Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
BACK in Egypt the hospitals received the casualties from the campaigns in Greece and Crete. On 23 April instructions were received by 2 General Hospital to make preparations for the possible admission of large numbers of battle casualties from Greece. Fortunately, 3 General Hospital at Helmieh was just ready to receive patients; this unit took 120 medical cases from 2 General Hospital, and with normal discharges the number of patients at Helwan was reduced to 250. On 24 April the unit took over the section behind the sisters' quarters, Gubalieh, dug in tents, and erected a tented hospital. The first casualties from Greece arrived on 23 April when 70 patients were transferred from 26 British General Hospital, Kephissia. Some of the medical officers and orderlies from 2 and 3 General Hospitals and Maadi Camp Hospital were sent off to disembarkation ports to assist with the wounded, but these cases were all accommodated at first in British hospitals, where they received their initial treatment. One hundred and thirty-one more patients from Greece were admitted to 2 General Hospital on 20 May.
Two convoys of Australians had arrived from Tobruk on 14 May. With 757 beds equipped, 2 General Hospital now had a total of 669 patients. Authority was received on the 29th for 2 General Hospital to expand to 900 beds, and the erection of extra tented wards was pushed ahead in the Gubalieh area. However, on 31 May, when the arrival of a convoy of 375 casualties next day was announced, there were only 830 beds in the hospital. To tide over the interval before new wards could be equipped, the unit found accommodation in the cinema opposite the hospital. The convoy duly arrived and the total of patients jumped to 967; 48 hours later all were transferred to actual hospital accommodation.
The first patients admitted to 3 General Hospital were 18 casualties from Greece. They arrived on 23 April. From then on patients were admitted in large numbers, both from Greece and from the Western Desert. The German Afrika Korps had made its first appearance in the desert in March, and the British troops lost the page 145 territory gained during General Wavell's offensive against the Italians.
Large convoys were admitted to 3 General Hospital during May, testing to the full the efficiency of a staff new to their duties. On the 29th 290 battle casualties were admitted from Crete, but the largest convoy was one of 302 patients from the Western Desert. This was the largest convoy admitted in the history of the unit.
Throughout this busy period developmental work continued, and at times it became difficult to find enough equipped beds to meet the influx of sick and wounded. An epidemic of influenza among the 5th Reinforcements resulted in 261 patients being admitted, and the hospital was placed in isolation for 14 days. A further complication was an epidemic of sandfly fever among the staff. Very few escaped infection, and at one stage 42 members of the unit were in hospital with this complaint. Despite all these difficulties, large numbers of patients were received and cared for, and although the hospital had begun operations by dealing mainly with medical cases, it was able, when required, to deal with large numbers of surgical cases.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Rt. Hon. P. Fraser, arrived in Egypt shortly after the evacuation of Greece, and visited the wounded in the hospitals, speaking to the men individually or in small groups for a few minutes each. He also inspected the hospitals and expressed himself as very satisfied with the attention given the sick and wounded.