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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Haine Hospital in England

Haine Hospital in England

To get ready to receive New Zealand prisoners of war as they were liberated, the nucleus of a small hospital unit was sent to page 427 England from Italy in September 1944. It was some time before a suitable site for a hospital could be obtained, and in the meantime the nursing sisters, under Charge Sister Scott,7 assisted for two months at Connaught Military Hospital at Aldershot. Christmas was spent by the staff at Old Park Barracks in Dover. By this time the advance of the Allied armies in Western Europe had reduced the danger from enemy V1 and V2 rockets.

Then, in March 1945, Brigadier Twhigg arranged for the isolation hospital at Haine to be allotted to the New Zealanders for a New Zealand military hospital. The main body of the hospital unit, under Lt-Col Lovell, moved into the buildings at Haine on 14 March to throw themselves into the work of establishing a 60-bed hospital by 9 April. Working against time, the staff had 76 beds ready by 8 April. Next day the first patients arrived, but the day after that all the beds were occupied, and it was necessary to open further wards. Assistance was given by local civilians, most of whom gave time which could ill be spared, volunteering to work in the evenings to assist in the plumbing, carpentering, cleaning, and ward work. There were soon 200 patients.

As a result of recent privations and hardships, the general condition of the released prisoners of war admitted was poor and many were found to be suffering from varying degrees of malnutrition and avitaminosis. The early drafts had also undergone long marches (500 to 800 miles) in the snow before being released, and the men bore evidence of severe undernourishment and exposure.

As they were admitted to the wards they were silent, exhausted, unshaven and dirty, still clothed in camp-stained battle dress, and very emaciated looking. Their faces expressed bewilderment. A meal, a bath, and the removal of at least a week's growth of beard, a comfortable bed, complete with sheets, and last but not least a cigarette, proved to them that they really were at last freed from captivity and, as many of them said, in a ‘home away from home’.

For the first two or three days they did little else but eat and sleep, but as they became more rested a more normal buzz of conversation was heard in the wards. Their morale was excellent and most of them recovered fairly quickly.

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On arrival in hospital each patient was presented with a Red Cross ditty-bag, containing a note of welcome from the New Zealand Red Cross, and all the things he needed in the way of toilet articles, cigarettes, etc. The men were extremely independent and hard to keep in bed unless very ill. They had learned to look after themselves in the stalags and found it difficult to relax whilst someone else attended to them.

Malnutrition brought many digestive upsets in its train, and the patients had to be very carefully dieted and were put on high protein and low carbohydrate meals. This presented difficulties, as whilst in prison camp they had dreamed of lots of cake, chocolate, biscuits, and all the sweet things that had been deprived them for so long. All their food parcels were held for them until they recovered their powers of digestion.

Some of the staff were in London for VE Day. Six weeks after the hospital was opened, reinforcements to the staff arrived from Italy, and by June a reduced number of patients and the larger staff enabled the hospital to settle to a smoother and less strained routine. Some of the patients were sent to New Zealand by hospital ship, while others were discharged to return home with the normal repatriation drafts after they had had leave. On 9 October the hospital at Haine was closed, though a small hospital was run at Folkestone for three months to care for men who had become ill while on leave in the United Kingdom.