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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Campaign Against Flies

Campaign Against Flies

The fly menace, with its accompanying incidence of diarrhoea, had reached such alarming proportions by early August that a rigorous drive was developed against it. A New Zealand Division routine order of 7 August directed units to construct as many flytraps as possible and gave details for their construction in an appendix. A conference presided over by ADMS 2 NZ Division was held at Divisional Headquarters on 9 August to discuss measures to be taken in the campaign, and a copy of the minutes of the meeting was forwarded to all units. Colonel Ardagh explained that the conference had been called to increase the comfort of troops and to diminish the risk of sickness. Diarrhoea during the week had risen to 1000 cases, fortunately only of a mild nature, as page 366 evacuations totalled only 38 as against 51 for the previous week. The cycle of infection was explained and measures for prevention suggested to and discussed by unit representatives.

The following day the intensified campaign against flies was well under way. A truck arrived from Headquarters 2 NZEF, Maadi Camp, with 150 fly-traps, 20 gallons of formalin, and eight pounds of sodium arsenite which were delivered to units. On 11 August part of 4 Field Hygiene Section was reformed as a unit to play its major part in the campaign.

Models of improvised fly-proof latrines made from petrol tins, fly-traps of various kinds, and soak-pits were made and demonstrated to all units. For those units which were new to the desert, special lectures and demonstrations had been arranged and these had produced most gratifying results. A demonstration area was prepared at Rear HQ NZ Division and representatives of all units visited it. As a result they were able to produce appliances suitable to local conditions. Stress was laid on improvisation and nothing was shown that could not be made with petrol tins, a bayonet, and a shovel. Methods described in textbooks were of no use when the materials were not available; but the principles could be embodied in improvisation from salvage. Education was the responsibility of the medical services, but it was the responsibility of the unit to see that a high standard of hygiene and sanitation was maintained at all times. It was the thoughtlessness and carelessness of the individual which endangered health in situations where manpower was the most important factor.

The greatest handicap to a total anti-fly campaign had been the lack of material. It had to be recognised that while everything possible might be done to prevent breeding and to minimise infection, the psychological effect of killing flies and actually seeing them die was a great one. There was a pathological and psychological battle. The mere presence of flies has an effect on both morale and comfort which is almost as important as the danger of infection. Before the end of August the improved state as regards flies was most gratifying.

In regard to other sanitation arrangements, urinals were constructed of tin so as to form a pipe leading into a soakage pit under the sand—the desert-lily pattern.

Soakage pits were also dug at each vehicle and special pits, made from two petrol tins, constructed for cookhouses. All the pits were flushed daily with petrol. Altogether, the unprecedented conditions led to both a keen appreciation of the necessity for adequate sanitary measures and remarkable ingenuity and success in designing methods of dealing with the difficulties that arose.

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