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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

CCS Surgical Team in Sicily

page 464

CCS Surgical Team in Sicily

The Allied landing on Sicily was made on 10 July. Both the Fifth and Eighth Armies were engaged in the conquest of the island, but the New Zealanders were not part of Eighth Army in this operation, it having been arranged between the United Kingdom and New Zealand Governments that no New Zealand troops would be used operationally before 1 October.

However, six members of 2 NZEF—three medical officers and three orderlies—were engaged on Sicily before being recalled by DMS 2 NZEF as soon as he was aware of their presence there. Early in July Brigadier Ardagh, who was DDMS of 30 Corps, approached CO 1 NZ CCS with a request for a surgical team to take part in the landing on Sicily and so increase the surgical potential of 30 Corps by relieving the surgeons and staffs of field surgical units. The team took no equipment when it embarked in HS Dorsetshire on 9 July, as it was to use the equipment of the British FSUs. Off the south-eastern cape of Sicily twenty-four hours later it saw 300 craft anchored or weaving about or up on the beach, but no air activity or audible gunfire. The team remained on the hospital ship 500 yards off shore during the night, during which there was much air activity and also shellfire on the beaches.

After landing the team worked with 3 and 21 CCSs and relieved the staffs of 21 and 22 FSUs in the Corps medical service under Brigadier Ardagh. On 17 July the team acquired some German surgical equipment dropped by parachute, and next day set up a separate theatre alongside 22 FSU in a cottage hospital at Ramacca. The team embarked on a hospital carrier on the 22nd for return to Tripoli, having spent 53 hours operating on 40 cases and rendering valuable assistance, besides gaining useful experience in working in a densely populated country.

Altogether forty-eight cases came under the care of the surgeon and, in addition, a large number of other cases was dealt with by the resuscitation officer. Four cases died without operation, never reacting to resuscitation, and four were dressed and splinted prior to an immediate move. The type of wounds varied from simple perforating wounds caused by small-arms ammunition to extensive multiple fractures and large gaping wounds caused by mortars and grenades.

There were two cases of gas infection or gas cellulitis, gas bubbles in stinking wounds, but no case of gas gangrene; one case of definite gas gangrene of the leg was operated on by the surgeon of the British FSU.

It was noted that, acting on instructions, wounded of United page 465 States and Canadian forces were given 1 cc. of tetanus toxoid instead of 3000 units of anti-tetanic serum as given in the British Army.

The following comments were made by Major W. Mark Brown:

This has been a valuable experience to all of us. It is the first time we have worked in a densely populated country. The Field Ambulances we worked with always chose buildings if possible. This to my mind has very definite limitations as some form of adaptation is always necessary and considerable time and energy is necessary for the preparation. This fact was emphasised by the number of short moves we made, and always for a short period of time. Another disadvantage of short moves is leaving holding parties for serious and abdominal cases. These short moves may have been due to the exigencies of the situation or the reduction of the amount of transport available. I am sure they are to be avoided if possible.

With such limited time to observe, comment on the surgery may be objectionable, but the banking up of cases, as we found at the CCS, seemed to me to be due to all the surgery being done by the FSU. Many of the minor surgical conditions could be dealt with by the staff at the MDS or a minor theatre staff at the CCS. This would leave the surgeon specialist free for the serious cases.

There is a decided advantage in a large pre-operative ward with all the serious cases under supervision and resuscitation. I had graphic evidence of the advantage of immediate blood transfusion in one case of a mangled thigh when 2 pints of blood pre-operatively and 3 immediately after undoubtedly saved a life. During long continued action the transfusion officer needs spelling.