Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
TO camp they came—men from all walks of life and women from the hospitals. They did not come to carry arms, but to be trained to relieve suffering and to save the lives of their comrades who would be wounded and maimed by the missiles of the war which was just beginning. They knew they would have the sick to nurse back to health, and that some would have to educate the troops to keep themselves fit and free from disease.
They were to come to be known by all, and best known to those for whom they were to do the most. Although their main task was the care of individuals, their presence helped to build up morale and their ministrations to conserve the Division's manpower in the field.
They had their share to give in the common cause. Little did they know that, along with other Allied medical units, they would be commended by Lord Montgomery in Berlin in 1945 as ‘those whose contribution to victory has been beyond all calculation’.
When they joined the Army they did not doubt that they would be victorious, but they could not know how long-delayed victory would be—six years, each longer than the last, filled with strangeness and travel, adversity and monotony, joy and success, but throughout which they were to feel a constant sense of satisfaction in their work for their fellows.
The New Zealand Medical Corps' contribution to victory began in the mobilisation camps in September 1939. It was then that the first of the medical units went into camp at Burnham—parts of 4 Field Ambulance and 4 Field Hygiene Section. After them there came into being in Burnham 5 and 6 Field Ambulances, and in Trentham 1, 2, and 3 General Hospitals and 1 Convalescent Depot. In Trentham, too, all the medical units' reinforcements were trained. Other units, such as the Casualty Clearing Station, were formed overseas.
The Corps was a mixture of men of many ages and occupations, some with military experience, the large majority with none. There page 2 were some, mainly the senior medical officers, who had seen service in the First World War; a few had served in the Middle East in Egypt, Palestine, Salonika, and on Gallipoli.
There were many, especially in the First Echelon, who had had long and recent Territorial experience. The medical officers, nursing sisters, dispensers, and some others brought with them professional training for the work they were to do. Plumbers, electricians, and mechanics provided other useful skills, and trained and educated men filled positions as clerks, storemen, and orderlies. The medical units required a great variety of trained personnel to enable them to give full medical service under varying conditions, especially when few of the accepted civilian amenities and no adequate buildings were available. All had to adjust themselves to Army life in all its facets and to the most diverse surroundings and circumstances.
The choice of personnel—officers, sisters, and men—was therefore of the utmost importance, and it can be said that in that respect the New Zealand Medical Corps was singularly fortunate.