Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

II: Medical Staffing

II: Medical Staffing

The primary function of the RNZAF in the first years of the war was the training of aircrew, who were sent to Canada and the United Kingdom for final training before being drafted to combat duties. To this end training schools were established in New Zealand, and these increased in size and number as the strength of the RNZAF in New Zealand grew to 9700 by July 1941 and to 30,000 by September 1943.

At each Air Force station there was normally a medical officer, a nursing sister (where sick quarters were maintained), one NCO medical or nursing orderly, and three to six other nursing orderlies, male or female. They were responsible for the health and hygiene of the unit, sick parades, the care of station sick quarters and the nursing of the patients. In addition there were emergency stand-by and ambulance duties.

In 1943, with the introduction of group administration in the RNZAF, senior medical officers were appointed at Auckland and Christchurch with the object of decentralising medical administrative control. The arrangement was very efficient, and with the closing down of group administration in November 1944 the organisation was retained under three medical areas – northern, central and southern.

The RNZAF medical organisation overseas was confined to the South Pacific area, where the RNZAF began to serve towards the end of 1942, and where a peak strength of nearly 8000, mainly aircrew, was reached at the beginning of 1945. There was a senior medical officer for the Fiji-Tonga-Norfolk area, and later another for No. 1 Islands Group in the New Hebrides-Solomon Islands theatre. The medical officer strength overseas in the Pacific rose to twenty-one at the beginning of 1945.

Medical Officers

Recruitment: Medical officers prior to March 1943 were seconded from the Army. After that date all were commissioned in the page 206 RNZAF direct from civil life by arrangement with the DGMS (Army and Air) and the National Medical Committee. Medical officer strengths at yearly intervals were as follows:

NZ Pacific Total
September 1939 2 2
January 1940 4 4
January 1941 14 14
January 1942 19 4 23
January 1943 30 5 35
January 1944 46 16 62
January 1945 45 21 66

Training: Medical officers were required to have at least six months' hospital experience following qualification before being commissioned, after which all attended a course at the Officers' School of Instruction, followed by posting to units as assistants to experienced medical officers. Experience on different types of New Zealand stations for at least twelve months was given before posting to overseas units.

Length of Service: An attempt was made to release medical officers to civil practice after a period of three or more years' service. It was necessary to retain for senior professional and administrative posts many officers who had served for a longer period.

Nursing Sisters

Early in 1940 authority was sought, and duly granted by the Air Board, to appoint trained nurses to RNZAF stations for the purpose of training medical personnel and supervising the nursing and dietary of the sick. During the second half of 1940, five ex-members of the NZANS were temporarily engaged for this purpose. Owing to the lack of suitable accommodation on the air stations, these sisters had to board near their appointed stations. In November 1940 two full-time sisters were appointed, and on 7 February 1941 a supervising matron was appointed. When the Women's Auxiliary Air Force was absorbed into the RNZAF and quartered on RNZAF stations, nursing sisters were seconded to the Air Force from the NZANS and lived on stations. The policy then was that on all stations where sick quarters were maintained for bed patients, a sister was appointed and was responsible to the station medical officer for the supervision of nursing and sick-dietary and the training of medical orderlies. At the end of 1943 two sisters were established at No. 2 RNZAF Hospital in the New Hebrides, and several months later a further two appointments were sanctioned at Guadalcanal. Subsequently two sisters were posted to Norfolk Island and one to Fiji.

page 207
Medical Orderlies

In September 1939 there were only six medical orderlies on the strength of the RNZAF – three at Hobsonville and three at Wigram. With the expansion of the RNZAF this number was steadily increased, the number growing to 380 (including 80 airwomen), all being recruited directly into the RNZAF. The first recruits were interviewed by selection committees and precedence given to those applicants with previous medical experience, either with St. John Ambulance or with Army medical units. After their ground training course they were posted to stations, where practical and theoretical instruction was given during the course of their duties. At some stations courses of training were arranged in conjunction with the local public hospitals. When greater numbers were required, special training courses were started in April 1942, under the supervision of the Matron of the Nursing Service. A training school was also established at Remuera, where a much fuller syllabus of training was introduced and the course was extended to six weeks. Subsequent to the initial training course, orderlies were required to undergo six-monthly trade tests to qualify for higher rank. Prior to being posted overseas orderlies, irrespective of rank, were later required to undergo a four-weeks' refresher course at this training school, and had to attain a specific standard before being sent overseas.

Medical orderlies were first required for overseas service in June 1940, when two were posted to Fiji. In August 1941 a further seven orderlies accompanied a construction unit to Singapore and returned to New Zealand in March 1942. During 1942 all drafts going to Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme were accompanied by an RNZAF medical orderly. Towards the end of that year also, with the commencement of the Pacific campaign, medical staff were posted to units and squadrons proceeding to that area. Medical sections were established at New Caledonia and Santo, and in January 1943 they moved into Guadalcanal with the bomber squadrons that were commencing operations from that base. Overseas requirements were steadily increased until there were over 100 male and six WAAF medical orderlies serving in the Pacific area.

WAAF Medical Orderlies: Female medical orderlies were first appointed to the RNZAF in a civilian capacity at Wigram early in 1940. With the formation of the WAAF in June 1941, WAAF medical orderlies were appointed. Initial selection was from already enlisted airwomen who had had previous training and experience as nursing aids. Training and courses, under the same provisions as for male personnel, were necessary for advancement and promotion. From 1943, enlistments as WAAF medical orderlies were through the voluntary aid pool, and many obtained their VAD certificates page 208 after examination by the joint council of the Order of St. John and the Red Cross.

Hygiene and Sanitation Personnel: In March 1942 specialist hygiene and sanitation orderlies were appointed, the first being stationed at Rotorua. Subsequently all stations were staffed with hygiene personnel, and in addition to their main responsibilities of maintenance of sanitation and hygiene many were required to specialise in malaria control. At overseas units malaria control was of paramount importance, and their duties, particularly in the ‘moving-in’ stages of these units, were very onerous. The comparatively low rate of malaria overseas reflected to a large extent the success of malaria control activities.

For the first four years the instruction in hygiene and sanitation was provided by the Army, but in 1944 a school of hygiene and sanitation was established at the RNZAF Station, Swanson.

The functions of the school were as follows:


The training of orderlies in hygiene and sanitation.


A course of instruction in tropical hygiene and practical field sanitation for medical officers proceeding overseas.


A brief course of lectures and demonstrations on tropical hygiene and malaria control to all personnel proceeding overseas.

Medical Stores and Staff

The organisation for medical supplies was divided into two sections: the Medical Quartermaster's Branch, which controlled the ordering and accounting for the stores and worked in close coordination with the corresponding Army branch, and the Medical Stores Depots controlling distribution of the stores. At the beginning of the war medical stores were distributed from a store at Rongotai airport. Dispersal of medical stores took place with the threat of Japanese invasion and stores were opened in Palmerston North and at Delta, Blenheim. In 1943 a further store was established in No. 1 Islands Group. With the reduction in the number of New Zealand stations, the Delta store closed and the Palmerston North store moved to Petone. Amalgamation of the Petone store with Army Medical Stores was effected later.

The original staff of one at the outbreak of war increased to sixteen in 1945. The staff was composed of qualified chemists, five in New Zealand and two in the Pacific area, supervising the manufacture of medicinal preparations and the dispensing of prescriptions, and equipment assistants having special training in medical supplies.

page 209

The number of units supplied with medical and surgical equipment was as follows:

Type of Unit New Zealand Overseas
Hospitals 2 4
Station Sick Quarters 43 3
Tropical Units 14
X-ray Units 2
Laboratories 1 2
Convalescent Depots 2

Equipment in the early years of the war was obtained through the Defence Purchase Division from local warehouses. In February 1943 this system was changed to a direct indent through Army Medical Stores from overseas, mainly from the United States and India. Units in No. 1 Islands Group obtained supplies from Allied services operating in the area.