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War Surgery and Medicine


THE accidental injury rate in 2 NZEF was consistently high and was the cause of many hospital admissions and a number of deaths. The mechanisation of the Division with its thousands of motor vehicles, together with those of other Allied troops in the war zones and normal civilian traffic, meant that there was always a steady toll of traffic accidents, whether the Division was in action or not.

When night moves were necessary in the course of operations there was an inevitable increase in accidents. The increased use of jeeps in the later stages of war also seemed to add to the accident toll.

The motor cycle was responsible for many serious and some fatal accidents. This was inevitable as the cycles were used by despatch riders in the forward areas over rough terrain and poor roads. They travelled fast and fearlessly as their messages were often urgent. Even under the best conditions motor-cycle accidents were common. Crash helmets were worn from the beginning of the war, and protective shields were added to the motor cycles in Egypt in an endeavour to prevent serious injuries. The Americans used the jeep in place of the cycle, partly for this reason, and jeeps were substituted to some extent in the British Army when they became available.

The common use, especially in the Division, of petrol fires and primus stoves for cooking led to a large number of accidental injuries in the form of burns from explosions.

Added to this were the injuries received in the course of recreational training–mostly football injuries. These were unavoidable and justified by the preservation of health and morale in our force.

Many of the injuries were serious and fractures were common, involving prolonged hospital treatment and evacuation to New Zealand. Altogether about 10 per cent of 2 NZEF personnel were admitted to hospital annually from accidental injuries. In the years 1943 to 1945 these totalled 9846, while battle casualties admitted to hospital in the same period totalled 8274. (In the last seven months of 1945, however, there were no battle casualties.) In page 380 1944, when there were men wounded in battle in every month of the year in Italy, the number of wounded admitted to hospital was 4209, and the admissions with accidental injuries were 3738. Deaths from accidents (some 300) were much more numerous than deaths from disease.

Like disease, accidents are in some measure preventable by appropriate administrative action; and a more searching examination of the sources of accidents could presumably point the way to a considerable conservation of manpower.