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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy



Water: When the troops moved into Florence they were housed mostly in good winter quarters with good sanitary arrangements. Swimming baths were available and the units had independent shower facilities. The buildings were sprayed with DDT. Although the incidence of scabies and lice decreased, it was still very high. Our Hygiene Company had control of the whole Florence area and supervised the city water supply and cesspits and refuse disposal.

The water supply was drawn from a series of surface wells linked up with pumping stations, where chlorine was added by a continuous flow from demijohns containing a solution of bleaching powder. Weekly bacteriological tests were carried out by a local civilian laboratory.

Refuse Disposal: The city refuse pit had to be rigidly guarded and controlled before it functioned satisfactorily on the Bradford system. The OC Hygiene Company, Major Dick,1 described the conditions of refuse disposal as follows:

On moving into Florence we inherited a controlled tip, the outstanding feature of which was the entire lack of control, and one of the first jobs was to create order out of chaos. To describe adequately the state of affairs at a non-supervised refuse dump in a city teeming with poverty and with the smallest articles of salvage bringing in fantastic prices on the black market is impossible: it represents a low ebb in a sordid struggle for existence. The engineers were called on to erect a barricade fence, the area was posted with the wonder sign ‘proibite ai civile’, the help of the Provost was enlisted to keep out the teeming multitude of scavengers, and a satisfactory working arrangement was made with the City Council whereby the army supplied six trucks, the Council supplied labour, and bombed out areas were cleared of rubble which was used as covering material for refuse, and so a military tip was brought under control, and a city was helped with the healing of its war wounds even though some of its less fortunate citizens found the struggle for existence made harder.

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The city sewerage system consisted of cesspits emptied by a civilian contractor.

Rats: The rat menace was investigated by the Hygiene Company. No rats were found harbouring typhus fever, bubonic plague, or Weil's disease. Efforts were made to keep their numbers down. The rat is suspicious of any new object and traps had to be left in position several days before being set, and also unpoisoned baits had to be left for five days before the poison was laid. The baits used were millable wheat or barley soaked twelve to twenty-four hours in water, bread mash and sugar-meal, and a dry bait of fifteen parts flour with one part fine sugar. The poisons used were zinc phosphide, arsenious oxide, barium carbonate, and red squill. Zinc phosphide, 5 per cent by weight, was mixed in any wet bait; arsenic oxide, 10 per cent by weight in bread mash only; and red squill, 10 per cent by weight, in a wet bait. When the rats were eliminated old rat holes were cemented up and buildings were proofed with wire netting.

1 Maj E. T. Dick; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 13 Feb 1918; medical student; medical officer Oranje Feb–Sep 1943; RMO 25 Bn Jan–Aug 1944; 3 Gen Hosp Aug 1944–Jul 1945; DADH Jul 1945–Feb 1946.