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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Importance of Hygiene

Importance of Hygiene

Though circumstances were admittedly difficult at the time, it seems that the importance of the hygiene unit in the safeguarding of the health of the Division was not fully appreciated. When conditions were the most difficult in the history of the Division from the sanitation point of view, 4 Field Hygiene Section was allowed to remain at its weakest—depleted in numbers, without equipment and without transport, and, until August, dispersed among medical units. The unit was not re-equipped with vehicles until the end of October, when it was sited next to 1 NZ CCS, and the whole unit did not rejoin the Division until it was in the Bardia area.

It is recognised, however, that the steady supply of fly-traps and poisons, latrine lids, and the constant inspections by the hygiene personnel diminished the number of flies and checked the incidence of excremental disease. On 10 September the ADH 13 Corps stated that the sickness rate in the Division was the lowest in 13 Corps' area. This position contrasts with that obtaining in the enemy lines.

The enemy's deficiencies in hygiene and sanitation, with consequent deterioration in the health of his troops, played an important part in the outcome of the Battle of Alamein. A captured enemy report of 13 October from the headquarters of Panzerarmee to Field Marshal Rommel (then in Germany) stated: ‘The personnel situation has deteriorated considerably, and reinforcements have been page 374 few. The sickness rate has been particularly high in 164 Lt. Div. At present all its regimental commanders and adjutants are ill, and some companies are under the command of NCOs.… It is hoped however that the position will gradually improve, especially in the case of jaundice.’

General Alexander, in a despatch published in The London Gazette on 5 February 1948, said:

These arrivals (of enemy reinforcements) which averaged about 5,000 men a week,1 were unable to keep pace with the very heavy sick rate. Possibly owing to the congestion of troops on the ground, greater than ever known before in the desert, and to an inadequate medical and sanitary organisation, especially among the Italians, diseases such as Dysentery and infective jaundice were extraordinarily prevalent among the Axis troops. Some units suffered up to as much as 25 per cent of their strength. Thanks to the efficiency of our own medical services our sickness did not rise above normal for the time of the year, and to nothing like the extent on the enemy side of the line. The most prominent Axis casualty was the Army Commander. Rommel had been in poor health since August, and in September he left for Germany, technically on leave. It appears, however, that he was not intended to return and he was replaced by General Stumme.

1 This figure is now thought to be unduly high.