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War Surgery and Medicine

Planning for 2 NZEF

Planning for 2 NZEF

Planning for promotion of health and disease prevention must be made even before a military force is assembled. It becomes a responsibility of the heads of the medical services to interest themselves in camp construction, clothing and diet of troops, and, if need be, forcing other administrative officers to consider their opinions, as it is a common tendency for other officers to overlook the value of medical guidance. It was just such action which had to be taken by the Director-General of Medical Services in New Zealand in the early days of the war with the Quartermaster- page 709 General and Public Works Department in regard to sanitation arrangements in camp construction. Provision had to be made against overcrowding in sleeping quarters as this encouraged respiratory diseases. Means of keeping troops dry and warm had also to be provided.

In preparing a force for service overseas hygiene is even more important. Conditions on troopships present early problems, and then the difficulties likely to be encountered overseas must be appreciated and steps taken to meet them.

A high standard of hygiene means an immeasurable saving of manpower, especially in the Middle East. In the Second World War it can be claimed that the New Zealand force was hygiene-minded, and that its record as regards health arrangements was consistently good.

This record was not the result of chance. It was the result of a campaign, carefully prepared by the senior officers of the medical services and persistently carried out by medical officers, especially those charged with the particular responsibility of the control of hygiene units.

On 27 December 1939, prior to the sailing of the First Echelon, the GOC 2 NZEF held a conference with the DGMS (Army and Air), the ADMS and DADMS of the Expeditionary Force, and the CO 4 Field Ambulance. The consideration of hygiene matters was an important feature of the conference. It was agreed that the Australian diet schedule be adopted for troopships, while the British standard ration was accepted for our troops in Egypt. As regards endemic diseases in Egypt, the importance of education in preventive measures was stressed, bearing in mind that intestinal disease was the main cause of illness in that area in the First World War. Decisions were made as to the policy to be followed on arrival of the Force in Egypt, including the keeping of all plates and cutlery in the messing building for sterilisation, the prohibition of itinerant vendors about camps, the sending of cooks to an army school of cookery in Egypt, the sterilisation of green vegetables and fruits in potassium permanganate (later changed to WSP), and the keeping of graphs to show the incidence of all infectious diseases. The problems were therefore clearly envisaged before the departure of the first troops from New Zealand, and measures to be taken for the prevention of disease were elaborated upon arrival in Egypt at Maadi Base Camp and other places. With the First Echelon a hygiene section (none of its men were specially qualified before entry to camp, however) was sent. Its OC, Captain B. T. Wyn Irwin, taught it its duties, and upon arrival in Egypt it became among the busiest units of the Force.

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