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War Surgery and Medicine

Climatic Conditions

Climatic Conditions

In 2 NZEF overseas the climatic conditions had to be closely studied and suitable health arrangements made for a force in the Middle East which grew to a strength of over 30,000. The geographical setting was immense, extending from Egypt to Greece and Crete (for a short time), from Egypt north to Syria, from Egypt west into the desert and along the North African coast for two thousand miles to Tunis, and then along the length of Italy; from winter to summer and back to winter, in blazing sun in an arid desert, and in mud and slush and snow along Italy's mountainous backbone. In its turn, the force in the Pacific had to contend with the sweating humidity of tropical islands.

General acclimatisation was a prelude to physical fitness in a new country. In Egypt, for instance, body and mind became attuned to the heat, glare, dust, and the harsh environment of the vast desert landscapes. In addition, most new arrivals gained a measure of immunity to some physical disabilities. Mild attacks of enteritis and other infections and sunburn under the comparatively good conditions of base camp life produced ‘salted’ troops not likely to be greatly inconvenienced by these almost unavoidable conditions in times of greater stress.

During the period of acclimatisation graduated work could be done in the heat and sun, beginning with periods of minutes and ending with whole days. Men became suntanned slowly and were later able to work hard in the sun, sometimes bare to the waist. It was still advisable to avoid the direct sun as far as possible in the very hot areas in the heat of the day, and to wear a hat when out in the sun. It was also necessary to arrange for an intake of salt sufficient to replace that lost by sweating.

At the other extreme, in Italy in winter it was necessary to take preventive measures against frostbite and trench foot, and down-draught oil-burning stoves were developed to keep buildings warm, tents being unsuitable in the mid-winter snowstorms.