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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Awakening to Defence Needs

Awakening to Defence Needs

As the years went by there was a gradual awakening to the fact that New Zealand should look to matters of defence. Scientific advances were making the rest of the world much less remote. Great advances in aircraft design, for instance, enabled pioneer airmen to travel from England to Australia and New Zealand in a few days. Recruiting campaigns were organised and young men began to feel that they should participate in the military training and join up with some unit. Territorials were paid for the time they spent in training camps and at evening drill. Travelling expenses were also allowed and uniforms were improved. The strength of units increased, and in the medical units the men were keen and enthusiastic about their training.

Annual six-day training camps were held in various centres, and although the attendances at these camps were very small, partly because employers would not let employees have leave, valuable training was carried out. The officers were given advanced work in medical corps duties and the handling of field ambulances in battle. The NCOs and men had a syllabus of parade-ground work, the page 6 handling and care of casualties in battle, and the care of patients in hospital.

Soon after his appointment as DMS, Colonel Bowerbank realised the great potential value of the Otago University Medical Company, but the chiefs of the services, though not unfavourable to it, found difficulty in allocating out of a very limited financial grant the necessary expenditure for training. In 1936 changes were made in the functions of the OUMC. It was converted into a field ambulance and it carried out seven days' annual training. The medical officers were responsible for a high degree of efficiency attained by the unit.

A satisfying feature was the response of the young medical practitioners. In all three military districts the establishments were up to field strength, and in the Central Military District the numbers volunteering were so great that in 1938 it was possible with few exceptions to select young medical practitioners who had senior medical or surgical qualifications. This high medical standard was, after the outbreak of war, a most important factor in the attainment of the exceptionally high standard of medical units of 2 NZEF, both in the Middle East and in the Pacific.

In 1937, in spite of the increasing threat of war, training was still left largely under the direction of the keen territorial officers and NCOs. The regular force was small—there were only two other ranks in the Medical Corps. The honoraria which had been given up willingly by the DMS and ADsMS were not restored until 1938, and then only to half the original amount, although work was increasing rapidly.

At his own expense, Colonel Bowerbank attended in August 1937 the Australian BMA Congress, of which he was appointed president of the Military Medical Section. Much help was given to him by Major-General R. M. Downes, the DGMS in the Australian forces. He found that in Australia there was increased activity in the training of army and air forces and in the manufacture of medical equipment. Travelling to England, he visited the War Office and the Air Ministry and found that preparations for war were proceeding apace. In England the service chiefs were working to a five-year plan for an expeditionary force of 100,000, as they considered that war might break out in the spring or summer of 1940. As in Australia, Colonel Bowerbank was given every help, and he returned to New Zealand with all the latest establishments and equipment tables for both Army and Air Force units. This was of special value because the NZMC had always followed the RAMC practice and continued to do so, with only slight modifications, throughout the war. It is appropriate to mention here that the contacts Colonel Bowerbank made with the administrative medical officers in England and Australia were most valuable after the outbreak of war in 1939.

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In New Zealand there was not the military organisation to make elaborate preparations, nor was there much public support or planning by the Government. The Medical Corps, as with other units, was wholly territorial. It had part-time administrative officers, each of whom received a small honorarium. These were the Director of Medical Services, and Assistant Directors of Medical Services for each of the three military districts (Northern, Central, and Southern).

On his return from overseas Colonel Bowerbank took another step in building up the organisation at Army Medical Headquarters by securing approval for the appointment of Major Bull1 as DADMS, on a small honorarium, to help with the increasing work and revise the organisation of the territorial NZMC. The DADMS examined the medical histories of the First World War to assist him in the preparation of regulations and establishments.

In 1938 a well-attended special course of instruction was held for officers and NCOs at Trentham. A year or so later, the majority of these officers and NCOs were serving in hospital units and field ambulances and as RMOs with infantry battalions and artillery regiments mobilised for service overseas.

1 Brig W. H. B. Bull, CBE, ED; Wellington; born Napier, 19 May 1897; surgeon; CO 6 Fd Amb Feb 1940–May 1941; ADMS 2 NZ Div May 1941; p.w. 28 May 1941; DGMS, Army HQ.