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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

V: Sickness in New Zealand Camps

V: Sickness in New Zealand Camps

From 1942 to 1946 the hospital admission rate per thousand troops per month (averaged over a year) varied from 26 to 34 for camp hospitals and from 10 to 14 for public hospitals, some of the page 258 latter being transfers from the camp hospitals. During the war the public hospitals had to admit cases of sickness from the camps that would normally have been nursed at home, but were able to do so partly through the use of temporary hospitals such as the Ellerslie and Trentham racecourse hospitals.

In August 1941 the weekly issue of a bulletin of cases of notifiable diseases occurring in each army camp and RNZAF station was commenced. A copy was forwarded each week to ADsMS and the DMS (Air), together with a copy of the weekly bulletin of notifiable diseases issued by the Department of Health.

ADsMS were thereby kept informed as to cases occurring amongst the troops as well as amongst the civilian population in their districts.

From January 1942, when intensive mobilisation began for home defence, inoculations of all troops against typhoid and paratyphoid fevers was carried out – a measure previously restricted to members of the Expeditionary Force.

Respiratory Diseases

An epidemic of influenza commenced in September 1939 among fortress troops, appeared in the three mobilisation camps early in October (Ngaruawahia, Trentham and Burnham), spread rapidly and gradually subsided during the middle two weeks of November. The percentage of unit strength admitted to camp hospitals or evacuated to public hospitals varied in the different units of the First Echelon from 25 per cent to 54 per cent. There were two main waves, the first reaching its height about the middle of October; then it temporarily subsided and rose again with increased virulence to double the height a week later. The incidence rates in the three camps closely resembled one another. This was especially the case in the marked rise after weekend leave.

Very energetic measures were taken to combat the epidemic and a memorandum on the health of troops was compiled by the DGMS and circulated to all unit commanders by the Adjutant-General. The memorandum set out seven essential preventive measures, viz:


Adequate air space and ventilation of sleeping quarters.


All damp or wet clothing to be changed at once, or as soon as practicable, and not be retained in sleeping quarters.


Adequate change of clothing including socks, etc., and adequate drying facilities.


Avoidance of undue fatigue, i.e., graduated training.


Adequate facilities for hot and cold showers.


Diet not only wholesome but varied and well cooked.


Sanitary arrangements to be above suspicion.

page 259

Other epidemics occurred from time to time, usually amongst newly mobilised and unsalted personnel. Practically all cases were ordinary influenza with few, if any, serious complications.

The Third Echelon experienced an epidemic of influenza when it entered camp in May 1940 and the following figures were recorded:

10–16 May 17–23 May 24–30 May 31 May–3 June
Number reporting sick
Papakura 129 1005 1462 609
Trentham 210 961 1471 943
Burnham 52 590 901 609
Admitted to Camp Hosp
Papakura 29 95 132 79
Trentham 24 52 116 97
Burnham 13 32 81 75
Transferred to Civil Hosp
Papakura 8 21 49 25
Trentham 1 4 26 27
Burnham 1 23 39

From January to September 1940 there were 4685 cases of influenza from the main camps. In the winter of 1941 influenza was very prevalent, and in the winter of 1942 there were nearly 9000 cases recorded among troops, but the figures dropped in succeeding winters to 736 in 1943, 369 in 1944 and 721 in 1945.

Measles and mumps were the only other epidemic diseases of major account. The following figures were recorded:

Measles Mumps
Jan-Sep 1940 390 ?
1 Dec 40–31 Jan 41 677 69
1 Jun 41–31 Mar 42 2630 1718
1 Apr 42–31 Mar 43 1916 133
Diarrhoea and Gastric Upsets

From time to time, more especially in the early days of the war, there were outbreaks of diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis, food poisoning and dysentery in camps in the Dominion. The camp most affected was Waiouru, where diarrhoea broke out among workmen engaged on camp construction in September 1940. In February and March 1941 several hundred troops were affected, and lesser outbreaks continued until July 1942. In May 1941 it was established that some of the cases were Sonne dysentery. Conditions in the camp at first were poor – cookhouses and messes were dirty, there was insufficient hot water and facilities for washing cooking utensils, there was no permanent kitchen staff, and the camp was swarming with flies. As page 260 the standard of sanitation improved the outbreaks became less frequent and less extensive.

Cerebro-spinal Fever

In 1942 there were 1036 cases of cerebro-spinal fever in the Dominion, 85 of the cases being from army camps. Effective preventive measures kept the incidence low in the Army.

Venereal Disease

Comprehensive measures were taken to obviate as far as possible the wastage of manpower due to venereal disease. Preventive measures consisted in the main in the provision of ablution rooms, as by Government decree contraceptives were not to be made available. In October 1939 a preventive ablution room with a trained orderly in charge was established in all camps. Later, facilities were made available at a number of armed services clubs, at public hospitals, and at rooms centrally situated in the cities of Wellington and Palmerston North. The Wellington rooms were made available to Navy, Army, Air Force and the Mercantile Marine personnel.

An educational campaign was also put into effect from time to time and lectures on venereal disease were prepared and copies sent out from the office of the DGMS to all medical officers for their use in lecturing to the troops.

The policy was laid down that any soldier who had contracted either gonorrhoea or syphilis after entering camp would be retained in the Army until cured. This was afterwards amended so that the cases would be retained until rendered non-infectious. In order to carry out this policy it was necessary to build and equip CD hospitals. Three were constructed, one each at Papakura, Trentham and Burnham Military Camps. All cases remained as in-patients until non-infectious and it was stipulated that no soldier or airman would be boarded out solely on account of chronic venereal disease without the prior consent of the DGMS.

The specialists attached to the main hospitals in the four main centres were made available to the Army for advice on all VD matters, and on completion of the army contagious disease hospitals, an advisory VD specialist was appointed to each. Subsequent to June 1940, all cases occurring in the RNZAF in New Zealand were admitted to army CD hospitals. The staff of each CD hospital was one NCO and five other ranks.

In order to eliminate as many sources of infection as possible, information as to the source of infection was obtained from the patient and sent direct under confidential cover to the Medical Officer of Health for the district. To ensure that cases of syphilis received the necessary after-treatment and tests following discharge from page 261 CD hospital, lists of all known cases of syphilis in each military district were prepared in Medical Headquarters and sent to the respective ADsMS. In addition, the names of all cases returning from overseas and which required further treatment or surveillance were forwarded by the DMS, 2 NZEF, to the DGMS. These were sent out to the respective ADsMS, who were required to furnish a monthly report indicating the whereabouts of all the cases in their districts. This resulted in all cases being kept track of until struck off surveillance or returned to civil life. No soldier was returned to civil life until rendered non-infectious, and if further surveillance was necessary the appropriate Medical Officer of Health was given full information.

The system of records also ensured compliance with the request of the DMS, 2 NZEF, that personnel who were undergoing treatment for syphilis, or who had recently completed treatment, should not be despatched overseas, and that a period of six months should be allowed to elapse following completion of treatment before the individual was considered fit for despatch overseas.

Venereal Disease in Army in New Zealand
1940 1941 1942
No. Cases Per 1000 per Month No. Cases Per 1000 per Month No. Cases Per 1000 per Month
Jan 22 1.00 64 4.46 68 1.79
Feb 45 2.05 50 1.99 65 1.38
Mar 26 1.15 53 2.35 104 2.08
Apr 51 2.22 46 2.88 71 1.49
May 53 2.37 43 2.60 94 1.53
Jun 18 0.72 47 2.79 59 1.02
Jul 34 1.86 56 3.16 62 1.20
Aug 55 2.97 63 3.45 60 1.10
Sep 55 3.98 31 2.48 42 0.63
Oct 24 1.11 51 1.34 54 0.73
Nov 25 1.34 37 1.47 78 1.20
Dec 46 2.20 52 1.89 34 0.59
—— —— —— —— —— ——
454 22.97 593 30.86 791 14.74

Air Force figures indicate that their comparative rate was about one-half to two-thirds that of the Army. From July 1941 to June 1942 it was 13.42 per 1000 per annum.

The rates, though lower than for the First World War, do not show the same comparative improvement as was manifest in the overseas force. In 2 NZEF the rate per thousand per annum was 18.39 as compared with 14.74 in New Zealand in 1942.

The Army rate in New Zealand in 1917 was 34 per thousand per annum, and the rate in 1 NZEF in 1917 was 60–70 per thousand per annum.

page 262

Of the New Zealand cases syphilis figures were about one-tenth of those for gonorrhoea in 1942, a proportion which roughly accorded with the proportion in 2 NZEF, although in 1942 in New Zealand the civil figures (including merchant seamen) were gonorrhoea 1295 and syphilis 327 cases.

The Navy rate in 1942 was 34.6 per thousand per annum compared with 82.4 for 1941.

1942 was the year of peak mobilisation in New Zealand and the VD figures were lowest when mobilisation was highest, probably because of the larger percentage of older married men in the Army.

The reasons for the decrease in 1942 were set out in January 1943 as:


Increased PA facilities and a greater knowledge of the dangers of venereal disease gained from lectures.


Ballottees called up during the year, and especially in the last six months, were older men and the majority were married.


Legislation giving the Police and Department of Health wider powers for the control and compulsory treatment of prostitutes and all males and females suffering from venereal disease.


The presence of United States troops in considerable numbers may also have influenced the incidence.

Deaths among Troops from Camps in New Zealand
From Annual Reports of DGMS (Army and Air)
To 31 May 1940 1 Jun 1940-31 May 1941 1 Jun 1941-31 Mar 1942 1 Apr 1942-31 Mar 1943 1 Apr 1943-31 Mar 1944 1 Apr 1944-31 Mar 1945 1 Jun 1945-31 May 1946 Total
Accidents 12 8 23 65 26 3 11 148
Respiratory Disease 3 4 8 2 17
Heart Disease 8 9 13 15 45
Cancer 3 4 10 17
Meningitis 1 4 11 2 1 19
Tuberculosis 4 12 5 3 6 30
Suicide 2 4 6
Sickness 37 19 56
Other 6 3 14 56 19 3 2 103
—— —— —— —— —— —— —— ——
Totals 18 26 64 165 83 47 38 441

(Fuller particulars are not available)