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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

II: Evacuation to Germany

II: Evacuation to Germany

Most surgical cases were sent to a Greek hospital under control of the Germans. Towards the end of July wounded arrived from Kokkinia hospital in groups of 200 to 300 at a time, on their way through to Germany. The first party consisted of the blind, the limbless and jaw cases. Then came those with fractured limbs, some still in plaster, others barely a week out. After from two days to a week at Salonika they were sent in trucks from the hospital barracks to railway trucks and carriages. Many lay for eleven days in trucks with just straw for a bed, no blankets, very little food and no medical treatment. There was no toilet and few bottles or pans accompanied the wounded. Some were lucky in getting to Germany on a German hospital train, but too many had to go by cattle truck and carriage.

Another barracks was opened up to accommodate these ‘through’ patients. The bed state at one time was over 800 patients. Captain Cochrane, assisted by Captain Cook, NZDC,1 persuaded the Germans to let one portion of a barracks be used as a convalescent hospital and here, with extra food, mainly vegetables supplied by the Greek Red Cross, many patients were given a better chance of recovering their health.

The jaundice cases soon developed oedema, believed to be due to the polished rice in their diet. The hospital became so full at one time that further jaundice patients could not be admitted. Beri-beri cases would line up every night to receive a spoonful of yeast. This relieved the oedema but the supply of yeast was soon exhausted.

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September was the month of highest mortality, twenty-seven men dying over the thirty days. They were taken away in pine boxes fashioned by carpenters in the compound, and were buried in the old Greek cemetery where lie some Anzacs from the First World War. A military funeral was accorded each of them by a party of prisoners of war. In the period of six months, seventy-nine deaths were recorded out of many thousands who passed through the camp, the hospital handling over 3000 of the men.

As patients arrived from Athens and moved on to Germany, so the list of sick diminished, many of the patients going on with the wounded. Medical personnel moved on with these parties. At the end of September the whole camp was practically cleared of prisoners of war, leaving only a few cooks, the camp sergeant-major and his staff and two doctors and ten orderlies. The staff lived in a small compound through the chill of October and the cold of November. The infantile paralysis cases improved. Diphtheria patients regained strength and the staff was able to relax a little from hard months of toil. By early November Red Cross parcels arrived and each man received one a week. It seemed like a magnificent Christmas the day each received the first parcel, and was a turning point in the health of all.

Half-way through November a hospital ship arrived from Athens with almost the last of the wounded. They stayed until 20 November, when a German hospital train was ready to leave for Germany and British sick and wounded travelled by it. Practically all the hospital staff, except one doctor and two orderlies who followed later, left by this train to take up further hospital duties in various hospitals in Germany.

During a ten-day trip from Salonika to Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf, Upper Silesia, the following rations (as recorded by Captain Borrie) were issued:

Friday, 10th October, 1941: We each received 4 small 4 oz. tins of Schwein Fleisch [pork] and 2½ loaves of bread, said to be rations for 4–6 days. The Greek Red Cross left baskets of grapes and tomatoes on the train.

Monday, 13th October, 1941: Each received a cup of ‘ersatz’ coffee in Belgrade. The Serbian Red Cross left bread on the train.

Wednesday, 15th October, 1941: At Szowbathely, Hungary, ‘am now very thin’ – have lost a lot of weight these past 2 weeks. My buccal pads of fat are now very small, and I can easily and distinctly palpate all my teeth through my cheeks.

Thursday, 16th October, 1941: At Vienna – from German Red Cross, received one pint hot thick pea soup, served in cartons. In the afternoon, issued with ?th of a loaf of bread per man, and one small tin of Schwein Fleisch.

Friday, 17th October, 1941: At Nuremberg – issued with mint tea and ?th loaf per man.

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Saturday, 18th October, 1941: Beyond Dresden – at 9.30 p.m. given 1 loaf of bread between 17 men.

Sunday, 19th October, 1941: Breslau – 2 large bowls of pea soup and a cup of ersatz coffee, issued by the German Red Cross.

The dry diet in that 10 days was 3 and ?th loaves of bread, 5 small tins of Fleisch (each about 100 grams weight); besides some grapes and tomatoes from the Greek Red Cross. Fluids consisted of drinks of ersatz coffee, etc., at Belgrade, Vienna, Nuremberg and Breslau, with soup at Vienna and Breslau.