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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

3 General Hospital at Bari

3 General Hospital at Bari

In September 3 General Hospital had packed again, and its third anniversary on 29 October was celebrated on the hospital ship Dorsetshire in the Mediterranean. Arriving at Bari on the 31st, the unit was allotted two blocks of buildings in the Polyclinic to develop into a hospital. Construction of the Polyclinic had been begun by the Italians in 1932. The plan provided for the erection of 22 separate blocks of buildings, most of them to form separate clinics for the treatment of different diseases (hence the name Polyclinic). In 1940, when the Italian army took over the buildings, all constructional work was suspended. Only three blocks had been finished and the remainder were simply concrete and stone shells. One of 3 General Hospital's blocks was finished and one unfinished. They were given the names of Tripoli block and Beirut block respectively. The former block had been used by the Italians as a hospital, and they were still moving out. Members of the Italian medical corps carted equipment away and padres hovered about, distinguishable from the numerous civilian clergy only by the gold braid badge of rank worn on the sleeves of their flowing black gowns. Beirut block became the scene of much activity. Again the tradesmen of the unit proved their worth, and civilian labourers, painters, carpenters, and bricklayers were brought in to assist. Doors and windows were fitted, partitions built, floors finished, and water supply and drainage systems installed. Until this block was made serviceable all patients were cared for in Tripoli block. Sisters and nurses had temporary quarters in Tripoli block, but after three weeks they occupied a small building given the name of Helmieh House. Thus the three previous sites of the hospital—Helmieh, Beirut, and Tripoli—were commemorated.

Tripoli block was occupied by the surgical division, and Beirut by the medical division, plus the laboratory, massage, occupational therapy and administrative departments, and the patients' recreation room. In the basements were the stewards', ordnance, linen, pack and medical stores, and the workshops for the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians on the staff.

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Situated a convenient distance from the docks area and only a few minutes' walk from the railway station, the hospital was in a good position for receiving evacuees by either ambulance train or hospital ship. For the staff it was five minutes' walk to the city, while in the opposite direction not far from the hospital were fields planted with walnut and olive trees.

For the first two weeks of November, 64 sisters and nurses were attached for duty to 98 British General Hospital, one of the other hospitals in the Polyclinic, which was without its sisters. This assistance immediately helped to establish amicable relations between the two hospitals, a co-operation that continued after the British sisters had arrived and NZANS and WAAC returned to their own unit.

As 3 General Hospital was the first New Zealand hospital to operate in Italy, it was not long before an urgent demand was made for the accommodation of patients. The first patient was admitted on 5 November, to be followed by 32 from 6 MDS at Taranto next day. The familiar story of the opening stages of a hospital then followed, the number of occupied beds often becoming very near to the number equipped. The position was alleviated to some extent by the opening of 1 NZ Convalescent Depot at Casamassima, 15 miles inland from Bari.