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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

VIII: Withdrawal of 3 NZ Division from Active Role and Return to New Zealand

VIII: Withdrawal of 3 NZ Division from Active Role and Return to New Zealand

Early in April 1944, as a result of decisions made in New Zealand, the GOC NZEF (IP), Major-General Barrowclough, announced that the force was to be withdrawn from an active role and returned to New Zealand to meet the demands of essential industry in New Zealand at the following rate: 5000 by the end of June, 3500 in July, 1500 in August, 1000 in September and 1000 in October. The balance of the force remaining, approximately 6000, was to be maintained in New Caledonia on a cadre basis for all formations and units.

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The medical services of NZEF (IP) were requested by Army Headquarters, New Zealand, to arrange for the medical boarding of all returning personnel in accordance with the National Medical Committee standards, and also to arrange for X-ray examination of the chest.

There was a reduction in the strengths of medical units corresponding with the reduction of the force. Divisional medical units, having lighter medical responsibilities in the reorganisation, were reduced to a larger extent than base medical units.

The withdrawal of the Division from Nissan, the Treasury Group and Guadalcanal began on 19 April and proceeded steadily. During May 8 Brigade Group was totally withdrawn from the Treasury Islands and in June most of the 3 NZ Division troops remaining on Nissan and Guadalcanal returned to New Caledonia. To cope with the medical boarding of personnel returning to New Zealand some twenty medical officers were assembled at Base Camp Reception Hospital, New Caledonia, to form full-time medical boards. During May some 5389 troops were medically boarded, of whom 221 were placed in grades other than Grade I. In June 1545 were medically boarded and 127 were other than Grade I. Some of the latter were graded below Grade I prior to their selection for essential industry.

At General Barrowclough's request a weekly return was kept of the numbers of men returned from malarious areas who developed malarial symptoms. The total of these was not large.

The stay of the troops in New Caledonia on the way to New Zealand was sufficiently long to allow for the development of malarial symptoms with the discontinuance of suppressive atebrin. Emergency arrangements had earlier been made in New Zealand by the Health Department for the hospitalisation of 3 Division troops on a large scale, if need be, but fortunately this need did not arise.

On advice from Army Headquarters that the authorities in New Zealand were concerned about the possibility of the introduction into New Zealand of foreign species of termite, it was arranged that an entomologist from 1 Malaria Control Unit should inspect, and arrange for the training of other personnel to inspect, all wooden articles of army equipment before they were returned to New Zealand.

Established base medical units cared for all the sick of the force in New Caledonia, assisted in some cases by personnel of divisional medical units, who replaced personnel returned to New Zealand for essential industry or for furlough.

In July orders were received that the whole of the force was to return to New Zealand. Arrangements were made for the evacuation of patients as soon as transport became available, and for the page 89 winding-up of medical units and return of equipment to New Zealand. A mass medical boarding programme was undertaken, covering all the troops remaining in New Caledonia. Surplus stores and equipment obtained from United States medical supply sources were returned under reverse lease-lend arrangements. Negotiations were completed for the disposal of hospital buildings and equipment required by the United States Forces. This included the handing-over of the hospital at Kalavere, and when this transfer took place in August (4 General Hospital also being closed at this time) the United States Medical Services undertook the hospital care of the sick among the New Zealanders until all the latter were returned to New Zealand.

The majority of the medical units were withdrawn from New Caledonia in August 1944. When the Pacific Force returned to New Zealand the decision was made to disband all units, including medical units. All personnel liable for further service were, after leave, distributed from Mangere Camp to mobilisation camps situated in their home districts, there to await embarkation in drafts to 2 NZEF in the Middle East as replacements. In this respect the release of medical officers, and also other ranks, as reinforcements for 2 NZEF was most timely and relieved a pressing need in 2 NZEF. In Egypt and Italy these members of the Medical Corps rendered a good account of themselves just as they had done in the Pacific.