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Problems of 2 NZEF



For the first three years of the war we had trouble over compensation for loss of officers’ kit, including in this nurses’ kit. It should be said that as other ranks were normally issued with all articles of clothing, replacement was automatic and caused no troubles. Officers and nurses, however, were responsible for their own clothing, with the exception of a few special military items, and to maintain themselves in kit were granted an annual upkeep grant. It was clear from the first that an officer losing his kit by straight-out enemy action was entitled to be compensated, a procedure that caused a lot of work after Greece and Crete. The situation was not so clear in cases where officers or nurses lost their kit by such hazards as fire or theft, and there followed some cabling to and from Army Headquarters before an answer was found – which was in brief that compensation would not be paid if the risk was an insurable one. We found a reputable insurance company in Egypt that would accept such risks, and with which we came to the understanding that losses in front of the Main Dressing Station in action would definitely be considered as arising from enemy action, in which case the State would reimburse the officer; while losses behind the Main Dressing Station, if not obviously caused by enemy action, could be covered by insurance. We thought that the company took a very liberal view of the risk they would accept. We then arranged that the Chief Paymaster would accept ‘bankers’ orders’ to pay premiums when due.

Some officers insured; but the majority did not bother and took the risk themselves, shrugging their shoulders philosophically if they were caught. Nurses were the trouble. Despite the ruling, page 261 nurses still applied for compensation when incurring losses that were clearly insurable, an outstanding case occurring in late 1941, when the tent belonging to two nurses was burnt to the ground while they were away at the cinema. They duly applied for compensation, and when they were refused it appealed to a succession of senior officers, and finally to New Zealand, where, however, both Army Headquarters and the Government were firm in adhering to the ruling. As a result of this and other cases, we arranged that every sister should sign a receipt for a copy of the relevant instruction, so that there could be no argument about it – or so we thought. Thereafter it became one of the duties of the Principal Matron to ensure that every sister had received a copy and had signed for it. But we were not out of the wood yet. When our hospital was moving from Beirut to Tripoli in early 1943, the matron drew the attention of all sisters to the position about loss of kit, pointing out that part of the journey was to be done by train, and that loss by theft or by natural hazard was insurable. And then the worst happened. One railway truck went missing on the journey, and out of all the mass of gear of a hospital on the move it contained nurses’ kits. Some nurses had insured and were compensated accordingly. The remainder duly applied to Headquarters for compensation. Again this reached New Zealand through local MPs or somehow, and again everyone there was firm. During his visit to New Zealand in 1943, in view of the emotion this subject was engendering, OICA discussed it specifically with Army Headquarters; but both sides were agreed that there was no cause to change the ruling.

Many thought sincerely – and strongly – that the rule was a hard one, and that compensation should be given for all losses occurring on active service, no matter how they happened. On the other hand, we thought that an officer must be expected to take the usual reasonable care of his kit, and that it was a fair solution to ask him to insure to cover such risks as the company would accept. As already stated, men in general accepted the position. It was the ladies who were troublesome.

Reviewing the problem today, it seems that the ruling was a little bit too hard, and should have been relaxed to include compensation for losses which were a direct result of active service conditions – in which case the second incident mentioned above (the rail loss) would have come within the scope of compensation by the State while the first one (the fire loss) would still have been outside it. The difficulty would have been to know where to draw the dividing line.

The basis on which compensation was paid by the State was reasonable replacement value, to be applied to a definite list of articles, generous enough in its range, but excluding articles of a page 262 semi-luxury type, valuable presents, etc. When officers’ clothing stores appeared in the theatre of war, we took their prices as the ones to be followed. The abnormal losses in Greece and Crete were adjudicated on by a Claims Uniformity Committee, with a membership including officers who had been through the campaign. We tried to be generous – the Prime Minister himself told us to be generous – but on the other hand we had to exclude losses due to sheer carelessness. Taking it all in all, the claims were fairly met. The Uniformity Committee continued as a permanent piece of administrative machinery.

The Standing Instruction on the subject is in Appendix X.