the ship arrived at Auckland on January 1st, 1916, with 319 patients aboard, most of whom were convalescent.

The Maheno was refitted at Port Chalmers, and re-commissioned under Lieut.-Colonel J. S. Elliott, with Captain Maclean again as Commander. She left Wellington on January 26th 1916, and carried, in addition to her usual complement, 53 military nurses for the hospitals in Egypt. After the evacuation of Gallipoli it soon became necessary to clear the Egyptian military hospitals of patients likely to undergo a tedious convalescence, and so the Maheno was sent back from Suez with 321 patients on board for New Zealand. In the Red Sea, the Maheno answered calls for help from the Orissa, a ship carrying military invalids, disabled by the loss of her propeller, and drifting ashore in a heavy sea. She reached her and towed her towards and near Aden. More patients were embarked at Colombo, and the Maheno arrived at New Zealand in the middle of April. She sailed again on April 28th. Naval patients from the Persian Gulf were embarked at Colombo, and on June 9th, the ship reached Suez, there to await orders for eleven days with the thermometer registering 110 degrees day and night.

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To the great joy of everyone on board, orders to proceed to Southampton via Alexandria were received. About 300 patients were embarked at Alexandria. As showing the Imperial nature of the work of the Maheno, it might be stated that a large proportion of the patients were Australians, and the rest British soldiers from the United Kingdom who had come from fighting in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. After a very quick passage, the Maheno was at the quayside at Southampton on July the 3rd.

The Cots.

The Cots.

The great offensive on the Somme had just begun, and she sailed for Havre where hospital trains were bringing in wounded in immense numbers. The ship was filled 'from stem to stern'; and the decks were converted into wards by hanging up canvas screens all round the ship. Literally no space was left vacant that could be made at all available for a wounded man.

Feeding the multitude, dressing the hundreds of wounds, and preparing the necessary statistics was a work of great page 132magnitude. There and then began labours that never ended night or day, with irregular meals and short hours of sleep for the staff. The Maheno sailed with no less than 1141 patients aboard, with nearly every famous regiment of the British line represented, and soldier patients from the four corners of the Empire.

After disembarking at Southampton, the Maheno was sent to Boulogne and she loaded, in difficult conditions, 570 severely wounded. In the early days of the cross-channel voyaging, structural alterations had been made in the ship at Southampton, and the cots had been increased to 440. Waterproof mattresses were procured for use on deck. Space will not permit of a detailed description of each journey. Suffice to say that the Maheno was engaged in carrying wounded in the two great phases of the Somme offensive; and from the beginning of July, 1916, to the end of October, 1916, the following patients were on board, excluding 53 New Zealand Sisters, about 500 Australians and 1,000 New Zealanders who were on the Maheno at other periods of the second commission:—

Officers Sisters O/Ranks Total
United Kingdom 724 1 11,340 12,065
Canada 55 941 996
Newfoundland 1 25 26
South Africa 1 26 27
Australia 24 9 572 605
New Zealand Sisters 53 53
Advance Party No. 2 Field Ambulance to Egypt 1 6 7
New Zealand 41 1,029 1070
Wounded German Prisoners 37 936 973
884 63 14,875 15.822

Frequently, the patients were on board for three days at a time, and the navigation was often difficult and dangerous, except when a destroyer was ahead as a pilot ship.

It was curious to observe that many of the German wounded honestly believed that their fleet had command of the Channel; and they wondered how the hospital ship could get across. On one occasion, the Maheno lay in an area attacked by a zeppelin.

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On October 28th, 328 New Zealand sick and wounded were embarked at Southampton, and voyaged home uneventfully except for delay at Albany, due to a coal strike in New Zealand. The ship returned at Christmastide.

During the second commission, the Maheno steamed 52,229 sea miles, passed four times through the tropics, and carried almost 16,000 patients. Many operations were performed and surgical dressings innumerable.

In September 1915, during the first commission of the Maheno, the War Office accepted an offer from the New Zealand Government to provide a second hospital ship and the
The N.Z. Hospital Ship Marama.

The N.Z. Hospital Ship Marama.

Marama, a much larger vessel than the Maheno, was selected, was fitted with 600 beds, and equipped in no way inferior to the Maheno in the wonderfully short period of twenty-three days. Hundreds of workmen were employed night and day during that period. She sailed from New Zealand on 5th December, 1915, under the medical and military charge of Lieut.-Colonel P. R Cook, N.Z.M.C. Captain B. M. Aldwell was the ship's commander.

At Alexandria, about 500 patients from Gallipoli and Salonika were embarked for Southampton. She returned to Alexandria, and after some days was sent to Marseilles, page 134coaling at Cette, and then proceeding to Salonika and to Stavros upon which the Eastern flank of the British forces in the Balkans at that time rested. Here the ship was used as a base hospital until she left with patients for Malta. A full complement of sick was taken again to Southampton, and the Marama returned to Alexandria where she was delayed for three weeks until orders were received to embark the New Zealand General Hospital for Southampton, where she arrived in time for the Somme offensive. She then crossed to Boulogne.

From this time the Marama and Maheno were part of the White Fleet which carried the wounded from that great battle without delay to the hospitals in England.

The Marama on one occasion bore no less than 1,636 patients from Havre. Many of the wounds were of a terrible nature; it was marvellous that men so hurt could survive. Shell-shock was a very frequent trouble, and many patients on board had lost their reason. Patients came on the ship within twelve hours of their being wounded in the trenches. The speed with which the wounded were brought in from the trenches by the bearers, attended to in clearing-stations, sent to hospital trains which ran behind the lines, and brought on board the hospital ship was a remarkable tribute to the organisation of the R.A.M.C., which was one of the wonders of the war. It was found that by the time the patients reached the ship, even after twelve or eighteen hours, their wounds were in most cases septic and often offensive. Sisters and orderlies were engaged all day and all night dressing wounds. Walking patients, of whom there were frequently four or five hundred, went to the dressing room, and there was always a long queue waiting outside this room.

It should be explained that walking cases do not necessarily mean the slightly wounded as, owing to the difficulty of transport, cot cases in war are reduced to the absolute minimum. If a man is able to walk at all, no matter how badly he is wounded in the arms, body or head, he is classified as a walking case. Many of the "walkers" were very severely wounded. Some patients fell down asleep from utter exhaustion as soon as they reached the deck—the fact page 135that here was a warm and dry spot was all that mattered. It was a luxury for the wounded even to get away from the terrific din of the battlefields, and merciful Providence had endowed them with the faculty of not looking too far ahead or behind. They were children of the hour, for the immensity of the conflict had dulled the mind, which shut out all considerations except the most pressing and immediate.

On August 25th the Marama was recalled to New Zealand, and she sailed with about 500 New Zealand patients.

One of the Wards.

One of the Wards.

During this commission, the Marama steamed 52,251 sea miles and carried 12,639 patients and 580 hospital passengers.

For the soldiers on the Marama and Maheno the glamour of the fighting was over; the wreckage of war was drifting homewards. These men were great in battle; they were equally great in suffering. Not once in all the channel voyagings was heard one word of complaint.

The Marama and the Maheno proudly shared with the other hospital ships the thanks conveyed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and by the Commander-in-Chief.

The Marama under Colonel Collins sailed on her second page 136commission on November 12th, 1916, via Bombay, and from that port she carried patients to Suez and proceeded to Southampton, where 540 cases were embarked for New Zealand. A few days out from Southampton, the Marama rescued survivors from a torpedoed ship, and had an unpleasantly close view of a German submarine. After arrival at New Zealand, the Marama sailed again for England on March 22nd, 1917. From Bombay she carried patients invalided from Mesopotamia to Suez, where orders were received that the Mediterranean was unsafe. The nurses were ordered to disembark, and a course was set for Durban. In the absence of the nurses, the orderlies were put to a considerable test in nursing severe cot cases, but they rose to the occasion and succeeded reasonably well. After leaving Durban a fierce storm arose; one large wave swept the decks and a patient and an orderly were washed overboard and drowned, and several others were injured.

After calling at Capetown and at Sierra Leone the Marama continued her voyage to Avonmouth and returned with a full complement of patients to New Zealand via the Panama Canal.

From the time of this commission dental officers were carried on the hospital ships and did excellent service. In every charter the massage work was exceedingly well done. The masseuses worked very long hours and were rewarded with the results they obtained.

The Maheno was re-commissioned for the third charter under Lieut.-Colonel R. Anderson, and the Marama for the third charter under Lieut.-Colonel Cook. The Marama was under Colonel Collins for her fourth commission, and the Maheno was re-commissioned a fourth and a fifth time under Colonel Tracy Inglis and Lieut.-Colonel Gunn. During each commission, two voyages were made to England for the purpose of clearing the New Zealand Hospitals in the United Kingdom, and patients were carried to various ports en route as necessary. The voyages differed little in detail.

The balance of the money remaining at the end of the war to the credit of the Hospital Ship Fund, with the approval page 137of the Government, was expended for the provision of a Medical Students' Hall for the Medical Students' Training-Corps at Dunedin. This hall, equipped with the latest medical appliances, will benefit both the civil and the military training of medical students, and will be of great value to the community at large. It will also be a memorial to the work of the New Zealand hospital ships.