War Surgery and Medicine
When the test of training took place many soldiers were found to suffer from undue strain and fatigue, and this generally was first shown with regard to the feet. The problem was particularly well studied at Papakura Camp, where a remedial training group was formed and graduated training carried out. This proved successful, and as a result a special remedial training camp was set up at Rotorua at the end of 1940 and functioned for three years with varying success. Foot cases formed the largest single group referred for treatment. Special foot exercises were arranged and physical therapy training given by highly trained instructors. The great importance of the psychological aspect was realised, and it was found that the antagonistic type gained little benefit.
Major (later Colonel) W. B. Fisher made the following comments page 393 as RMO to the Maori Battalion at Palmerston North Military Camp from January to May 1940:
A lot of valuable work was done by chiropodists, the feet generally being in a very bad state when the men first came into camp. A routine inspection of all feet at the beginning of the camp revealed about an 80% incidence of ringworm of the toes and a large percentage of corns and callosities.
The shape of the Maori foot caused difficulty in the wearing of boots. It was noticed that most Maoris have flat feet and are very wide across the heads of the metatarsals with a definite tendency to bunion formation of the big toe as well as a similar condition of the little toe, with the result that corns readily formed at these sites.
In my opinion with this Maori Battalion anyway it would be worth spending much more time over the issue of boots by allowing the men to try on their boots first, and getting a pair which was comfortable at the start. They were, of course, allowed to change them, but many men seemed to think they could make their feet fit the boots just as easily as make the boots fit the feet.
Dr D. Macdonald Wilson, who was a Regional Deputy and later medical officer in charge of treatment at the Pensions Department, and who had had active war service, made the following observations based on his experience of seeing men at recruitment and, later, the same men after being referred for boarding at Trentham Camp:
The enthusiast in the Drill Hall with some degree of flat feet had perhaps after a month in camp lost his enthusiasm and tended to trade on his flat feet. This was the psychological element.
Men with definite flat feet who had been shepherds around the hills without trouble were often disabled in camp. The heavy boots and marching with kit on a route march seemed too much for them. More attention to footwear and more gentle approach to ‘foot-slogging’ on a hard road would have enabled them to stand up to it. With gradual training and remedial training in the ordinary camp, and not in the equivalent of a special ‘hospital’ for foot trouble as the Rotorua Training Camp, such men might have made good.
Experience showed that attempts to improve feet by operation were useless to make men Grade I and, with hospitals full and waiting lists of other cases, we did not want these men to undergo surgery at the Army's expense and time if they were only to be discharged later. (Also there had been some unfortunate happenings.)
Therefore we forbade operations for hallux valgus and bunion, feeling the majority would not stand up to training. Minor operations for hammer toes and corns, if the recruit wished it, he could arrange himself and return for re-examination. As ‘remedial treatment’ had ceased, it was no use taking the man into camp on the understanding he would voluntarily have an operation, as likely as not he would later decline it.
Probably if some of these cases of minor foot disabilities had proceeded overseas their psychology would have changed. Nearer the seat of hostilities, amongst other men with similar disabilities who did not allow them to become disablements and where Army authority was more easily page 394 maintained, I think many of them would have carried on. But if they had not, would the Army overseas have complained of poor boarding in New Zealand?
Men graded to a lower category for foot conditions were utilised in the camps in New Zealand and in the Territorials and Home Guard. In the latter, ability to march for five miles was the standard laid down.