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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Surgery at Alamein

Surgery at Alamein

The Consultant Surgeon 2 NZEF made the following observations with more particular reference to surgery at the MDS and farther back during the Battle of Alamein:

With the Light Sec. 1 CCS and 2 Surgical Team attached, 5 MDS was able to cope with the urgent cases, such as abdominals, satisfactorily. The CCS, with its Light Sec. detached, was not so fortunately placed, and though carrying out the work with great success … would have benefited by the attachment of two extra surgical teams.… Before the action the services of an extra surgeon, as well as those of the Consultant Surgeon, were made available, and an extra team was sent later after the battle from 2 NZ Gen. Hospital.

The blood transfusion service functioned perfectly, and blood seemed available to all units in very large quantities and was instrumental in both rendering many operations possible and saving many lives.…

page 398

The allocation of patients to the operating units functioned excellently, and the sorting out of cases for the CCS, by a Field Ambulance stationed between Hamman [Hammam] and Burg-el-Arab, was very efficiently done. The evacuation from the CCS area to the Base was also well-nigh perfect.…

The provision of air transport not only gave a better chance of survival to the very serious cases, but also allowed of their early evacuation from the CCS, so lightening the burden of nursing to the small staff of Sisters available. The rapidity of evacuation from the CCS area permitted of the handling of a very large number of seriously wounded in an incredibly short period of time. The 1 NZ CCS handled over 1300 seriously wounded cases in less than ten days, many of the cases being only a few hours in the CCS before transfer.

Further, in regard to abdominal cases:

Large numbers of these cases were operated on at the MDS and also at the CCS. There is no doubt that the most forward operating unit should give first preference to these cases after actual life-saving measures such as the control of haemorrhage. The results achieved after the Alamein battle I am sure warrant this preference.… I think that the battle of Alamein will be medically remembered as a triumph in the treatment of abdominal injuries.

In confirmation of this latter point, a report by the Consultant Surgeon GHQ MEF (Brigadier W. H. Ogilvie) stated:

Abdominals were treated almost exclusively by the Field Surgical Units, the surgeons of the CCSs and the surgical teams sent forward from Base Hospitals by the AIF and NZEF.… The results appear to have been better than in any previous campaign. This very satisfactory state of affairs is only partly due to the short lines of evacuation, for under such conditions many hopeless cases reach the operating centre alive; credit must also be given to the high standard of technical work among the forward surgeons, to the advanced sites in which they operated, often at some risk, to the provision of beds even at MDS, to the routine use of sulphadiazine, intravenous fluids and gastric suction after operating, and to the policy of retaining abdominal cases till they had established equilibrium.… The field surgical units did grand work and fully justified the foresight of those who planned them as the solution of the primary surgery of wounds in mechanised warfare.