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The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918


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In the published volumes of the General History of the Medical Services during the Great War of 1914-1918, limitations of time and space and other cogent considerations precluded detailed accounts being given of the work of individual medical units of divisions, corps and armies. The preparation and publication of the more detailed and individual records have accordingly become the task of the units of the Dominions and Territorial Forces that took part in the war. A volume containing the history of the New Zealand Medical Services has consequently definite historical importance and will be welcomed alongside the volumes of the General History as an essential portion of the history of the medical services as a whole.

A fact that is apt to be forgotten is that one of the first blows against the power of the enemy was dealt by a New Zealand Force in the capture of Samoa in August, 1914. New Zealand medical personnel had thus an experience of active service from the earliest days of the war. Subsequently the New Zealand Army Medical Corps took part in the operations in Egypt and Palestine, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Macedonia, in France and Belgium, and established hospitals in the Dominion's overseas base in England. Their units had thus a wide experience in many theatres of war. They shared, with Australians, the immortal fame and glorious record of the Anzac Corps during the operations at the Dardanelles in 1915. when they formed part of the combined Australian and New Zealand Division. When they were transferred to the Western Front in 1916 they were in a position to display their qualities in a still more distinctive manner as units of a homogeneous New Zealand Division. But wherever and, however, the officers and other ranks of the New Zealand Army Medical Corps were employed their efficiency was a matter of common knowledge, while their devotion to duty and their unwavering cheerfulness in the midst of difficulties, their enthusiasm and determination to give of their best excited the admiration of everyone who had in any degree administrative control over them.

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The medical profession in New Zealand responded nobly to the Empire's call. Three hundred and eighty-five out of some seven hundred doctors embarked for service overseas as officers of the medical corps, together with 3,248 other ranks. There also embarked for service in the medical units 550 nursing sisters, one of the most poignant memories of whom is the loss by drowning of ten of their number when the transport conveying the New Zealand Stationary Hospital for Imperial Service in Macedonia was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea towards the end of 1915. This tragedy of the war was one of the greatest calamities from which the medical services suffered.

It was my privilege to have been in close administrative touch with the New Zealand Medical Services in Salonika, on the Western Front, and in the Southern Command in England; and I had thus ample opportunity of obesrving their efficiency and the excellent spirit and discipline of their personnel. The development of a high standard of organization as time went on was one of the features that attracted attention. During the battles of Messines and on the Ypres front in 1917, for example, the arrangements of the New Zealand Division for the collection and evacuation of wounded were regarded as historically instructive on account of the careful manner in which the details were prepared beforehand and the smoothness with which the work was carried on during the fighting.

In this brief introductory note, however, to the volume on their history during the war, no attempt has been made to emphasise or summarise the chief features of the work of the New Zealand Medical Services. It would be outside my province to do so; but it may be recorded without fear of contradiction that, while the grim realities of war brought out the salient qualities of the various elements of which the armies of the British Empire were composed, in the experience of one who saw much of the medical services of all of them in the field, on the lines of communication and in their base hospitals and depots none displayed more conspicuously than those of New Zealand the characteristics of all that is best in the British race. The facts recorded in this volume will, I feel sure, bear witness of the truth of this to all who read it.

W. G. Macpherson.