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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Hospital Ship Policy

Hospital Ship Policy

After the first divisional operations in Italy in November 1943, battle casualties were evacuated back to 3 General Hospital, Bari, as the base hospital in Italy. From here long-term cases, especially those likely to require invaliding to New Zealand, were transferred to Alexandria by hospital ship and thence by ambulance train to 1 General Hospital, Helwan. Special arrangements had to be made for a hospital ship service between Bari or Taranto and Alexandria, as the majority of British invalids went from Italy to Sicily, Algiers, and thence to England. After February 1944 all invalids, including battle casualties from the Cassino operations, were retained in Italy for embarkation direct to New Zealand on hospital ship at Taranto.

On 21 March 1944 HS Maunganui called at Taranto and filled about half her berths with invalids for New Zealand, and then called at Port Tewfik where she completed her load with invalids waiting in Egypt to return home. This was the practice adopted from then on. This policy avoided transhipment of seriously wounded from Italy, facilitated changes in the staffs of hospital ships, and enabled medical reinforcements and Red Cross comforts to be shipped to Italy without delay.

A measure of detailed liaison was necessary between DMS 2 NZEF and SMO Maadi Camp to ensure the best loading of hospital ships between the two sections of 2 NZEF. Evacuation of invalids by hospital ship was controlled by DMS 2 NZEF, and to provide for adequate liaison and the training of the staff of SMO Maadi Camp in the important details of evacuation an NCO was temporarily detached from DMS office to the SMO's office when the staff of DMS 2 NZEF first went to Italy. Liaison was most necessary to ensure that the right total of special classes of patients, e.g., women, mental cases, tuberculosis cases, lying patients and walking patients, were embarked from the two ports. Selection was necessary in both Italy and Egypt as the number of invalids awaiting evacuation almost invariably exceeded the capacity of one hospital ship. Sometimes two small hospital ships could have been filled when only one was available. A result of this was that many invalids had recovered sufficiently to be able to be returned by ordinary transport during the sometimes considerable wait of several months for hospital ship accommodation. A ‘build-up’ of invalids awaiting return to New Zealand had occurred following the breaking of a tailshaft by HS Maunganui when she called at Tripoli on 17 October 1943. This accident necessitated her travelling to England for repairs and she page 570 was not again available until March 1944. Thereafter, except for her period of attachment to the British Pacific Fleet in 1945, the Maunganui made regular trips between Italy and New Zealand, and occasional trips were also made by NMHS Oranje and HS Wanganella.

The accommodation of the three hospital ships serving 2 NZEF during late 1943 and 1944 was: Maunganui, 368 beds, Wanganella, 548 beds, and Oranje, 750 beds, later increased to 869. The Wanganella was lent by the Australian Government to fill the gap created by the breakdown of the Maunganui and she made three trips at this period. Numbers of the patients embarked at the end of 1943 were Australians, who along with many New Zealanders had been recently repatriated from Germany in an exchange of prisoners of war. The Oranje, staffed mainly by New Zealand personnel at this stage, made a trip to New Zealand at the end of 1943, but the next one was not made until July 1945. As part of the Allied shipping pool she was mainly engaged in the transport of British invalids from Italy and the Middle East to South Africa or the United Kingdom. The Maunganui was back on her normal run by March 1944. All three ships had first-class accommodation and equipment, which ensured the greatest comfort for our casualties.