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War Surgery and Medicine

Medical Boarding Overseas

Medical Boarding Overseas

The general principle of regarding boarding as a medical assessment rather than a mechanical procedure was always adhered to, and every possible effort was made to keep men with their units in the field. The number of graded men that a Division can profitably employ is not large, and those relegated to Base and not fully engaged in useful work tended to deteriorate rapidly in morale. In spite of this conservative policy, about 200 men had to be boarded for defects present at enlistment. The visual acuity of some of these was, no doubt, Grade I in New Zealand, but other factors, especially temperamental instability, were not assessed or assessable, and the men proved to be of little use in the Middle East. One consequence of the lack of precise investigation at some centres in New Zealand was that many men were credited with much better visual acuity than they did in fact possess. Men, for instance, who had been blind in one eye for years or since birth had had their visual acuity recorded as 6/6 in each eye. Such examinations had their pensions complications. It is a matter of interest that, until late in 1940, men with squint could not be Grade I for service abroad. From experience in North Africa it was evident that, for psychological reasons, this regulation was wise.

In reboarding for defects of vision it was found to be impossible to adhere strictly to the standards of vision laid down for recruits. A man, for example, with two dioptres of myopia can seldom see 6/60 without glasses unless he peers, and yet a trained soldier with normal corrected vision, eager to serve and brought to the Middle East at great expense, cannot lightly be discarded. Major Coverdale decided, therefore, to regrade only those with high degrees of myopia of six or more dioptres, or those with degenerative changes. The number of myopes investigated who were not technically Grade I was, by August 1941, over 300, but for the whole of the North African campaign only about 20 were regraded. Nothing occurred to cause the wisdom of this decision to be questioned.

A small minority of men gave valuable service for long periods in spite of great visual handicaps. A private of 21 Battalion, for example, who made no complaint was sent to the out-patients department because he drove dangerously. One eye was blind and the other, although having 6/9 vision, had been damaged five years previously and showed an irido-dialysis, some posterior cortical cataract, and a rupture of the choroid. A private in the Maori Battalion fought through all the Middle East campaigns with one eye blind and the vision in the other reduced to 6/18 from old trachomatous keratitis. Another man, a lance-corporal page 431 in 23 Battalion, had one blind eye and the vision in the other with a - 4D cylinder reduced to 6/60 on looking to the front. He had a considerable degree of nystagmus and could see 6/18 if he looked across his nose. He served in Greece, Crete, Libya, and at El Alamein up to August 1942.