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War Surgery and Medicine


FOR sick and wounded prisoners of war captured in Greece and Crete the major part of the clinical work, especially surgery, was performed in the early months at Kokkinia hospital, Piraeus, Athens. This hospital was opened on 9 May 1941 in a large American orphanage, only just completed, and was staffed by Australian, British, and New Zealand medical personnel. By early June the admissions to the hospital totalled 2038, made up as follows: from 5 Australian General Hospital, Ekali, 91; from 26 British General Hospital, Kephissia, 290; from Corinth and Kalamata hospitals, 260; from Crete, 1397.

At Corinth from 27 April Captain Slater and other New Zealand medical officers ran a hospital of 120 beds in the Ionian Palace Hotel. The medical officers were able to do dressings and simple surgical procedures, but cases requiring major surgery were transferred to the local Greek hospital or to a German military hospital. Most wounds were infected, one with gas gangrene, and the medical conditions included dysentery, but there were remarkably few deaths in the two weeks this hospital operated, despite the appalling lack of medical and sanitary facilities and the small amount of food. Some medical supplies were made available from the local Greek hospital. At Kalamata, in the south of Greece, Major G. H. Thomson, NZMC, and British medical officers set up a hospital in a hall.

In Crete the wounded were treated by the medical officers captured with their patients. Those from units near Maleme airfield were concentrated in the Tavronitis valley. Farther back near Canea Captain Ballantyne treated the wounded in his ADS, as did 7 General Hospital and Australian, British, and New Zealand medical staffs at the sites where seriously wounded were gathered on the road to Sfakia. The medical officers did all that their limited equipment would allow. By 23 May the RMOs of 5 Brigade, first Captain Longmore, then Captains Stewart and Hetherington, had joined up with Flying Officer T. Cullen, RAF, and staffed a dressing station in the Tavronitis valley. They worked in a stable attached to an inn. The German medical officers were overworked and were willing to let the captured medical officers page 461 set up their own dressing station for their own wounded with such equipment as the Germans could spare. At the dressing station some 700 cases were put through, with only seven deaths, before the wounded were taken by plane to Athens.

At Ballantyne's ADS near Canea eight patients died of gas gangrene and others of abdominal wounds for whom little could be done. The Germans were generally helpful with equipment, and in arranging early transfers to Kokkinia hospital in Greece. At Lieutenant-Colonel Bull's emergency dressing station at Neon Khorion, four of the 46 wounded died. The Germans were slow to provide medical and surgical necessities. The patients were moved to Maleme on 7 June and then to Greece.

For the sick from the main crowded prisoner-of-war camp near Galatas Lieutenant-Colonel Bull organised a 200-bedded camp reception hospital, and cases included dysentery, malaria, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, catarrhal jaundice, and malnutrition. Between 9 June and 23 September there were 1212 admissions with 23 deaths. (Of the 402 New Zealanders admitted 4 died.)