Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

XV: Ex-prisoners of War from Far East – Hospital and Convalescent Treatment in New Zealand

XV: Ex-prisoners of War from Far East – Hospital and Convalescent Treatment in New Zealand

In September 1945 the Commander-in-Chief of the British Pacific Fleet requested the New Zealand Government to assist with the provision of hospital facilities for sick prisoners of war and civilian internees from Hong Kong and China and other territories which page 291 had been occupied by the Japanese. The Government agreed to receive 400 hospital cases and 500 convalescents. It was arranged that the Health Department through the hospital boards should provide treatment for the hospital cases and that the Army Medical Service should provide accommodation for the convalescents. For the hospital cases Auckland Hospital provided 200 beds, Waikato Hospital 50 beds, Palmerston North Hospital 50 beds, and Hutt Hospital 100 beds. For the convalescent cases the convalescent depots at Raventhorpe and Burnham provided 200 beds each, and the camp hospitals at Papakura and Trentham 150 and 75 respectively.

Records of medical examination and treatment for all service personnel, whether attached to British or Allied forces, were the responsibility of the Army Department, and those for all civilians that of the Social Security Department.

Early in October the Hospital Ship Tjitjalengka brought over 300 ex-prisoners of war and internees to Auckland, and the Hospital Ship Maunganui brought 362 to Wellington and the South Island. These persons were admitted to hospitals and convalescent depots as arranged, in all cases the actual admissions being proportionately less than originally provided for owing to the lesser number of patients concerned. Of the army medical units, Raventhorpe Convalescent Depot admitted 162 patients, Papakura Camp Hospital 87, Trentham Camp Hospital 25, and Burnham Convalescent Depot 172. These patients remained in New Zealand from six weeks to four months before moving on to their home countries.

Most of the ex-prisoners of war and internees had been in Japanese prison camps for over three years under very trying conditions, with a diet lacking most of the essential vitamins, and without Red Cross parcels or any mail. The period spent on hospital ships after their release and prior to their arrival in New Zealand had enabled them to put on weight so that their emaciation was less marked. In this connection the Maunganui patients were touchingly grateful for what had been done for them.

Most of them on arrival in New Zealand, however, were debilitated and suffering from avitaminosis, chiefly of the beri-beri type. In general the severity of this condition varied inversely with the ability of the prisoners to secure fresh food at their various prison camps. Other symptoms associated with avitaminosis were oedema, neuritis, dyspepsia, gall-bladder disease, anaemia and impaired vision. Appropriate diet to supply vitamin deficiencies and enable the prisoners to regain the capacity to eat a fair meal without discomfort were important features of their convalescence.

Their mental condition was in some ways the greatest rehabilitation problem of these ex-prisoners. They were in a hyper-emotional page 292 state and at first restless and aimless in their demeanour. With freedom from irksome regulations they gradually reverted to normal and their behaviour was exemplary.

When they left New Zealand's shores most had recovered from beri-beri, and all were heavier, stronger, more physically fit and healthier in mental outlook and very thankful for the care and attention they had received.