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War Surgery and Medicine

High Post-Armistice Incidence

High Post-Armistice Incidence

April had seen the lightning advance by the Division to Trieste, and early in May the war ended in Italy and Europe. In northern Italy in the post-armistice period 2 NZEF had the worst VD rate in its history. A huge increase in incidence first became manifest in the Trieste area in May, when there were 244 fresh cases in 2 NZ Division alone. ADMS 2 NZ Division ascribed the increase to:


Some temporary slackening of discipline following the defeat of Germany.


Trieste is a large seaport with an enormous number of prostitutes who have a high infection rate.


Owing to political difficulties with the Yugoslavs, control of the civil population was not possible and it was impossible to picquet known infected brothels.


The men have, through ‘popular’ articles in certain periodicals and papers, got the idea that VD is now so readily cured that it is not worth while taking precautions.

As soon as the increase became evident, an intensive anti-VD campaign was launched by ADMS 2 NZ Division. PA Centres were established in Trieste, lectures by RMOs arranged, and the GOC addressed a strong memorandum on the subject to all commanding officers. In June it was possible to keep a closer check on brothels, but the ‘enthusiastic amateur’ continued to provide a problem and be a prolific source of infection.

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The VD rate began to show a decrease at the end of June. This was attributed primarily to the more efficient identification and segregation of infected women. The June figures of 401 fresh cases in 2 NZ Division were higher than ever, but the bulk of these were developments from sexual contacts in the previous month.

The concentration of the Division in the Lake Trasimene area at the end of July had a steadying effect on venereal disease, and in August and September the incidence was nearer an average rate. It began to compare less unfavourably with the VD incidence among English troops in Italy. At this stage British commands were taking disciplinary action against any individual without exception who, on contracting VD, could not prove he had taken preventive prophylactic measures after intercourse. The move north into winter quarters in the Florence-Siena area at the end of September had its repercussions on the VD rate, which rose sharply in October and reached the highest total for 2 NZEF in November—and this in spite of reduced numbers due to the steady departure of reinforcement groups for New Zealand. The location of the troops in the city, many being billeted in houses, was pointed out at the time as a big contributing factor in the high incidence of venereal disease.

The GOC 2 NZEF (then Major-General Stevens) on 8 December 1945 held a conference on the high incidence of venereal disease. The findings were recorded by the DDMS 2 NZEF in the words: ‘The consensus of opinion is that the principal causes are overindulgence in alcohol and inability to take same, coupled with a general spirit of bravado, all combined with boredom.’

The 102nd Mobile VD Treatment Centre found itself busier than ever in its history and had by this time two medical officers and additional men on its staff. Without the help of penicillin it is difficult to see how venereal disease could have been successfully treated, at least without a very large staff. In November the total of fresh cases treated by 102 Mobile VDTC numbered 425 venereal and 122 non-venereal, follow-up treatments for outpatients totalled 941, while 282 blood tests were made.

All troops under treatment or surveillance for syphilis, gonorrhoea, or soft sore were prohibited from participating in the leave scheme to the United Kingdom. The New Zealand Medical Corps continued to be most thorough in its treatment of all cases. All men concerned were kept under strict surveillance until satisfactory final tests of cure were obtained in each individual case. For outpatients in transit surveillance was continued until final test of cure was completed—either at NZ Advanced Base, NZ Maadi Camp, or under arrangements provided by the SMO of each returning ship—or until ultimate arrival in New Zealand. All records were page 608 forwarded by the medical officer to DGMS Army HQ, Wellington, on disembarkation of respective drafts, and the system of follow-up then became the responsibility of authorities in New Zealand.

In Italy the Mobile VD Treatment Centre treated the following totals of patients up to July 1945 (i.e., while the Division had an operational role): Syphilis, 53; gonorrhoea, 963; gonorrhoea relapses, 222; chancroid, 383; chancroid relapses, 57; balanitis, 153; urethritis, 797; prostatitis, 39; others, 211; a total of 2878. In addition outpatient treatments totalled 9136, request examinations 488, and fresh cases from British units 301, which gives a grand total of 12,618 treatments.

The unit more than justified its existence. The 2878 fresh cases were probably nearly all back with their units a fortnight sooner than if they had been sent to base hospitals.

Throughout the war 2 NZEF medical officers and staff applied themselves to carrying out efficiently the modern developments in treatment of venereal disease and were very successful in reducing the loss of manpower to the Force.