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The 35th Battalion

Vella Days

Vella Days

It has often been stated that this is a medical war. How true that is of jungle warfare!

September, 1943, found the 35th Battalion in the jungle of Vella Lavella, matched against crack Japanese marines. The mental strain of the first encounter against the enemy proved no less than the physical hardships. Besides enemy bombs and bullets, the troops had to contend with heat and tropical diseases—no mean adversaries. Maiaria, skin rashes of all kinds, accidental injuries, tropical sores, hook-worm and dysentry—these were the things to be feared even more than the wily Jap.

The battalion medical services were organised, therefore, to treat not only battle casualties, but also sickness. All supplies were carried in portable haversacks, usually on the back, but in the trek up the coast, the main battalion medical supplies were able to be transported in native canoes. As soon as battalion headquarters moved forward, the battalion aid-post packed its equipment and reached its new site as soon as possible. There, a tarpaulin for protection against torrential rains was erected, and under it medical equipment such as blood plasma, splints, drugs, dressings and instruments was set out in preparation for casualties. It usually took eight men to get one wounded stretcher case back to the RAP, and the stretcher bearers found their work difficult in the extreme. However, the long months of training in New Zealand and Necal enabled them to carry out their tasks creditably and well. When a man was wounded, first-aid was given on the spot by the company medical orderlies, and evacuation was carried out as rapidly as possible, first to the aid post where additional treatment was given, and thence by barge to the advanced dressing station.

Even the transport of sick and wounded has its lighter side. On one occasion, a party of bearers conveyed a suspected case of acute appendicitis up hill and down dale, through swamp and jungle for a page 112distance of nearly two miles back to the medical officer, to find their patient was suffering merely from the common 'belly ache', due to an unaccustomed diet of C and K ration. The perspiring stretcher bearers were not at all pleased when they later sighted their victim strolling about unconcernedly, and expressed themselves in no uncertain manner. Among other things it was suggested that the diet be persevered with!

When the battle was over, the work of the Medical Section carried on. The continual stream of sick required to be treated, while the unit anti-malarial squad was kept busily engaged in spraying swamps with oil to prevent the breeding of the malarial mosquito. Yes, it was a testing time for both men and equipment; a time when the men of the 35th Battalion came to realise to the full the consequence of 'war in the raw'. Vella Lavella—an island paradise! Perhaps!