War Surgery and Medicine
2 NZEF (Japan), 1946–48
In the brigade that went to Japan as an occupation force venereal disease caused more cases of sickness than any other disease. The medical services were able to protect the troops from most of the other diseases prevalent in Japan, but, with venereal disease, determining factors in its incidence lay rather in the standard of discipline in the Force and the outlook of individual soldiers.
The venereal disease rate was very high while the brigade waited in Italy for its embarkation. It left Italy from Naples on 21 February 1946 and disembarked in Japan on 31 March. In Japan the rate dropped to about a quarter of that which had obtained in Italy, and was for some time consistently the lowest in the components of BCOF. The incidence of venereal disease among the local population was probably higher in Japan than in the Italian cities, but fraternisation was probably more restrained. The reason for the lowered incidence in J Force was stated to be ‘the intensive anti-VD campaign conducted within units, and the approaching relief of the Force’.
The first relief was completed by August 1946, after which the venereal disease rate began to rise. It continued to climb after the arrival of the second relief in 1947, and by 1948 had exceeded the high incidence in the final months in Italy. When asked for a report on the subject in April 1947, the SMO 2 NZEF (Japan), who had served in Italy, was able to complete it in two sentences: ‘It is my opinion that the chief cause of the increase in VD rates is the page 609 letting up in discipline generally among the troops. The rate will be reduced only when Unit Commanders and officers make a determined effort to raise the standard of discipline and take a personal interest in their troops' welfare’.
In July 1947 Commander 2 NZEF (Japan) set out relevant factors as increased troop movements; deterioration in the outlook of some junior officers, and therefore in the outlook of the troops under their command, prior to repatriation to New Zealand; the marked increase in street women due to the closing of black-market cafeterias throughout Japan and shortages in rationed commodities available to the Japanese public; unit farewell functions; and reduced seriousness of infection in the eyes of the troops because modern treatment was painless and believed to offer a certain cure.
The problem was not confined to the New Zealand Force. In an instruction of 10 February 1948 the Commander-in-Chief BCOF directed all commanders ‘to take the most energetic, practical, and positive measures to reduce, initially, the present tragic rate of venereal disease, which is the highest in the world wherever British Forces are serving. …’ The incidence among United States troops was also high, and reports emphasized the influence of alcohol.
The opinion of the Occupation Force authorities was divided on the relative importance of prostitutes, part-time street walkers, and ‘amateurs’ on the VD rate. All Japanese brothels were out of bounds, but were used to some extent by the troops. (Over the last five months of 1947, 30 patients came to 6 NZ General Hospital from one small New Zealand unit and admitted exposure at brothels which were reputedly examined weekly and therefore popularly considered safe.) Provost patrols were active in apprehending street walkers; DAPM 2 NZEF reported 195 street women apprehended from 1 January to 31 March 1948, of whom 70 were treated for venereal disease, 70 detained in civil hospitals for treatment, and 16 ordered out of the area. In his report for March 1948 SMO 2 NZEF stated, ‘It appears that many men have been cohabiting each with his own girl for months, and that they are now reporting for a check up as the end of their term in Japan draws nearer…. We reached the peak figure of 54 cases in 6 NZGH by the end of the month—as many as Surgical and Medical combined’. A survey showed that most of the cases were contracted within the New Zealand occupation area, and not while men were absent from their units on leave. Attendances at PA Centres were very low.
In the twelve months August 1947 to July 1948 the number of venereal cases treated at 6 NZ General Hospital from the brigade, which was reduced from about 4000 men to some 2300 by 1948, page 610 was 768. These were diagnosed as syphilis 37, gonorrhoea 384, urethritis 264, other 83. In seven months from 2 August 1947 to 29 February 1948, first infections varied from 3.5 per cent to 18.3 per cent of the strengths of the units, the unit with the lowest figure being 6 NZ General Hospital. The Maori and pakeha rates in 2 Battalion were very similar (19 per cent and 17.9 per cent). In March the Force numbered only some 2300 and a total of 302 individuals had contracted venereal disease, and of these, 57 men had contracted the disease twice, 14 three times, 3 four times, and 2 five times.
It became apparent that some troops had become infected with an attenuated strain of gonorrhoea which was causing them no concern, and in April 1948 an appeal was made to all those who had indulged in sexual intercourse to present themselves for examination. The discovery thus in 748 men examined of 148 cases of gonorrhoea and 4 of syphilis boosted the VD figures for April and May. From the figures available it seems that the incidence of VD was reduced a little in succeeding months until the return of the Force to New Zealand in September 1948. Medical officers travelled on each of the returning transports to conduct further tests, with the objective of having all men free of infection by the time they reached New Zealand.
These figures include some cases diagnosed as non-venereal, about 10 per cent.