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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Review of Medical Operations

Review of Medical Operations

The total number of sick and wounded who were evacuated by NZ Corps was 1190, of whom no fewer than 402 were evacuated by air. The desert route back through Wilder's Gap was very rough indeed—possibly the worst that had been traversed in the long advance from Alamein—and the seriously wounded would not have stood the journey in an ambulance car. The landing ground, in roughish country, was sited and constructed by NZMC personnel, and part of 4 Field Hygiene Section was found to be a suitable unit to run the air evacuation centre when not required for special work in its own sphere. The RAF pilots co-operated very well and landed on the amateur airfield in bad weather without hesitation. On days when the weather was even worse, they came over and attempted to land until it was obviously too dangerous to continue. Only one of the planes was marked with a Red Cross, and it seemed a pity that more could not have been allotted for this essential service. The unmarked planes took a big risk in landing on such a forward area without Red Cross protection. Air evacuation served a most useful function in enabling the MDS to evacuate serious cases early. The nearest CCS was at first at Wilder's Gap, with the only access a very rough track over which the force had advanced. The medical centre where 1 NZ CCS was sited was at Medenine, on the other side of the Matmata Hills, the only road to which was in the hands of the enemy. Air evacuation was the only possible method of sending back the serious casualties, and it was invaluable in taking to the isolated medical units without delay supplies of blood, stretchers, blankets, and other medical stores. On 24 March 900 blankets, 50 pints of blood, and anaesthetic agents arrived at 6 MDS by plane.

The number of troops in NZ Corps was 27,000 and the number of casualties was considered reasonably light in view of the difficult page 434 nature of the operations. The casualties were caused by small arms and artillery, with some mine injuries. There was a tendency for wounds to be severe, the death to wound ratio being approximately one to four.

As usual in the long desert journeys, the trucks of the field ambulances were grossly overloaded as they had to carry petrol for 350 miles in addition to seven days' rations and water. The provision of extra petrol trucks was considered desirable for such desert operations. The wireless links between ADMS 2 NZ Division, Colonel Furkert, and the field ambulances on the one hand and DDMS Army on the other proved of great value, and communications were satisfactory. Colonel Furkert thought it was not too much to say that efficient medical arrangements in a long column with extended and unprotected lines of communication would break down without the aid of wireless. Furthermore, in such conditions a full and early knowledge of the General Staff picture was essential—a fact often not fully realised by combatant staff officers.

The two New Zealand surgical teams attached to 2 NZ Division medical units from 1 General Hospital and 1 CCS did excellent work on the more serious cases and the New Zealand Field Transfusion Unit gave over 300 pints of blood and 200 pints of serum. The sick rate for the fortnight of active operations in the turning of the Mareth line reached the very low level of one in two thousand a day—surely a tribute to the morale and fitness of the troops engaged.

The 1st NZ CCS remained at Medenine and formed part of a Corps hospital centre there. The 150th Light Field Ambulance sorted the casualties, the Light Section 2 Indian CCS admitted Indian troops, Heavy Section 14 CCS admitted sick, and 3 CCS and 1 NZ CCS treated battle casualties, receiving alternately over eight-hour periods—a most satisfactory way of working. At Medenine during March 1 NZ CCS admitted 975 battle casualties and accidentally injured and 578 sick, a total of 1553.