New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
Establishment of a New Zealand General Hospital in Egypt
Establishment of a New Zealand General Hospital in Egypt
Discussions between Colonel Bowerbank and Colonel MacCormick before the departure of the latter for the Middle East in January 1940 resulted in the schedule being drawn up that one 600-bed general hospital and a convalescent depot should be sent overseas with the Second Echelon and one 1200-bed general hospital with the Third Echelon. It was further decided that it was desirable that the sick and wounded among New Zealand troops should be cared for, as far as possible, by New Zealand medical services.
The Government's decision in the matter of medical services was announced by the Minister of Defence on 2 March 1940, when he stated that a fully equipped general hospital and convalescent depot, staffed entirely by New Zealanders, would be sent overseas. This decision, he said, had been taken to ensure that New Zealand soldiers would be treated in their own hospital by doctors and nurses of their own country.
In Egypt the ADMS NZ Division (Colonel MacCormick) found difficulty in securing separate hospital accommodation and reported the matter to General Freyberg, who took it up with General H. M. Wilson, GOC British Troops in Egypt, who was well known to New Zealanders as a former GSO I of 1 NZ Division. General Wilson readily agreed with the policy that as far as possible New Zealand troops should be cared for by New Zealanders. The ADMS NZ Division followed up the question with DDMS BTE, Colonel P. S. Tomlinson. The DDMS was aware that New Zealand medical units were arriving in the Middle East without equipment and despatched a cable to the War Office asking that the delivery of equipment for the New Zealand Force be expedited. A reply was received the following day indicating that equipment would be despatched shortly afterwards for all regimental medical officers, a field ambulance, and a 600-bed general hospital. (Medical equipment for Maadi Camp reception hospital, as well as medical supplies for four medical inspection rooms at Maadi Camp, was drawn from the British Depot of Medical Stores, Helmieh.)
It was arranged with DDMS BTE that, in the meantime, wards would be set apart for New Zealand sick at 2/10 British General Hospital at Helmieh. The DDMS BTE was strongly of the opinion that three 600-bed hospitals were advisable instead of one 600-bed and one 1200-bed hospital. The basis for this opinion was that, if there were active operations in the Middle East, it was more than likely that there would be more than one line of evacuation. Unless three general hospitals were available, New Zealand troops might not page 55 pass into the care of a New Zealand hospital. Two hospitals could be conveniently placed on lines of communication, while the third hospital, expanded if necessary, could care for the cases evacuated from the more advanced general hospitals and also serve troops at the base.
Three general hospitals, of considerably greater bed strength, were necessary in the First World War, and all these considerations, together with the fact that smaller units have a greater tactical mobility in all circumstances, converted ADMS NZ Division to this plan. He reported to the DGMS in New Zealand that the change of plan involved an increase of approximately 20 per cent in both personnel and equipment, though some saving could be effected as the third general hospital could remain on call in New Zealand. A recommendation to this effect was therefore made to the DGMS on 20 February 1940.
When endeavours were made to secure a location for a 600-bed general hospital, no site other than the Grand Hotel, Helwan, could be found, it being stated that tented or hutted accommodation was out of the question. The hotel had been closed on 13 March 1940, and, while not ideal in some respects, was able to provide ample accommodation for some 450 beds plus administrative sections. It was decided to hire the building and secure nearby buildings for quarters for medical officers, nursing sisters, and male staff. The need for a New Zealand general hospital to be opened as soon as possible was emphasised by the daily average of New Zealand hospital patients in 2/10 British General Hospital and Camp Hospital, Maadi—97·4 in February, 178·8 in March, and then 276·5 in April.
Negotiations for the hire of the Grand Hotel, Helwan, and other buildings became a protracted process, which it was necessary to let HQ BTE conduct. The actual taking over and conversion to a hospital was delayed until the hiring contract was completed, and took effect from 1 June 1940. Contracts were then let for additions and renovations.
By the end of June the hotel building was nearly ready for occupation by medical cases but the contract for the building of an operating-theatre block had not then been let. The medical equipment for a 600-bed hospital had reached Cairo, but the staff of 1 NZ General Hospital had been diverted to the United Kingdom with the Second Echelon, arriving there in the middle of June.
The DDMS GHQ ME (now Colonel Tomlinson) and the DDMS BTE (Colonel R. G. Shaw) were both desirous that 2 NZEF should go on with the proposed hospital at Helwan, especially as Italy had by then declared war. It was decided to open the hospital for medical cases as soon as possible, leaving the surgical cases at page 56 2/10 General Hospital in the meantime. The staffing of the institution presented many difficulties, there being no solution but to continue to use the company of 4 Field Ambulance which had been on duty at 2/10 General Hospital, although it was recognised that this might complicate matters if the New Zealand troops proceeded on active service in the field.
At this time General Freyberg and Colonel MacCormick were in England making arrangements for the arrival of the Second Echelon. Acting on instructions from the GOC, Colonel MacCormick had gone to the United Kingdom by air on 26 May. Lieutenant-Colonel Kenrick, CO 5 Field Ambulance, was instructed to disembark from the Aquitania and come from Capetown to Cairo by air. On his arrival on 8 June he became acting ADMS NZ Division in the Middle East. On 29 June he sent a cable to Colonel MacCormick advising him of the situation regarding Helwan hospital. The matter was discussed with General Freyberg, who directed the withdrawal of personnel from the Helmieh hospital to take over the Helwan hospital. Reinforcements were promised at the earliest opportunity.