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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

CHAPTER 1 — Greece, April – November 1941

page 105

Greece, April – November 1941

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.

From 27 April (one day after their capture) until 10 May 1941, these medical officers ran this hospital of 120 beds. After interviewing the German commandant of Corinth on 30 April, Captain

1 Capt A. N. Slater; Wellington; born Dunedin, 13 Nov 1900; medical practitioner; medical officer 4 Fd Amb Oct 1939-Jan 1941; 1 Gen Hosp Jan-Apr 1941; p.w. Apr 1941; repatriated Jun 1944.

2 Capt H. M. Foreman, MBE; Auckland; born Auckland, 1 Dec 1913; medical practitioner; medical officer 1 Gen Hosp Feb 1940-Apr 1941; p.w. Apr 1941.

3 Capt J. Borrie, MBE; Dunedin; born Port Chalmers, 22 Jan 1915; medical practitioner; medical officer 1 Gen Hosp Feb-Apr 1941; p.w. Apr 1941.

4 Capt H. C. Neale; Wellington; born Nelson, 20 Aug 1914; medical practitioner; medical officer 4 Fd Amb Sep 1939-Apr 1941; p.w. Apr 1941.

page 106 Slater, who was commanding officer, was able to have three nursing orderlies transferred from the Corinth prisoner-of-war camp to assist in the work of the hospital. (One other New Zealand medical orderly, Private Savery,1 had on his own initiative taken charge of some thirty wounded in another hotel – the Grande Bretagne. For three days he carried on single-handed and in fact had no idea that any other prisoner-of-war medical organisation existed in Corinth.)

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.

Kalamata Hospital

At Kalamata Major G. H. Thomson, NZMC,2 RMO 4 Field Regiment, had gathered around him a group of British medical officers and had opened a hospital in a hall.

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.

1 Pte W. C. T. Savery; Wellington; born England, 7 Jan 1900; waterside worker; p.w. 29 Apr 1941; repatriated Oct 1943.

2 Maj G. H. Thomson, OBE, ED; New Plymouth; born Dunedin, 5 Mar 1892; obstetrician; 1 NZEF 1914–16 (Gnr 4 How Bty); RMO 4 Fd Regt Sep 1939-Apr 1941; p.w. 28 Apr 1941; repatriated Oct 1943.

II: Kokkinia Prisoner-of-War Hospital

The hospital, situated high above Piraeus on the outskirts of Kokkinia, opened on 9 May 1941, being at first staffed by the remnant of 5 Australian Hospital, 6 officers and 160 men. They and their patients were moved from their old hospital site at Ekali, Athens. The senior administrative officer recognised by the Germans was Major Brooke-Moore, AAMC, and with him was Captain E. V. page 107 Barling, AAMC, as Adjutant. They organised and ran the hospital; and to them great credit is due for having accomplished a very difficult task at a time when all personnel, be they English, Australian or New Zealand, were naturally finding it difficult to settle down to a new and strange way of life in captivity, under new officers. In all their dealings with the Germans the OC and Adjutant were greatly helped by Lance-Corporal Lewis, AAMC, who, having previously lived in Munich for ten years, had a first-class knowledge of German and an acute understanding of the German mentality. They were fortunate in being so well served.

On 10 May 1941, 75 patients and 24 medical and dental staff were brought in a convoy from Corinth, and on 13 May they were joined by a remnant of 26 British General Hospital from Kifisia. The other officers and men from the staff of that hospital, after all their magnificent work at Kifisia, were transported to the overcrowded prisoner-of-war camp in Corinth, where there were also thirty New Zealand medical orderlies from the staff of the convalescent hospital at Voula, for whose transfer to Kokkinia Captain Slater made numerous unavailing requests to the German medical authorities.

Then followed the battle for Crete, from which wounded prisoners were admitted to the hospital from 25 May until 6 June, arriving by air or sea transport. Because of a great increase in casualties a walking wounded and convalescent hospital was opened on 29 May, half a mile away, as an annexe of the main hospital. Later, on 6 June, a subsidiary hospital, which functioned for one month, was opened in the Polytechnic Building, Athens, Major Thomson being senior British medical officer.

The admissions to the hospital at Kokkinia by early June totalled over 2000, made up as follows:

From 5 Australian General Hospital, Ekali 91
From 26 British General Hospital, Kifisia 290
From Corinth and Kalamata 260
From Crete 1397

Thus the mixed hospital staff at Kokkinia performed a most valuable function in caring for large numbers of sick and wounded prisoners from their own forces. At the peak after the battle for Crete there were 850 occupied beds in the main hospital.

From Crete came captured New Zealand medical officers. Employment was quickly found for them.

Major S. de Clive Lowe1 became an anaesthetist at the Kokkinia

1 Maj S. G. de Clive Lowe, m.i.d.; England; born NZ 27 Feb 1904; medical practitioner; medical officer 5 Fd Amb Mar-May 1941; p.w. May 1941.

page 108 hospital; Captain Ballantyne1 was put in charge of a ward of sixty patients; Captains Moody2 and Longmore3 were in charge of the ‘convalescent’ camp; Captains Stewart4 and Stevenson-Wright5 went along with Major Thomson and Captain Slater to open up an additional hospital at the Polytechnic Institute in Athens on 6 June.

When the Polytechnic hospital closed on 14 July 1941 the staff were brought to the ‘convalescent’ camp at Kokkinia, and those not absorbed into the hospital life there were soon transported by sea to Salonika, thence by rail to Germany.

The Kokkinia hospital was under the direct command of a young German captain, who, from the start, ran it on strict German military lines – with breakfast for all at 6.30 a.m., lunch at midday, tea at 6 p.m. There was a half-day free on Sunday for the staff, if they had worked well. Daily check parades for all were soon replaced by twice-weekly check parades for orderlies and patients, the former parading, the latter remaining in their beds.

The Kokkinia hospital was established in a very large ferroconcrete building of five blocks, all except one of four storeys. Large courtyards separated the blocks and no dwellings were within 300 yards of the hospital. The smaller block of three storeys was used for administration and special services, including operating theatres, and the kitchen. The other four blocks all housed patients in 60-bed wards. Male orderlies staffed the wards. The routine was strict and full records were kept both by the medical officers and the charge orderlies.

The operating theatres were well equipped from 5 Australian General Hospital and adequate British supplies of linen, sutures and anaesthetics were available. The Australians equipped and staffed a laboratory capable of carrying out all routine examinations. An X-ray plant was also installed from 5 Australian General Hospital, but the portable X-ray machine was commandeered by the Germans and fracture cases could not be screened in bed. A reasonable supply of films was provided by the Germans.

An excellent dental service was provided by the New Zealand Mobile Dental Unit, which recovered its equipment from Voula camp. Dentures were made and fractured jaws were splinted.

1 Capt D. A. Ballantyne, m.i.d.; Hastings; born New Guinea, 1 Sep 1911; medical practitioner; medical officer 6 Fd Amb May 1940-May 1941; p.w. May 1941.

2 Capt R. F. Moody, MBE, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 15 Oct 1915; medical practitioner; medical officer 5 Fd Amb Dec 1939-May 1941; p.w. 26 May 1941.

3 Maj L. H. V. Longmore; Christchurch; born NZ 18 Nov 1909; medical practitioner; RMO 22 Bn Dec 1940-May 1941; p.w. 21 May 1941; repatriated Nov 1943; medical officer 1 Gen Hosp Apr-Oct 1944; Prisoner-of-War Reception Group (UK) Oct 1944-Dec 1945.

4 Capt R. S. Stewart; Gore; born NZ 17 Mar 1906; medical practitioner; RMO 23 Bn May 1940-May 1941; p.w. 23 May 1941.

5 Capt E. Stevenson-Wright, MBE; Wellington; born Dannevirke, 16 Feb 1909; medical practitioner; medical officer 1 Gen Hosp Mar 1940-Feb 1941; RMO 2 Div Cav Mar-May 1941; p.w. May 1941.

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Medical supplies were available from Australian and British stores. There were some shortages, notably of sulphonamides and dressings, and the German plaster was of poor quality. Surgical instruments and syringes were in short supply.


In the five months at Kokkinia 68 patients died, while 2334 were discharged as cured or relieved and 109 remained invalids. All parties going to Germany had medical personnel attached and carried emergency kits with dressings. The larger parties had medical officers attached as well.


The German attitude to the British was reasonable, except as far as food was concerned. From the start rations were low, approximately 1500–1800 calories a day; and try as they might, the British authorities could never get the ration increased.

The daily ration consisted of three ounces of bread, lentils, broad beans, a little meat, dried ling, sugar, and dry mint for tea. The fat ration was a Dutch liquid cooking margarine. Hard biscuits, lard, rice, tomatoes and cucumbers were also included in the menu.

Everybody shared alike in the rations, except that the very ill had a little supplementary diet when available, for example, when for a time it was possible to buy milk from the Greeks. A canteen, stocked mainly with fruit purchased by the Greek Red Cross, was opened at the end of May. Through the good graces of the Greek Red Cross, and from local traders, milk, fresh fruit, onions, and even eggs could be bought. These were cooked in the wards or rooms on primus stoves, the property of 5 Australian General Hospital. Kerosene supplies were fortunately maintained throughout the period the hospital functioned. Ever abundant olive oil was used as the frying medium. By the end of September some forty British Red Cross food parcels had been delivered, but parcels were slow in reaching Greece in any quantity and most prisoners received no issue until they reached Germany.

The Greek Red Cross, ably organised by Mme Zannas, paid weekly visits to the hospital delivering mail and special articles required by prisoners, including a piano, and in all ways served to boost morale, as indeed did all the Greek people during the time of captivity in Greece.


The basis of the clothing store was the stock of 5 Australian General Hospital. This was augmented by drill shirts, jackets and page 110 trousers from 26 British General Hospital. Another unexpected and welcome find was an enormous stock of washed British drill shirts and shorts which had been left dirty by the evacuating British in a large steam laundry in Athens. During the last days of freedom the Greek staff had systematically cleaned it. Some Greek civilian bedding was in the building when it was taken over as a prisoner-of-war hospital. The Greek Red Cross donated 400 pairs of socks and the Germans procured a number of Greek army boots. From this store all patients who came from Crete were able to get a small issue of clothing, and all except a dozen obtained boots. Winter wear was only to be found in Germany, and some whose entry to Germany was delayed until March 1942 spent a chilly winter at Salonika in light summer clothing.

Patients Treated and Types of Injury – Statistics

The patients in Kokkinia came from four chief sources:


Those too sick to be evacuated before the Germans came, who were in ? Australian and 26 British General Hospitals.


Those from south of Athens, sent to the hospital by the Germans by ambulance after capture.


Those from Crete, who were flown over in German transport planes.


Staffs, etc., becoming ill in the hospital itself.

Classes 2 and 3 were really very ill indeed, very hungry and thirsty and ill clad. Practically all their wounds were suppurating. They had had some preliminary treatment at the time of wounding.

Severe injuries of all kinds were dealt with, but most of the severe chest and abdominal cases did not survive to reach Athens. There were 13 deaths in 88 head cases. Some 349 compound fractures were treated, with 11 deaths and 27 amputations. Plaster splints were applied and sulphonamides administered. Lack of a portable X-ray machine led to deformity in many fractures of the femur, for which both Thomas and Braun splints were used with Kirschner wire traction. Secondary haemorrhage necessitated several amputations. Of 132 cases with joint injuries, 9 died and 9 had amputation performed.

Blood transfusions were given for haemorrhage and for secondary anaemia, orderlies being used as donors. Nerve injuries were not explored. Some aneurysms were operated on and excised.

Of 613 patients with major simple wounds 15 died, 4 from gas gangrene, 6 from sepsis, and 3 from secondary haemorrhage.

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Bone grafting was carried out for some of the jaw injuries. Sixteen eyes had to be removed, and vulcanite artificial eyes were made by the dental department. Two cases of tetanus were recorded, one a Maori, and both died. Both had had prophylactic tetanus toxoid but not anti-tetanus serum after wounding.

Sixteen cases of gas gangrene were recorded and six died.

There were eight deaths from disease among 800 cases, 300 of which had some form of infectious disease.