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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Appreciation of Hospital Requirements Overseas

Appreciation of Hospital Requirements Overseas

Although the DGMS on 8 October 1939 in a medical appreciation of the First Echelon overseas (then planned to number 8000 troops) estimated the number of beds required for sickness cases if the echelon went to the Middle East as 800, with an increase to 1280 beds if the echelon went into action, no hospital unit was called up with the First Echelon to provide these beds. It was assumed that British military hospitals established in the Middle East would be able to serve the New Zealanders in the meantime. As it happened, when the First Echelon reached Egypt its sickness rate was not nearly as high as estimated, but nevertheless 4 Field Ambulance was called upon to run both a camp hospital and a page 33 general hospital, and also provide medical services for its brigade group in the Western Desert later. The diversion of the Second Echelon to England was a complicating factor, but as events proved there was certainly a strong case for sending a hospital unit with the first troops proceeding overseas.

It must be admitted, however, that New Zealand had no medical equipment to send with hospital staffs, nor indeed with the field ambulances, a deplorable state of affairs for which the medical administrators were in no way responsible.

The tentative plans made on limited information by the DGMS on 8 October stated that ‘it may be necessary to have two small general hospitals, but this is a consideration which can and will be dealt with after the New Zealand Force arrives at the area of operations’. It was considered necessary to have a convalescent depot but not a casualty clearing station.

Following more definite information the DGMS was able, on 20 December 1939, to reassess the hospital and medical requirements on the basis that there would be an initial expeditionary force of 6000 men, followed at intervals of about two months by two further echelons of 6000 men each; that the advanced New Zealand base would be in Egypt, 10,000 miles from New Zealand, and transport would be by sea; that medical units would be equipped on arrival overseas; that hospital and medical requirements would be essentially for the treatment, retention, and disposal of sick and wounded New Zealanders only; and that the force would be stationed in Egypt at least until the formation of the Division, that is, about five months. Taking these factors into consideration and estimating the wastage at 10 per cent of the force, the DGMS recommended that a general hospital of 600 beds, and a convalescent depot of 500 beds, should proceed overseas with the Second Echelon and a general hospital of 1200 beds with the Third Echelon. The first hospital could be expanded to 1200 beds if necessary. Apart from that, it was understood that a field ambulance would normally be called up with each echelon.