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The Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt During the First World War

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The Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt During the First World War
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Author(s): James W. Barrett & P. E. Deane
Date Published: 2013/04
Page Count: 208
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-107-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-106-9

The story of an essential Australian Army Corps

As all students of the First World War know, Britain expected, called for and received the support of fighting men from her colonies during the conflict. Imperial forces saw action against Germany and notably against Germany’s Turkish ally. Anzac troops, travelling from the southern hemisphere, were consolidated in Egypt for service in the abortive Gallipoli offensive in the Dardanelles and also for the defence of the Suez Canal. As the Palestine campaign progressed, colonial troops, particularly those who by virtue of their training as mounted infantry were ideally suited for the task, advanced north through the Sinai desert, into Palestine itself and then on to Syria. Allied forces were based in Egypt for sound strategic and logistical reasons, which meant that much of the regional infrastructure of command and administration was centralised there for the duration of the war. Essential among these services was the Australian Army Medical Corps. The duties of the corps included the care of wounded in the field, the establishment of hospitals, the treatment of disease, convalescent units and evacuations. The work of the outstanding doctors and nurses of the Australian Army Medical Corps as it operated in the middle east through the campaign is thoroughly described in this book, which is recommended to anyone interested in obtaining a more complete view of the role of the Australian Army during the Great War.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Transport of Sick and Wounded by Sea<br>
As soon as it was decided to return patients to Australia in addition to those sent to England, Cyprus, or convalescent hospitals in Egypt, a system was developed in order to provide the necessary staffs and equipment on ships. Surgeon-General Williams had exerted himself to get hospital ships provided, but in the early stages they had not even been promised, and a service was perforce created by utilising empty transports and collecting the staff in Egypt. The first efforts may be described as almost maddening. It was impossible to get adequate notice when a ship was likely to leave for Australia. It had probably been to the Dardanelles and unloaded soldiers and munitions of war. It had returned to Alexandria packed with wounded. It might then be drafted to Australia, at a few days’ notice. It was necessary to clean and refit it, to place hammocks, blankets, beds on board, to provide drugs and surgical appliances and Red Cross stores, and to provide a staff in Egypt.<br>
In looking back on the efforts made, the wonder is not that minor defects occurred in the early stages, but that the work was done anything like as well as it was. The difficulties were almost insuperable, and nothing but the devotion of a number of medical officers to the service rendered any decent result possible.<br>
The first ship to leave with wounded on board was the Kyarra on June 7, but previously a number of ships had left containing invalids, venereal cases, undesirables, and oddments. In every case there was a scramble at the last moment to get things ready. The staff for the ships was provided by detailing officers, nurses, and orderlies from the scanty staffs of Nos. 1 and 2 General Hospitals. The Australian Government, under request, then began to provide transport staffs who came with the troopships and returned at later intervals when the troopships went back again as “hospital carriers.” Of hospital ships proper there were none.<br>
Each ship was inspected in order to ascertain the number of patients she could carry, and to determine the staff requisite—consequently a routine procedure was adopted. Cot cases were seldom taken, as it was thought better where possible to keep cot cases in Egypt. A minimum of two medical officers was allowed for 300 patients, and an additional medical officer for every 150 patients. One trained nurse was allowed for every 50 patients, and one orderly for every 25 patients. These numbers were arbitrary and approximate, but served as a working basis. The supply was probably in excess of real requirements, but it was necessary to contemplate the possibility of an epidemic outbreak in the tropics and the grave results which might ensue. The equipment of drugs and instruments was liberal, and was arranged on a fixed plan worked out by the officer in charge of the base medical store at Heliopolis. The Red Cross stores were supplied in the same way, and the commanding officer was given a sum of money, sometimes as much as £150 to £200, to spend on comforts for the men. A canteen was placed on board in addition. The ship was not allowed to leave the wharf until the commander had given a certificate that he had on board all the medical comforts required by the Admiralty regulations, and until the principal medical officer had given a certificate that he had all that he required in the way of staff, drugs, surgical and medical equipment, and Red Cross stores.<br>
There is no more dangerous branch of medical service than the transport of sick and wounded over the ocean, since there are so many possibilities of disaster.<br>
Base Medical Store<br>
These continual demands on personnel and on medical stores necessitated suitable arrangements, and messages were sent to Australia asking for reinforcements. In addition a large base medical store was established at Heliopolis, and made an independent unit. It became the business of the officer in charge of this store, Captain Johnson, to make up drugs and surgical instruments per 100 patients, and to receive the surplus stores from each of the incoming transports. Two hospital ships were ultimately provided, the Karoola and the Kanowna, and reached Egypt in October.<br>
Transport of Sick and Wounded to Suez<br>
The arrangements for conveying the invalids from Cairo to Suez were interesting. They could not be conveyed to Alexandria or Port Said because one passenger placed on a ship at those ports enormously increased the charges made by the Suez Canal Company, and Suez was consequently fixed upon as the port of departure and the port of equipment. Patients to be conveyed to Suez were at Helouan, or at different hospitals in Cairo, and accordingly two trains were made up—one at Helouan and one at Palais de Koubbeh, Heliopolis. Each train was filled at a specific time, the two trains conveyed to Cairo, a junction effected in the Cairo station, and the whole conveyed to Suez. The journey took about five hours, and the necessary provision was made for feeding the men on the way. One of the difficulties in conveying such patients was to prevent them riding on the platforms of the carriages and falling off. A sentry was placed at each end of the carriage to prevent the continuance of these disasters, which had been too numerous in the case of healthy men in the troop trains. Men had even lost their lives or been mutilated from trying to ride on the buffers à la Blondin.<br>
On arrival at Suez the train proceeded alongside the ship, the patients and their kit were moved on board, and a guard placed in the dockyard. Even then men straggled into Suez, and their recapture gave some trouble. The Australian is essentially a roamer.