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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Closing Days in Egypt

Closing Days in Egypt

With the reduction of troops in Maadi Camp to fewer than two thousand (troops having being moved from Egypt to Italy for the formation of J Force) it was decided to close 2 General Hospital from 21 November, but a 100-bed expansion was established by a New Zealand staff at 15 Scottish General Hospital in Cairo.

In December all the New Zealand medical units in Egypt were disbanded with the exception of the office of SMO Maadi Camp. The final dates of disbandment were: Maadi Camp Hospital, 19 December 1945; 2 General Hospital, 28 December; Maadi Camp Hygiene Section, 26 December; and 2 Rest Home, 2 January 1946. Use was made of British units when required. When 15 Scottish General Hospital closed, the New Zealand patients were transferred to 63 British General Hospital (the old 2/10) at Helmieh. It was fitting that the British hospital which cared for our First Echelon patients should also tend the last hospital patients of 2 NZEF overseas. As in 1940, the patients remained under the care of New Zealand medical and nursing personnel. Patients suitable for evacuation by hospital ship were embarked on HS Maunganui on 15 February 1946 for return to New Zealand.

By this date the final details were completed for the winding-up of the New Zealand medical services in 2 NZEF, which had commenced their proud history in Egypt just six years previously.

In his farewell message on 22 November 1945 on handing over his command to Major-General Stevens, after holding it for six years, General Freyberg said:

I feel.… the important part we played was far in excess of the size of our Force. Looking back over the long years of war, it seems to me that we have been present at most of the vital moments such as the disasters of Greece and Crete, the battle to save Tobruk in 1941, the battle to save Egypt in 1942, El Alamein, the turning of Agheila, the Mareth Line, the battle for Cassino and the final advance across the Po Valley to Trieste. Always, as I see it, the Second New Zealand Division has been in the forefront of the battle. I do not believe I am overstating the case when I say that just as Mr Churchill inspired the nation by his words, so have you by your deeds. I am sure there is no finer fighting force amongst the armies of the Allies. I realise how privileged I have been, for no commander ever went into battle with greater confidence than I have done during the last six years and no confidence has been better justified. For all these long years you have gone on fighting, never failing, never faltering, never depressed, always cheerful. No commander has been better served.…

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During the six years of the war over 4000 officers, sisters, voluntary aids, and orderlies served with the New Zealand Medical Corps in the Middle East and Italy. With them were associated regimental stretcher-bearers, ASC drivers, dental officers and orderlies, and chaplains. They all applied to the medical services their energy, intelligence, and initiative, and attained a high degree of skill backed by careful solicitude for their patients. They earned the respect of the combatant units, and all officers from the GOC downwards gave their co-operation.

In a memorial oration in 1951 Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg said:

The New Zealand Expeditionary Force landed in Greece in March 1941, and finished 50 months of fighting at Trieste on 2 May 1945. During those years we had to face grave and difficult problems, with heavy battle casualties and sickness. But, during the whole of those months and years, we were always battleworthy. We owed our efficiency to the type of men and women we had overseas, and to a great extent to our nursing and medical services.

Major-General Barrowclough, who served with 2 NZEF in the Middle East and commanded 3 NZ Division in the Pacific, said in an oration in 1953 in memory of those medical officers who gave their lives:

It is a very terrible and shocking ordeal to be wounded in battle.… I am proud to acknowledge that the New Zealand Medical Corps has always operated in such a way that our soldiers have ever been able to carry with them into battle those encouraging and comforting thoughts [of the care and efficiency of the medical services]. I am certain that our morale was immensely increased by our knowledge of the efficiency of your organisation and by our personal experience of your fearless devotion to duty. If the New Zealand soldier has earned some reputation as a fighting man I say unhesitatingly that much of the credit for it must go to the medical services which it has been his good fortune to enjoy.…

On the same theme, General Freyberg said in a report to the New Zealand Government on 13 May 1945 after the conclusion of the campaign in Italy:

In the opinion of members of 2 NZEF, and this opinion is borne out by comments from outside sources, the New Zealand Medical Services are without equal. The standard of surgical and medical treatment and administration of hospitals, casualty clearing stations, field ambulances and convalescent depots has been most important in keeping up the high standard of morale in your force overseas. The personal interest shown by the medical staff has established a sense of confidence in all who have come under their care.

The New Zealand Medical Corps, however, did not build up its standards unaided. It owed much to the RAMC, upon whose help it could rely at all times, and also at different times to units from page 691 Australia, Canada, South Africa, India, and the United States of America. Together, the Allied medical units, in association with motor, train, and air ambulance units, sought to achieve the fullest measure of service for the sick and wounded.

An extract from a letter addressed by Major-General W. C. Hartgill, DMS AFHQ, to Colonel Stout, Consultant Surgeon 2 NZEF, on the eve of his departure for New Zealand in August 1945, also illustrates the standard attained by Allied medical units, including New Zealand units:

.… Your departure is another forcible reminder of the speed with which events are moving. It is rather tragic to see the wonderful organisation we have built up in the CMF dwindling away to a shadow of its pristine glory. However, it is inevitable and the sooner we can close down the better.

It may interest you to know that all the War Office Consultants after touring CMF have come to me and said that the medical set-up out here was easily the best of all the theatres of war and the clinical standard the highest ever achieved. The last Consultant said that it was now accepted in the Colleges at Home that we had provided the blue print for the future.…