New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
THE publication of this volume of the New Zealand War History gives me an opportunity of paying a well-earned tribute to the work of our medical services during the campaigns, battles, and engagements in the Middle East and Italy, from 1940 right through to the end of the War.
I have often been asked how it was that the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force was able to carry on fighting over the five and a half years of the war, and in spite of heavy casualties maintain its high morale. In my opinion the chief among several reasons was because of the excellence of our Medical and Nursing Services, the efficiency of which has seldom been equalled.
When we came overseas from New Zealand to Egypt in January 1940, those of us who had served in the Middle East in the First World War felt that a heavy responsibility rested upon our shoulders. We realised the importance of taking every possible precaution against the prevalent local diseases.
In a short foreword I cannot fully acknowledge the quality of help and advice we had both from our medical and surgical specialists, and from the director of the medical service. They planned ahead with great foresight.
Before we arrived in Egypt, they had studied the plagues and infections with which the Middle East is smitten, and they set to work to find means of guarding against them. There was no detail too small for their notice, and no enemies more constantly attacked than water-borne diseases and the fly and the mosquito. Our medical service organised our water supply system, our cookhouses, the dining halls and the wash-houses, etc. There was no avenue of possible infection that was not explored and the remedy sought.
In the realm of early surgery, clinical treatment and nursing on the battlefield, the New Zealand medical service was outstanding, and many of our methods were copied by others. Our medical men displayed a high standard of training and imagination. Our medical leaders can claim that in the Middle East they had the first mobile surgical unit.
In the turning movements at El Agheila and the Mareth Line, they moved with the advanced guard. They put up their surgical page vi tents and actually worked on the battlefields. When the force advanced further, a small tented hospital complete with doctors, nursing orderlies, food and water remained. There were, in fact, small complete field hospitals hundreds of miles out in the desert. This system enabled the desperately wounded men to recover from the shock of major operations and to regain their strength before they were moved to the base.
Engineers, complete with bulldozers, prepared landing strips alongside the small hospitals, and on these improvised airfields transport aircraft came in to pick up and fly the wounded back to the big base hospital in Tripoli, or even to Cairo. Many lives were undoubtedly saved through this form of organisation.
When the Division went to Italy almost our complete medical organisation moved across with the Division, where they maintained the high standard of medical service that had been achieved in North Africa.
This history tells the whole story of the New Zealand Medical War Service, and I hope that it will have the wide and general circulation that it has surely earned.
Deputy Constable and Lieutenant Governor, Windsor Castle