New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
At the outset of the war the New Zealand Army Board adopted the revised British Army war rations scale issued in June 1939, but with certain modifications to suit the New Zealander, such as butter in place of margarine, and more meat, cheese, and fresh vegetables. The diet was calculated by hospital dietitians, who found it adequate in protein, fat, and carbohydrates but lacking in minerals and vitamins B and C. On this basis the Director-General of Medical Services recommended certain adjustments in October 1939. The Nutrition Committee of the Medical Research Council, reporting separately in December 1939, made very similar suggestions.
As regards 2 NZEF itself, a conference of the GOC 2 NZEF, ADMS 2 NZEF, DGMS and others on 27 December 1939 at Army Headquarters, Wellington, decided that for the diet on troopships the Australian schedule would be followed as a basis, it being recommended that the GOC be granted authority to increase diets when necessary. It was further decided that all army cooks would go to a school of cookery in Egypt, and that green vegetables and fruits for consumption in that country be sterilised by immersion in potassium permanganate. The standard British Army ration in Egypt was accepted with certain increases, the GOC being authorised to apply to the Treasury for permission to increase it further if necessary.
At this conference the medical officers were impressed with the obvious interest shown in the medical side by General Freyberg. It was clear from his remarks that he regarded the efficiency of the New Zealand Medical Corps as of the utmost importance, that he page 32 was prepared to support the Medical Corps in all its requirements, and that he was keen to ensure the highest degree of hygiene in the force, including due attention to the quality and preparation of the food. The distinct impression of the medical officers was that the New Zealand Medical Corps was not going to be relegated to the background, but was expected to play a leading role in the campaigns of the Expeditionary Force. Throughout the war General Freyberg consistently displayed his emphasis on, and his appreciation of, medical arrangements.
Every effort was made to educate quartermasters and supply officers on the importance of modern diet standards and food values. On 9 March 1940 a conference of quartermasters and ASC supply officers from all camps throughout New Zealand was convened by the Quartermaster-General and presided over by the Director-General of Medical Services. The conference studied the three essential values of the diet of the soldier:
The aperitif or psychological value, for which the cook and unit quartermaster were jointly responsible.
The nutritional value, for which the supply officer, the quartermaster, and the medical officer were jointly responsible.
The economic value, for which the supply officer and the purchasing board were jointly responsible.
Great interest was shown by all officers, and the practical result was a great improvement in the diet as regards food value and variety. Copies of menus were furnished regularly to the Director-General of Medical Services for his appreciation or criticism.
In December 1940 the DGMS made strong recommendations for the appointment of a Director of Catering in order to provide a technical service to enable further improvements to be made in the dietary arrangements for the troops. This appointment was not made, although the RNZAF later had an efficient Food and Dietary Section with a Catering Director.