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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy


page 209


The Crete campaign taught our army valuable lessons and made a lasting impression on those who had the honour to take part in it:


Graded Men: The most important outcome, as far as our New Zealand force was concerned, was the attitude thereafter of the senior officers of all units towards the use of graded men in the Division. The severe strain thrown on men marching across the rough and hilly road so impressed itself on these officers that they considered that, in future, none but Grade I men should ever be accepted in any divisional unit – even if normally transport would be available. Men with foot disabilities, who had been detailed for duty in the ASC and other units with transport, were considered especially unsatisfactory in the Division. This attitude was so prevalent that the name “Creteitis” was given to it. It perhaps brought about some unnecessary transfers of personnel with minor disabilities from the divisional units. Fortunately, never again during the war was the Division faced with a similar problem, so the over-anxiety regarding the use of slightly disabled men proved to be unnecessary.


The Geneva Convention: It was recognised as a result of the experiences in Crete that the only adequate protection for a medical unit was the generous display of large and distinct Red Cross markings. It was proved that the Germans respected the Geneva Convention provided that the medical unit was not sited in an area suitable for airborne landing. The wearing of steel helmets was recognised by the Germans as a sign of combatant troops, and therefore they had to be discarded by medical staffs.


Value of Surgical Teams Attached to Divisional Units: There is no doubt that the attachment of a surgical team from 1 NZ General Hospital to the Division in Greece was of inestimable value in the campaigns in both Greece and Crete. The presence of a senior surgeon, with an all-round surgical experience and a special knowledge of orthopaedic surgery, enabled knowledge of the best treatment of the wounded man to be passed on to those working with him, and in addition his own operative ability and judgment were available. He himself noted the difference between the cases passed on from the ambulance in which he had been working and those coming from its fellow.

The loss of a specialist surgeon attached to 7 General Hospital made the team doubly valuable, and a second team would have been most welcome. The problem of whether the forward surgery should be done in the ambulances or at the CCS did not arise here, as there were no official casualty clearing stations and the general hospital was itself a field unit, so that there was little or no distinction between any of the medical units, each one in turn dealing page 210 with whatever work came into its area. The 5th MDS carried out a good deal of operative work. The surgical team operated with both 7 General Hospital and 189 Field Ambulance hospital. British and Australian units also dealt with a considerable number of casualties, including New Zealanders.


Improvisation: The New Zealand units landed in Crete with minimal equipment and supplies, but nevertheless carried out their work under most difficult conditions with quiet efficiency. They showed their ability to improvise, to collect together essential implements, and to work in makeshift quarters. The younger RMOs did a great deal of work single-handed, one RMO putting through nearly 700 cases during the campaign. The lessons learned by those who escaped were of great value to the Medical Corps later in the Desert campaign.


Blood Transfusion Team: The impossibility of carrying out blood transfusions during a rush of casualties, without there being any special team available for that purpose, was recognised. Transfusion sets were available in 189 Field Ambulance hospital, but no transfusions were given. Our surgical team attached to this hospital recommended that a team of one medical officer and two other ranks should be established and attached to the Division, and that equipment, such as portable kerosene-operated refrigerators, should be obtained.


Transport: Naturally, in Crete the supply of transport was of paramount importance and the necessity in modern warfare of having adequate means to transport the wounded from the forward areas to the operating centres only too obvious. Even if it had been possible to embark stretcher cases from Sfakia, ambulances to carry them were not available. It is remarkable how well the medical work was carried out with a minimum of transport.


Dispersal of Medical Stores: The stores of 7 General Hospital were all kept in one tent – in which it was stated that ether was also kept – and unfortunately this tent caught fire during the attack on the hospital. The dispensary tent was also burnt, so that nearly all the medical supplies were destroyed. The dispersal of all essential equipment and stores should be carried out under any circumstances, and especially where damage by the enemy is likely to occur.

There was every reason to be proud of the New Zealand Medical Corps in Crete and of the fact that the medical administration was under our own command. All sections of the Corps did excellent work, including the sisters during their brief stay on the island, and the men of the medical units showed their ability to sacrifice their liberty in the interests of their patients.

map of northern Libya

Second Libyan Campaign: Medical Units and Lines of Evacuation

The line of evacuation was at first back along the route of advance to Conference Cairn, thence to the railhead

page 211
Wounded on Crete
Embarkations (British, Australian, and New Zealand)
Date Port Number
29 Apr Suda Bay 500 (On Ionia—walking wounded ex-Greece)
5 May Canea 602 (On Aba—sick and wounded ex-Greece)
16 May Canea 561 (On Aba—sick and wounded ex-Greece)
24 May Suda Bay 60 (on destroyers bringing medical supplies)
25 May Suda Bay 50 (on destroyers)
26 May Suda Bay 150 (on destroyers—from Naval Hospital)
28–29 May Sfakia 230 (on destroyers)
29–30 May Sfakia 550 (On Glengyle)
30–31 May Sfakia 10
31 May-1 Jun Sfakia 80 (Final embarkation)
Wounded Taken Prisoner (New Zealanders and others)
Date Number Place
23–25 May 270 Maleme area, with RMOs 5 Bde—22 Bn, 160; 21 Bn, 50; 23 Bn, 60.
26 May 200 (?300) 7 Gen Hosp caves with British MOs
26 May 20 Near Canea, with 5 Fd Amb rear party
26 May 100 (?150) Near Canea, with Lt Ballantyne, 6 Fd Amb
27 May 200 (?300) Kalivia, with part 2/1 Aust Fd Amb
28 May 46 Neon Khorion, with Lt-Col Bull
30 May 40 Imvros, with Australian MO.
Total of New Zealand Wounded
Embarked 967
Prisoners of war 525
New Zealand Medical Corps (Officers in parentheses)
Unit Killed Wounded PW
5 Field Ambulance 1 1 (2) 63
6 Field Ambulance (1) 6 8 (2) 83
4 Field Hygiene Section 17
1 General Hospital 17
Regimental medical officers (1) (4)
—— —— ——
(1) 7 (1) 9 (8) 180
page 212
Officers Other Ranks Total
Killed (incl. died of wounds) 36 598 634
Wounded 56 911 967
Prisoners of war 74 2143 2217
—— —— ——
166 3652 3818

Of the prisoners of war, 15 officers and 510 other ranks were wounded, and of these 1 officer and 36 other ranks died of wounds.

Strength of New Zealand Medical Corps on Crete
Officers Other Ranks
5 Field Ambulance 8 146
6 Field Ambulance 8 179
4 Field Hygiene Section 1 30
1 General Hospital 21
ADMS 2 5
—— ——
19 381
Also RMOs 8