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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

First Echelon—Voyage to Middle East

First Echelon—Voyage to Middle East

Of the six transports selected to convey the First Echelon overseas, five were passenger liners and one a regular army troopship. The liners were the Orion, Strathaird, Empress of Canada, Rangitata, and Sobieski and the troop transport the Dunera. Except on the troopship, most of the troops were quartered in cabins, the regular passenger accommodation being augmented in some cases by extra berths in the larger cabins. In general, most of the troops on the passenger liners, with the possible exception of those in the holds, travelled with all the usual comforts and facilities afforded the peacetime tourist. (This was not the case for later reinforcement drafts.) In the Dunera the troops were not so fortunate. This ship was a specially constructed troop transport, used before the war to take drafts of British troops to Indian and Eastern stations. Cabins were allotted to officers and senior NCOs, but all other ranks were quartered in troop-decks.

On all transports the health of the troops throughout the voyage was good. Each troopship carried at least one medical officer, three page 38 nursing sisters, and a number of medical orderlies to staff the ship's hospital. During the voyage all personnel were vaccinated. The men were done in small batches so as not to interfere unduly with training and ship's fatigues. In addition, there were a number of TAB inoculations of men not done in camp.

Seven major operations were performed on the Sobieski—five of them for removal of appendix. On the Strathaird a successful operation for the opening up of a mastoid was performed with the aid of an electric drill borrowed from the ship's engineering staff and two carpenter's chisels.

Ships' hospitals, although considered small should any epidemics have occurred, were sufficient for the voyage. The most common illnesses experienced on board were tonsillitis, mild influenza, measles, and diarrhoea. Preventive ablution centres were established at ports of call, regular medical inspections of troops were carried out, and some cases of venereal disease treated. In addition, medical officers gave frequent lectures on health precautions in the tropics, personal hygiene, and on conditions in Egypt.

An epidemic of acute diarrhoea of unknown causation occurred on the Dunera. An interesting feature on this ship was the apparatus for manufacturing ‘eusol’ in bulk from sea-water by electrolysis. This solution was used for the daily scrubbing of troop-decks, mess tables, latrines, etc.

Shortages of medical equipment, particularly of instruments necessary for a major surgical operation, were frequently commented on in voyage reports from each transport, but no serious difficulty ever arose. The chief needs included drugs, nursing equipment, sterilisers, and surgical instruments; stretchers, splints, and bandages were also needed for training hospital staffs, and additional fittings were required in ships' hospitals.

Ventilation on the transports suffered, particularly at night, because of the necessity of keeping hatches and portholes closed and doors opening on to the decks covered with heavy blackout curtains. With natural ventilation thus reduced to a minimum, temperatures below decks at night were high, those taken at midnight on one occasion on the Sobieski ranging from 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Recommendations were made by the medical officer of this ship that hatches should be partially removed at nights and protective devices erected to comply with the blackout; also that screens should be built outside all doors leading on to decks to allow them to be left open at nights without the danger of lights showing.

The convoy reached Port Tewfik on 12 February after calling at Fremantle and Colombo, and the troops disembarked and proceeded to Maadi Camp on the following two days.

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