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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Reception in Egypt of Battle Casualties

Reception in Egypt of Battle Casualties

With the ever-increasing gravity of the news from Crete, it became evident in Egypt towards the end of May that another evacuation was imminent. Once again it was doubtful what proportion of the New Zealand Division would get away and whether it would be page 197 possible to evacuate any seriously wounded. With 1 General Hospital out of operation as a hospital after its losses of staff and equipment in Greece, and with a high percentage of hospital cases expected among troops able to escape from Crete, it was likely that New Zealand hospital accommodation would be taxed to the utmost, or might even prove insufficient.

No. 2 General Hospital had also been receiving convoys of Australians from Tobruk during May, and by the middle of the month had patients in excess of its establishment of 600 beds. Authority was given by the DDMS 2 NZEF on 29 May for this hospital to expand to 900 beds, although official approval was not received until some weeks later. The erection of extra tented wards was pushed ahead on a half-acre field near the main building at Helwan.

Battle casualties from Crete were therefore admitted first to 3 General Hospital at Helmieh, shortly after the isolation period for 5th Reinforcement influenza patients ended. On 29 May 97 battle casualties were admitted and the following day 290, which brought the number of patients to 619, some having to sleep on palliasses on the floor. There were few seriously ill cases, as nearly all such cases could not be evacuated from Crete. If it had been possible to bring out all the severely wounded men from Greece and Crete it would have been impossible, as was the declared policy, to deal with all New Zealand patients in New Zealand hospitals.1

When information was received that evacuation from Crete had been decided upon, DDMS 2 NZEF made arrangements – similar to those in the evacuation from Greece – for emergency medical parties to be stationed at the ports of disembarkation and transit camps. Three parties were despatched from 1 Camp Hospital and 1 General Hospital staffs. Their duties were not heavy. The hospital ship Aba had cleared 602 cases of sick and wounded from Crete on 5 May and another 561 on a return trip on 16 May. The minor wounds of walking cases from the final evacuations had mostly healed in the intervening ten to fourteen days from the time of wounding, in spite of the men having marched 35 to 40 miles to the embarkation point.

A few of the more seriously wounded from Crete were admitted to British hospitals in Alexandria, but most of the wounded were admitted direct to New Zealand hospitals. There were 97 and 290 page 198 patients received at 3 General Hospital on 29 and 30 May respectively, and 60 and 382 at 2 General Hospital on 29 May and 1 June. A large proportion were battle casualties, and all showed signs of having passed through a very trying ordeal. On 13 May 114 walking wounded had also been admitted direct to 1 Convalescent Depot.

In spite of the severe bombing and fighting to which the troops had been subjected in Greece and Crete, there were comparatively few cases of anxiety neurosis. Acute symptoms of panic cleared up with rest, care, and good food.

1 The quota of hospital beds required by the War Office from 2 NZEF was 2400, plus a casualty clearing station. The arrangements for hospitals within 2 NZEF were for three 600-bed hospitals and no casualty clearing station. Before this time pressure had been exerted from Army Headquarters, New Zealand, for the combining of the three hospitals into two of 900 beds each, but the retention of three hospitals in 2 NZEF was wisely defended. The quota of 2400 beds was available when the arrival of equipment from England and reinforcements from New Zealand enabled 1 General Hospital to reopen in September 1941. The casualty clearing station was finally formed in 1942, after a long battle by DDMS 2 NZEF.