Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific
I: Hospitals at Corinth and Kalamata
THE evacuation of Greece in April 1941 resulted in some 1850 New Zealanders being left behind as prisoners of war. Some of these were sick and wounded. Included among the prisoners of war were six New Zealand medical officers and 92 New Zealand medical orderlies, the majority being from that part of the staff of 1 NZ General Hospital which was detached to form a convalescent hospital, whose staff and 400 patients were apparently more or less forgotten in the withdrawal.
Prisoner-of-War Hospital, Corinth
This hospital was opened at the instigation of a wizened old fighter of over 70 years of age, Miss Ariadne Massautti. She persuaded a German medical officer of the paratroop battalion which had landed at the Corinth Canal on 26 April 1941 to find out if any British doctors had been captured during the German blitz on Corinth. She also persuaded this same medical officer to drive to the eastern end of the Corinth Canal and bring the four captured New Zealand doctors – Captains Slater,1 Foreman2 and J. Borrie3 of 1 NZ General Hospital and Captain Neale4 of 4 Field Ambulance – to Corinth. She had them placed by the German officer in the Ionian Palace hotel, which she had previously commandeered in the name of the Greek Red Cross for wounded prisoners of war. German units sought to occupy it. She valiantly fought back, and quickly had prisoner-of-war patients moved in from Greek hospitals where they had been collected.
There were few beds in the Ionian Palace hotel and sanitary arrangements were poor and medical arrangements very meagre. Most patients slept on mattresses on the floor. The only medical supplies available were those which Miss Massautti and her friends had been able to get from the local Greek hospital. The medical officers were able to do dressings and simple surgical procedures, but later, cases requiring major surgery were transferred to the local Greek hospital or to a German military hospital. Of the 122 British, Australian and New Zealand patients in the Ionian Palace hotel, the majority (80) had gunshot wounds, almost all infected, one with gas gangrene; dysentery and pneumonia were the most serious medical conditions. There were remarkably few deaths (only four) in the two weeks in this hotel, despite the appalling lack of medical and sanitary facilities and the small amount of food. Some Greek women did all in their power to provide for the deficiencies, but the Germans did practically nothing to help.
On 16 May this group was transported in German ambulances to Piraeus (Athens), where the Germans were concentrating all wounded prisoners of war in a large American orphanage building, only just completed, in the suburb of Kokkinia.