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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy



Re-equipment was a question of major importance for the medical units who had lost almost all their equipment in Greece and Crete. All the Division's medical equipment was lost in Greece with the exception of that which could be carried on the men. This residual equipment was expended in Crete. The units concerned were 4, 5, and 6 Field Ambulances, 4 Field Hygiene Section, and 1 General Hospital, and also the regimental medical officers. The reserves in the Middle East were not sufficient for all the demands, and the New Zealand units had to wait many weeks pending the arrival of more equipment from England.

The staffs of the medical units had also lost considerable personal kit as well as some personal medical instruments and books during the campaigns in Greece and Crete. Representations for replacements were made and compensation was granted, adjusted to the extent of the individual loss.

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The question of the loss of books brought up the larger matter of hospital libraries. In a report in June Lieutenant-Colonel Stout said:

I submit that a medical library of books recognised as authoritative on their different subjects is a necessity for the proper functioning of a hospital either in peace or war. In peacetime the individual physician or surgeon has at his command a personal library of such books without which he could hardly function. He also has access to medical libraries and also to the individual libraries of his colleagues. The books are required for two cardinal purposes. Firstly, for reference in cases of difficulty, especially when the disease or injury is an uncommon one; and secondly, for post-graduate study so as to supplement the knowledge already possessed by the practitioner. In war, authoritative books are, if anything, required still more as no reference libraries are available and conditions are encountered which are not normally met with in civilian practice.

Brigadier MacCormick instructed the hospitals that it was a legitimate use of the funds placed at their disposal by the Joint Council of the Order of St. John and New Zealand Red Cross Society to provide libraries of standard textbooks and periodicals. Few such books, however, were obtainable in Egypt.

By the end of June 4 Field Ambulance had its medical equipment complete, but none had been issued to the other units. Indent had been made for a limited amount of medical equipment for training purposes only. None of the field ambulances had any ordnance equipment, and training without transport was necessarily limited in scope.

During June 1 General Hospital was able to draw the major part of its G. 1098 equipment from ordnance. No medical equipment had come to hand and the unit had nothing except the surgical instruments brought back from Greece, but during July some progress was made. In September when it moved to Helwan, 1 General Hospital took over all the equipment of 2 General Hospital, which then fell heir to 1 General Hospital's problems. When 2 General Hospital was suddenly called upon to move to the Western Desert at the end of October its equipment was still not quite complete, but the few deficiencies were immediately made up.

On 14 July both 5 and 6 Field Ambulances received their I. 1248 equipment, so that all three field ambulances then had complete medical equipment. At the same time fifteen sets of medical equipment for RMOs were delivered, completing the Division's requirements in this connection. During July and August each of the field ambulances received eight motor ambulance cars, and in August the medical units also drew most of their ordnance equipment. It was also approved that each field ambulance should be issued with eight light tarpaulins (30 ft. by 40 ft.) and six 160-pound tents to page 220 facilitate the rapid erection of dressing stations in desert warfare. This tentage was not, however, immediately available.

Before returning to the Western Desert the field ambulances were issued with 3-ton trucks in place of 30-cwt trucks, and so were able to carry all their own personnel and equipment. Thus, the deficiencies in tentage and transport that had been observed in Greece were rectified. Considering the very serious losses of medical equipment in other forces beside the New Zealand force, it was remarkable that the deficiencies were made up so rapidly; our New Zealand units were treated with the utmost consideration by the British Army medical depots.

The question of the open display of Red Cross signs was still very undecided at this time in spite of the experience in Greece and Crete, so provision was made for the blotting out of the Red Cross in the event of camouflage being called for. Arrangements were made for the motor ambulance cars to be marked with the Red Cross.

Difficulties arose at this stage in obtaining an adequate supply of expendable medical stores for use in divisional units. This state of affairs continued for some months, but was, of course, due to the difficult supply position in the Middle East because of the long shipping route from the United Kingdom round the Cape of Good Hope.