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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Medical Plan

The Medical Plan

The medical services to W Force were based on Athens, where was situated the headquarters of DDMS BTG. Here at Piraeus was the natural and only satisfactory port suitable for the landing of supplies and the evacuation of sick and wounded. Here existed, also, a fine modern city, perhaps the only modern area in Greece with page 108 large buildings suitable for conversion into military hospitals. From here, also, as has been discussed earlier, the only railway and main road in Greece led north to the north-eastern frontiers where the defensive positions lay. No other main base was possible and it was ideally situated, its distance from the front giving it some defence against air attack.

Here 26 British General Hospital was operating in excellent buildings in the modern and healthily situated suburb of Kifisia. The establishment of this hospital at Athens so long beforehand proved of the greatest value to the main force during the campaign and the greater part of the serious medical work was done by its staff. Later, 2/5 Australian General Hospital was sited in the same area, also in buildings. (This unit was not fully established at the end of the campaign, but performed valuable work later, when captured by the Germans, for our prisoners of war.) The Athens area was known as 80 Base Sub-Area, all medical services within the area being under the command of Colonel Fulton.

Larisa was the headquarters of 81 Base Sub-Area, with the British ADMS (Colonel Alexander) quartered at 189 British Field Ambulance, a company of which was sited on the main north road a few miles north of Larisa, the main body being in Crete. This field ambulance had been established early and had set up a small tented hospital to hold minor cases and as a staging post for transport by rail of serious cases to Athens.

On the arrival on 8 March of the first two general hospitals of Lustre Force, 2/6 Australian General Hospital and 1 New Zealand General Hospital, a conference was held at Medical Headquarters in Athens to discuss medical planning for the force. At it were the DDMS BTG (Brigadier Large) and the officers commanding 26 British (Colonel C. Popham), 2/6 Australian (Colonel R. A. Money), and 1 New Zealand General Hospitals (Colonel McKillop). It was decided to use the last two hospitals, which were essentially base units, as L of C hospitals in 81 Base Sub-Area.

The actual siting of 1 NZ General Hospital in the 81 Base Sub-Area was decided after surveys of the area by the commanding officer, the Registrar, Major Hunter,1 and the tropical diseases specialist of the unit, Captain Sayers;2 and by Colonel Kenrick, Colonel Alexander, and Brigadier Large.

The choice lay between Volos, situated on a large harbour on the page 109 east coast, Nikaia, just south of Larisa, and Pharsala. Colonel McKillop reported that in his opinion it was inadvisable to site the hospital so far forward on account of the general unsuitability of the forward areas. Volos was favoured by Colonel Kenrick, but was ruled out by the army staff as unsuited for a hospital because the port was to be used for army supply and was likely to be bombed. (Subsequently, 2/6 Australian General Hospital was set up at Volos, but was not properly established before the retreat began. Its equipment was brought back to Athens by the Navy with great difficulty but did not leave Greece.) Nikaia was selected by Colonel McKillop, but before his report was submitted Brigadier Large decided on a site at Pharsala.

The site at Pharsala was not directly on the plain and the nature of the country was thought to offer protection from air attack, while from the malaria aspect the nearest village was over a mile away. The site was on the main north road and the main railway ran through Demerli, 6 miles away, while 3 miles away there was a narrow-gauge line which crossed the main line at right angles and went to Volos. Disadvantages were that it was some 20 miles from the supply base at Larisa, and that it was a relatively isolated area for a large and cumbersome unit with 350 tons of equipment and no transport of its own.

The site was in a long, narrow valley running west to east, with rocky ridges of 900 and 1200 feet to the north and south. A stream ran through the valley, but the clay soil made drainage from wards and kitchens difficult. Considerable engineering assistance was necessary to make roads and install water supply and drainage. The protection of the Red Cross was not relied on at that period and the wide dispersal of tents impeded the smooth working of the unit. The first patients (72) were admitted on 2 April from Larisa by MAC, and by 6 April the hospital was able to take 490 patients. The patients admitted were mainly minor medical cases, venereal cases, slight surgical cases, and a few battle casualties pending transfer to Athens.

The arrangements placed two 600-bed hospitals on the L of C, one on the main road and railway inland to Athens, and the other at a good coastal port capable of taking ships of 8000 tons, and with road communication by coastal route to Athens, and road and rail access to Larisa.

Forward of the hospitals were placed two CCSs, the 2/3 Australian and 24 British CCS, the former at Elasson in Corps area and the latter close to Larisa in 81 Base Sub-Area, both servicing the whole British front with the help of a company of 189 Field Ambulance, which had a surgical team attached and was sited alongside 24 British CCS.

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In the Corps area of Elasson, also, was sited the headquarters of two sections of 1 Australian MAC, the only unit of its kind in the force and one which earned the highest praise from our medical units.

In the New Zealand Division's area three fully-equipped field ambulances were available, one for each brigade, but under divisional control. They all carried equipment in excess of the regular establishment.

The medical plan as it affected the New Zealand Division can, therefore, be outlined as follows:


RMOs attached to battalions working from RAPs.


Three field ambulances, each with three companies and with established ADSs and MDSs.

One ADS was attached under temporary command to each brigade so as to ensure medical attention in any eventuality, the rest of the field ambulance remaining under divisional command. A surgical team of one surgeon, one anaesthetist, and one other rank was attached to the Division and allocated to an MDS to be available for major surgery.


One Australian MAC servicing the whole force in the forward areas and evacuating from the field ambulances to 2/3 Australian CCS at Elasson and 24 CCS at Larisa, attached to which there was also a section of 189 Field Ambulance assisted by a surgical team.


Ambulance coaches from Katerini and trains from Larisa to 1 NZ General Hospital, Pharsala, or direct to 26 General Hospital at Athens.


Ambulance train from 1 NZ General Hospital at Pharsala to 26 General Hospital, Athens.

(Note: A Greek ambulance train was taken over when the force arrived in Greece. It consisted of refrigeration vans fitted with sling stretchers—unfortunately our own stretchers could not be used in the train—and was able to take 250 lying cases. Wagons for orderlies, for cooking, and for latrine purposes were available, but there was no intercommunication between the wagons and, except at stations, access was by ladder. Each hospital wagon took eight lying and twelve sitting cases. The train was later split into two and accommodation for 100 sitting cases added to each half. The two trains were staffed by British and Greek personnel. Equipment and personnel for two trains had been brought from Egypt and eventually Greek rolling stock was converted and a more suitable train constituted, staffed entirely by British personnel.)


Special units were attached as follows:


4 Field Hygiene Section was attached to the Division and carried out the duties of the prevention of infectious diseases and the control of water supply and sanitation.


2 NZ Mobile Dental Unit was under command of NZ Division for the provision of dental treatment. (It was, however, the last New Zealand medical unit to reach Greece, so was unable to join up with NZ Division before the retreat began.)


5 (British) Bacteriological Laboratory was available at Larisa for assistance to the Division.


1 (British) Malaria Field Laboratory in Athens was in charge of general malaria control in the operational areas of Greece, and was available for training personnel for work in the Division.

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7 (British) Depot of Medical Stores was stationed at Athens and was available for medical supplies. The field ambulances drew their supplies from Athens and in cases of emergency used 1 NZ General Hospital as their base of supply.

1 Lt-Col L. J. Hunter, OBE, MC, m.i.d.; born Sydney, 14 Jul 1891; surgeon; medical officer AIF 1915–18, wounded Sep 1917; Registrar 1 Gen Hosp Feb 1940-Jun 1941; SMO Maadi Camp, Aug-Sep 1941; in charge surgical division 2 Gen Hosp, Oct 1941-May 1942; CO 1 Mob CCS May 1942-Oct 1943; died 26 Jun 1953.

2 Col E. G. Sayers, CMG, Legion of Merit (US); Auckland; born Christchurch, 10 Sep 1902; physician; medical officer 1 Gen HospMay 1940; in charge medical division 1 Gen Hosp, Aug 1941-Sep 1942; 4 Gen Hosp, Oct 1942-Sep 1943; Consultant Physician 2 NZEF (IP) 1943–44; CO 4 Gen Hosp Nov 1943-Aug 1944.