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


page xiv


Early in 1919 the work of collecting the necessary material for this volume was initiated at N.Z.E.F. Headquarters in London. By direction of the late Colonel C. M. Begg, C.B., C.M.G., then acting as D.M.S., the compiler with a small staff of non-commissioned officers of the N.Z.M.C. was attached to the New Zealand War Records Section for the purpose of collating the documents and making a digest of the war diaries and correspondence.

At the same time a Medical Research Committee was constituted —with Lt.-Col. B. Myers, C.M.G., as chairman—whose duties were to prepare memoranda on the prefessional work of the N.Z.M.C. officers and to make a collection of case notes, specimens, diagrams, casts, models and drawings for a medical war museum. It was then intended that the technical papers, to be edited by the Consulting Physician, Lt.-Col. Marshal Macdonald, C.B.E., and the Consulting Surgeon, Major T. D. M. Stout, D.S.O., should form part of the proposed Medical History.

At the inception of the work much needed direction was given to us by the Australian War Records Section established some nine months previously: and particularly to Colonel A. Graham Butler, C.M.G., D.S.O., collator of the A.I.F. Medical War Records we are much indebted for helpful guidance and for many copies of documents relating to the Gallipoli Campaign. Also to Lt.-Col. F. S. Brerton, R.A.M.C., collator of material for the British Official Medical History, we wish to acknowledge indebtedness for valued advice and for digests of Imperial War Diaries.

In the preliminary task of collating the records the compiler was ably assisted by the N.Z.M.C. staff which included Q.M.S. F. W. Hartman who directed the office, S.-Sgt. F. W. Foster, M.S.M., head clerk, S.-Sgt. Hyde, Corporals T. G. Hughes and Clapham, and Pte. T. V. Haydon who compiled the historical and medical bibliographies, of which a minor portion is reproduced in the Appendix.

Our thanks are due to Major-Genl. Sir. W. G. Macpherson, K.C.M.G., C.B., LL.D., editor of the Official Medical History, who has honoured us by writing the introduction, for reviewing a preliminary draft of the work to be produced and advising the collator as to the form our history should take; and to Lt.-Col. B. Myers who helped us in collecting documents and by valuable suggestions.

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The work of the Medical Research Committee and of the Medical War Records Section was prosecuted without interruption until the repatriation of the members at the close of 1919 when work was discontinued owing to the necessities of Demobilisation and Reconstruction in New Zealand; and it was not until three years had elapsed that it was found possible to undertake the writing of the history.

In March 1923, the Director-General of Medical Services, Sir Donald McGavin, appointed a committee of the N.Z.M.C Regimental History constituted as follows:—


  • Major-General Sir Donald McGavin, kt., C.M.G., D.S.O.


  • Col. P. C. Fenwick, C.M.G.
  • Lt.-Col. J. S. Elliott
  • Col. H. J. McLean, C.B.E.
  • Lt.-Col. C. E. Hercus, C.B.E., D.S.O.
  • Col. D. N. W. Murray, C.M.G., D.S.O.
  • Major T. D. Stout, D.S.O.
  • Col. E. J. O'Neill, C.M.G., D.S.O.
  • Major Bowerbank, O.B.E.

The Regimental Committee agreed that our Medical History should take the form of a narrative of the operations of the N.Z.M.C. in the various campaigns of the Great War and that purely medical considerations should be subordinated to a general account of the activities of the medical units and formations in a military sense. It seemed to the committee that it was unnecessary to include the scientific papers prepared by our Medical Research Committee as the Official History of the War and the many post-war text-books already covered the ground in a superlative manner. But some of the published works of our officers and their contemporary contributions to medical literature are cited in the bibliography of this volume, and the valuable collections which they made for the war museum are preserved in the Medical School at Dunedin.

In conformity with the recommendations of the Committee, this volume, designed partly as a Regimental History of our corps, is addressed to the general reader and is not an official medical history of the N.Z.E.F., although based on the War Diaries, Dispatches, Reports, Military Correspondence, and State Documents, of the various periods outlined. It covers the whole of the campaigns of the Great War in which the N.Z.M.C. were engaged: in Samoa, in Egypt, at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, in Sinai and Palestine; and in a short introductory chapter traces the origins of the Corps, its early traditions, prewar organisation and training. Contemporary advances in war medicine and surgery are referred to page xviin the various phases of the campaigns and the progress of preventive medicine is noted, in brief, as seems indicated by the context. Something also is recorded of the evolution of our enterprising Dental Service, of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, and of the help so generously given, in tending the sick and wounded, by our Voluntary Aid Societies and Patriotic Bodies, both overseas and at the home base.

Special consideration has been given to the medical administrative problems of the home base. In 1914, as regards medical administrative formations, we were not prepared for war: with the exception of a small number of N.C.O. instructors there was no permanent N.Z.M.C. staff, the officers were territorials, a few only had specialised in medico-military science, a very small proportion had previous war service, the majority had little if any training in military duties.

The difficulties of the part-time D.M.S., the late Colonel Purdy, were intensified by the early embarkation of many of the senior and best trained officers. The lack of military hospitals, laboratories, and trained staffs at first prevented the D.M.S. from undertaking the care of the sick and wounded repatriated of whom over 3,000 had returned in 1915. Recruiting and Invaliding Boards had in most instances, no previous experience of this important work, so that over-recruiting and excessive invaliding resulted in a serious loss of man-power to the community. But it is clear that both the recruiting officers and those engaged on Invaliding Boards were much overworked, as already by the end of 1915 over 20 per cent. of the male arm-bearing population had joined up voluntarily. Our medical man-power was sorely taxed to meet all requirements as the total number of practitioners did not much exceed 700.

But the limitations of the Medical Administrative Staff in New Zealand were to as great an extent imposed upon the Military Administrative Departments: partly for lack of trained officers, but chiefly owing to the difficulties met with in improvising an Administrative Staff for War within a Defence Department devised for local territorial forces only. Much trial and error and many painstaking revisions were necessary: but ultimately, with a Minister of remarkable strength of character, the Hon. Sir James Allen, at its head the Department of Defence and its medical branch emerged, if not scatheless, yet as sober victors in the struggle for efficiency. Our Dominion is not singular in this respect, all the combatant nations have a like story to tell of their war-time organisation for war. The student of military medical history will find much that is necessary page xviito supplement what is here reported of the Home Base in the fourth volume of the New Zealand Official History entitled, "The War Effort of New Zealand," edited by Lieut. H. T. B. Drew, in 1923, and in the Bibliography (Appendix II.) will be found references to contemporary documents and publications most essential to a right understanding of the vicissitudes of the times.

The general reader will consult with advantage the New Zealand Official Histories relating to Gallipoli, Palestine and France in which the context, illustrations and maps will serve to supplement omissions in the present volume necessitated by limitations of space. The medical reader is directed to the British Official History of the Medical Services which is authoritative and comprehensive beyond all praise. Owing to a desire for simplicity foot-notes and references to medical literature have been avoided as much as possible in the narrative and the inclusion of maps and diagrams in the body of the text. The necessary references, when not acknowledged, are to be found in the Bibliography which includes a few notes that may serve as a guide to further investigations. The index has been systematised to facilitate the study of special problems in ambulance work, in the tactical employment of field medical units, and in medical administration generally.

To the committee of the N.Z.M.C. Regimental History the compiler desires to express his acknowledgment of valued assistance in reading and revising the manuscript and for much useful advice. Many points of critical importance have been reviewed in conference with the committee and attached officers of the N.Z.M.C., and at all stages of the recent work this co-operation has been a very real help.

Thanks are also due to the Hon. the Minister of Defence, Sir Heaton Rhodes who kindly read the proofs of chapter XI. and advised in the revision; and to Sir Donald McGavin who colaborated in the revision of Chapter XXII., and at all times took the liveliest interest in the progress of the work; also to Lt.-Col. C. Guy Powles, C.M.G., D.S.O., who read over the manuscript of the section dealing with Sinai and Palestine and made many useful suggestions; and lastly to Lt.-Cols. Hand Newton and C. E. Hercus who rendered a similar service and to whose notes the chapter in question owes much for revision and amplification.

The type-script was read and approved on behalf of the General Regimental Histories Committee by Capt. V. G. Jervis N.Z.S.C. librarian at General Headquarters whose assistance in procuring documents and books of reference, and help in the verification of place names was invaluable. An ever ready helper in reviewing page xviiisome of the all too voluminous state correspondence of the war period was found in Mr. D. Lyons, officer in charge of the Central Registry at General Headquarters.

The official lists of the dead, wounded, honours and awards were compiled by the War Records Office as also a special nominal roll of all those who died by disease in the N.Z.E.F. from which the analysis of deaths by disease was extracted. For this laborious work we are indebted to Mr. Clemens and more especially to Major L. C. Forgie, officer in charge of War Records, to whom our thanks are also due for help at all stages of the compilation and for valued assistance in arranging the details of publication and distribution.

To the many members of the Corps who assisted by conference, by narratives, or the loan of private diaries and to F. J. Johns, Esq., for permission to use the private letters of his son, Major Noel Johns, M.C., we are much indebted.

In the introduction, Sir W. G. Macpherson outlines the relations of the Dominion Medical War Histories to the British Official History and welcomes the added detail furnished by the lesser records. To supply detail has been the objective of the present volume since the inception of the work. In many chapters the recital of seemingly unimportant things must be tedious to the general reader. But it may be that it is just this chronicle of minor matters which will prove most helpful to others of our Corps who—at some remote date, so be it—may need guidance in time of stress. To help them has been our aim so that profiting by the records of the past they may be the better equipped for their onerous duties: to preserve life and to mitigate human suffering in war.

A. D. C.