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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

3 General Hospital at Bari

3 General Hospital at Bari

No. 3 General Hospital was established within the Bari Polyclinic, a project conceived during the Fascist régime, and still incomplete at the time when war brought Italian industry and constructional work to a standstill. Vast, judged by New Zealand standards, and comprising some twenty buildings within the area of its walls, the Polyclinic was structurally complete as a medical centre at the time of its occupation by the Allied forces. Much exterior finishing of buildings, however, still remained to be completed, while there were practically no interior fittings when the Italians ceased work on the scheme.

The main group of buildings was arranged in a shape similar to a horseshoe, from the outer sides of which wings extended at regular intervals all the way round. Within the curve stood a large two-storied building, apparently intended in the original plans as an administrative centre for the area. Connecting the open ends of the two sides of the horseshoe ran a verandah, from the centre of which rose a tall tower, planned as a solarium. In addition to this main compact group, there were several large detached buildings, the whole twenty buildings being contained within a high stone wall. The completed cost of the whole group, which had been intended to cover the civil needs of most of southern Italy and to function in all branches of medicine, was reputed to have been several million pounds.

No. 3 General Hospital occupied two blocks at one end of the horseshoe group for the hospital, as well as portion of the block at the opposite extremity for men's quarters. Sisters and nurses were accommodated in a separate detached building just inside the walls of the compound, near the main entrance. Neighbouring units operating in the Polyclinic area during this period were 98 British General Hospital, 14 Indian Combined General Hospital, 30 Indian General Hospital, field hygiene, and MAC units. The 30th Indian General Hospital was later replaced by 102 South African General Hospital, while the field hygiene and MAC units moved to other locations, 4 Base Depot Medical Store occupying one of the buildings so vacated.

Of the two blocks occupied for the hospital, the smaller one, given the name of Tripoli block, was complete on the inside at the time of arrival, water and electricity having been installed and the floors tiled. This was utilised as a surgical block, and eventually contained theatres, X-ray, dental, and surgical division offices. In the first instance, however, all administrative offices were installed in this block. The larger building was a mere skeleton, there being no doors, no water or electricity, and very few glass windows, the page 498 majority of the window spaces having been bricked up. Given the name of Beirut block, this building was to accommodate the medical wards, laboratory, massage, occupational therapy, patients' recreation room, and administrative offices. Much work had to be carried out, however, before this block could be used, all patients being at first accommodated in Tripoli block while the labour of construction continued. The Beirut block had been used by Italian troops who had left it in a filthy state, and the cleaning-up process took several days, particularly as regards the basement. The Tripoli block had been used as a hospital by the Italian Army, and latterly by a British CCS.

In the first instance, officers, sisters, and WAACs occupied part of the Tripoli block as quarters, while other ranks were located in the top floor of the uncompleted Beirut block. By 21 November sisters and nurses had moved to their permanent quarters, the building being given the name of Helmieh House, the names thereby commemorating the three previous sites of the hospital. It was not until 17 November that the male members of the staff were properly established in their quarters, the ground floor of which was occupied by a ward of 98 British General Hospital and a portion later by South African personnel.

Situated a convenient distance from the docks area, and only a few minutes' walk from the railway station, the hospital was in a good position for receiving casualties by ambulance, ship, or train.

For the first two weeks of November 1943, sixty-four sisters and nurses were attached for duty to 98 British General Hospital, which had been functioning without sisters. This valuable service rendered by the New Zealanders served immediately to establish amicable relations between the two hospitals, and a close co-operation continued after the British sisters had arrived and NZANS and WAACs had returned to their own unit.

As 3 General Hospital was the first New Zealand hospital to operate in Italy, it was not long before an urgent demand was made for the accommodation of patients. The first patient was admitted on 5 November, to be followed by thirty-two from 6 MDS on the following day. The familiar story of the opening stages then followed, the number of occupied beds often becoming very near to the number equipped. Patients were in the first instance accommodated in the Tripoli block, but as the bed state increased, some, mostly in the convalescent stages, had to use the uncompleted Beirut block in which constructional work was still proceeding. The position was alleviated to some extent by the opening of 1 Convalescent Depot at Casamassima, 15 miles inland from Bari.

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The 1st Convalescent Depot, which embarked at Tripoli on 5 November, disembarked in Italy on 9 November, occupied the school at Casamassima on 14 November, and reopened for the admission of convalescents on 27 November. The equipment had been sent over beforehand in a caique and had arrived safely after an adventurous trip, during which the captain had to be put under arrest.

On 22 November at a conference in Maadi Camp the decision was made for Headquarters 2 NZEF and additional units to move to Italy about the middle of January 1944. The medical units concerned were DMS Office, Principal Matron, 2 General Hospital, Detachment 1 Convalescent Depot, Medical Stores Depot, and a detachment of 23 Field Ambulance (Camp Hospital).

When these moves were accomplished 2 NZEF became essentially a CMF force rather than an MEF force. The story of the base medical units involved will be taken up more fully in Chapter 15.