NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES
MALTA: TO CONVALESCE OR DIE.

The tranquil Mediterranean Island of Malta became the last resting place for many Galliploli soldiers.
Above: The iron gates leading into a CWG cemetery on the Island. An army "dog tag"of a New Zealand soldier.
A 1915 Red Cross and Saint John's postcard home, but for many the hospitals of Malta would never be seen,
on the right the tomb supporting the "silver fern" became the last resting place for Auckland Mounted Rifleman,
13/1056/a John Edward Scott, who died of wounds at sea while being transported to Malta aboard the Hospital
Ship "Devanha" on the 4th September 1915, aged twenty-six years old.


SITE MAP


A Doctors summer uniform of WWI
note the shorts, commonly referred to as "Bombay Bloomers" and Pith Helmet.
This original uniform from a NZMR members collection.

 

 

 








 

A CHANCE TO RECOVER
The attack on the Galliploi Peninsular introduced The New Zealanders to a new horrific twentieth century war of heavy artillery bombardments and deadly machine gun fire. The carnage wrought on both sides of the battle lines had not been witnessed before. Men died in their thousands each day. Some were to say that "they were the lucky ones" as the injuries to tens of thousands of men in the allied lines were truly terrible. Compounding the problems for these wounded men was the inability to move them immediately out of the trenches to hospital ships anchoured off-shore. The open ground of ANZAC was a death trap for medics trying to aid men during the day, and the tortuous terrain down the steep ravines to the beachhead was dangerous at night - help was slow in coming. Men sometimes lay for days waiting evacuation, many bled to death, and infections and disease ravaged both the wounded and the able bodied. Thirst was also a continual pressure. Dressing Stations in the reserve areas swamped with dying men.
If a soldier was lucky enough to reach the beachhead and then survive the over crowded conditions aboard a hospital ship, he was destined for one of the many hospitals established away from the war zone. Close by on the Greek Island of Lemnos was the first of the hospitals, also there were many established back in Egypt, others for the more serious cases were located in England and Malta.
The trials experienced by the wounded were great, the world was still a generation away from the "Magic Bullet" of penicillin, recovery times were extensive. But through all the pain, Englishman, Chaplain Major, the Reverend Albert Mackinnon observed in his book: "Malta, The nurse of the Mediterranean"

"... But one soldier stands out from the others as the cheeriest man I ever met. He was a big, handsome New Zealander. named Fraser, and when he first came in he was in a most critical condition. He had eighteen wounds in his body.
"Oh, I am getting on alt right,” was his first greeting to me.
From the start I noticed that his mind always dwelt on most favourable symptoms of his wounds, and I believe that this helped to save his life.
If his shoulder were healing he spoke about that, and said nothing about his knee, which was suppurating. I called him the cheeriest patient in Valletta Hospital. When I told him about our tea room for the wounded he insisted on giving some money to drive up some of the other men in the ward who were strong enough to go though unable to walk, and from that time onward, while battling with pain, he was always anxious to talk about it, and plan for others enjoying its benefits. For months he lay there, emitting, like radium, rays of cheer that brightened the whole ward.
He was taken from his bed to the New Zealand hospital ship, and our last glimpse of him was a smile. That was one of Malta’s rainbows, which I shall never forget...
"


A navy lighter crew winch aboard a wounded soldier onto a hospital ship anchoured off ANZAC Cove.


Veterans of battle recovering in Ward 4 of the
Cottonera Hospital - Malta 1915.

Auckland Mounted Rifleman, Corporal Fredrick Dill took part in the fateful all out attack to take Chunuk Bair, starting on the 7th August. He records that during the attack:
"... out of 108 who went up the hill in our Squadron only 22 came back. The whole of our regiment is little over 100 strong now. Out of our 22 who came back only 14 were unwounded..."

After the battle Fredrick contacted intestinal Gastritis, and for days he cannot hold down any food. The doctor details him for hospital care and he departs Gallipoli for Malta. His following diary notes show that those that died enroute to Malta did not all get buried on the Island.

August 30 - We sailed from ANZAC early in the morning and when day broke we were sailing down the coast off Lemnos. We arrived at Murdos about 8 o’clock and anchored while the Captain went ashore for orders. The Captain got orders to proceed to England calling at Malta.
September 2 - We sighted Malta about 4 o’clock this afternoon. We steamed up to the entrance to the harbour and got orders to anchor in St. Paul’s Bay for the night.
September 3 - We hauled up anchor at about 7 o’clock this morning, proceeded out to sea, buried some bodies and then came in an anchored in the small harbour of Malta. The first thing we did was to buy some grapes from the bum boats alongside. My word they did taste good, we have hardly done anything but suck them all day.
September 4 - We were taken off the hospital ship at about 8-30 this morning and were brought by motor ambulance to the St. Johns Military Hospital. It is a new hospital just opened and has not got running properly yet. It is a jolly nice place overlooking the sea.
September 5 - It was quite a queer sensation getting into a bed between sheets last night. It was the first time that I have slept in a bed for 13 months since I left home in N.Z. I feel much the same today, very weak.
September 18 - My 22nd birthday today. I am spending it quietly in hospital.
September 21 - The doctor had a look at me today and put me down for the Active Service List so I suppose that I will be going with the next draught back to Gallipoli.

(Corporal Dill survived the war, serving also in Sinai and Palestine, returning to New Zealand with servere chest wounds received from enemy machine gun fire. At the start of world war two he had risen through the ranks in the territorial service to become a Lieutenant Colonel. He died at the great age of 95.)
Punch - London

TOMMY (dictating letter to be sent to his wife): "The nurses here are a very plain lot--"
NURSE: "Oh, come! I say! That's not very polite to us.
"TOMMY: "Never mind. Nurse, put it down. It'll please her!"

After Gallipoli the retreating forces to Egypt were first placed on the defence of the Seuz Canal then the second campaign to attack across the Sinai Desert. Again the medical support went into action with many hospitals stationed in Egypt - getting the wounded to hospitals from distant battlefields required many and varied transports.


Camel Cocolets carrying the wounded from desert battlefields to rail heads



Hospital Ferry Niagara loading wounded from a casualty clearing station.
Below, excerpt from the 1918 book, With the R.A.M.C. in Egypt (Royal Army Medical Corps):-
"...Hospitalships improvised from Messrs. Cook's Nile Steamers plied to and fro on the Canal between
Kantara and the General Hospitals at Port Said, and these ships had also to be staffed and worked."

The Niagara Ferry flies the British white ensign on her stern, and although this is a black and white photograph it is a fair guess that the flags flying on her bow state:

"I am sailing today, and I have no contagious diseases onboard"


The International Code of Signals has been in continuous use since 1857, when it was published by the British Board of Trade as a means of maritime communications.

Signal Flag "P"

The Blue Peter: "All aboard, vessel is about to sail."

Signal Flag "Q"
"My vessel is healthy and I request free practique."
(pratique)a certificate, given after compliance with quarantine regulations, permitting a ship to land passengers and crew

THE NIAGARA ON THE NILE.

After being wounded on a distant battlefield in Sinai or Turkish Palestine a soldier would have been transported by camel cacolet, sled, or mule drawn sandcart to the railhead, perhaps at El Arish. Then would come the demanding long train journey across the Sinai Desert into Egypt, but the journey was still not quite over - another long trip to a Cairo Hospital by a "Hospital Ferry" would then test any mans endurance.
The mortality figures for DOW (Died Of Wounds) and DOD (Died Of Disease) far out weighed those who were killed in actual combat - KIA (Killed In Action).
Another great photograph from Jack Baker's Collection brings to light a forgotten aspect of medical support in the Middle East.

Footnote:
Competition for plying tourists by steamship along the Nile emerged in 1906 when the Thomas Cook Nile Steamships were challenged by the Hamburg and Anglo-American Nile Company, which added five ships, including the "Niagara". During the war the Niagara appears to have then been taken over by the R.A.M.C. and dispatched to duties on the Suez Canal.


RECENT WORLD NEWS BRINGS BACK MEMORIES OF THE CURSE OF THE JORDAN VALLEY - "JERICHO BUTTONS"


(on the 3rd July 08) "International Community Praises Rescue of 15 Hostages in Colombia."
As headlines blazed around the world on that week of the dramatic helicopter rescue of hostages grabbed from their guerilla captors deep in the jungles of Columbia, it was interesting to note that two of the American construction workers among the hostages were keen to be repatriated quickly. The men wished to return to the United States for treatment of Leishmaniasis Disease.
The mention of this disfiguring disease caused by Protozoan Parasites that come from infected female sand flies and passed on to humans, during blood feeds, brings to mind the outbreak of the infection in 1917 as troops advanced against the enemy in Turkish Palestine in WWI.
Obviously the more serious outbreaks of Malaria and influenza killed many men, but the horrible skin sores created by Leishmaniasis that ate into the flesh was of great concern - the parasite raised red raw flesh and resulting pockmarked sores that scared for life were a major cause of distress. Often the disease appeared inside the nose and mouth, a crippling condition. Some men died with complications when the disease, known by the troops as Jericho Buttons, transferred to liver or other organs. However many recovered as their body's immune system killed off the parasite - but even today there is no vaccine to control the parasite, and the disease is widespread in many tropical and sub-tropical countries across the globe. A worry too for climate change, as the increase in temperatures has meant the spread of the disease, which has recently been recorded in areas of Texas.
More recently US Forces are experiencing a new outbreak amongst their troops in Iraq. In the years 2003-2004 some 650 soldiers contacted the disease and many thousands of locals were also infected. The troops nick-naming the scourge "Baghdad Boils".


Want to know more?
WHO
World Health Organization.


"Jericho Buttons" disfigured many during an outbreak in the Jordan Valley in 1917.

Recent outbreaks in Iraq.
These healed scars of "Baghdad Boils" could be considered a mild case.


ENGLISH GENTLEWOMEN OF HORNCHURCH
Dotted across the English countryside were convalescent camps to house the soldiers sent to England to recuperate from wounds and sickness inflicted during service on the front-line. Many New Zealand Mounted Riflemen were sent to "Hornchurch" in the southern part of the country to rest and recover after hospitalisation. That recovery could not have happened without the unselfish dedication of Doctors and Nurses and the special volunteers of "Canteen Ladies" that dedicated time and energy away from their own families to help "the cause".
This rare photograph, again from the Shepherd collection, shows a group of Canteen Ladies relaxing in the sun for a photograph - On closer inspection we can see a NZMR trooper trying his best to disrupt proceedings (top left hand corner) - this brief glimpse in time shows the relaxed relationship Colonial troops had with their benevolent and capable hosts.

AOTEA HOSPITAL, HELIOPOLIS, CAIRO

Magazine photograph: "The Great War" published 1916. - Duotone NZMRA 2011. - Roger Shepherd Collection.
A scene of humour as convalescent soldiers attempt to start out on a donkey ride from the grounds of the Aotea home in Heliopolis. This picture was published in "The Great War" magazine in 1916 and therefore represents the period where the more fortunate wounded soldiers are well along the recovery road after sustaining life threatening diseases and injuries on the Gallipoli Peninsular during the eight month long campaign of 1915.
In 1916 the majority of the NZEF departed for the battlefields of Europe, but the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were retained in Egypt to defend the Suez Canal.
A second German led Turkish attack was planned against the Canal, and rather than wait entrenched the Australian Light Horse, British Yeomanry and the NZMR struck at the enemy deep in the Sinai Desert at Romani in August 1916. The defeat of the Turko-German force at Romani by the horse mounted troops was the biggest defeat suffered by the Central Powers in the war up until that time.
Major Bowerbank, O.B.E., N.Z.M.C. wrote of New Zealand Hospitals in Egypt :

"...The need for convalescent hospitals was first realised in May, 1915. A house was taken over at Zeitoun, Cairo, but as it proved quite inadequate to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers, a convalescent hospital was opened by Lady Godley in Alexandria, where the men could have the benefit of the more bracing sea breezes.

In October, there arrived in Cairo the Aotea Convalescent Hospital, equipped by the residents of Wanganui. A house was taken at Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, and even though the accommodation was raised to 80, and later to 100, the establishment was always taxed to the utmost. This hospital remained after the Division had embarked for France, and was the convalescent centre for the N.Z. Mounted Brigade until the Armistice. It was in every respect an ideal establishment, and was thoroughly appreciated by the "diggers," especially after the departure of the N.Z. General Hospital and the closing down of the other convalescent hospitals.

It was only after the later experience of hospital methods and administration in England and France that one could realise the tremendous difficulties which beset those who bore the burden of the day in Egypt during the summer of 1915. In those days there was a shortage of drugs, and of equipment, and though the glory of the battlefields was not the lot of those who worked in them, yet these New Zealanders by their enthusiasm and devotion to duty established and built up an organisation which proved to be, then and later, of inestimable benefit to their sick and wounded countrymen."


Report from the Wanganui Chronicle, Volume LX, Issue 16730, 31 August 1916, Page 7:

AOTEA HOME. EXTRACTS FROM OFFICIAL REPORTS.

The following extracts are from the report of Lieut.-Colonel the Hon. R. Heaton Rhodes T.D., M.P., commanding the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Brigade, on his mission to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Malta, Mudros, Gallipoli, and Egypt, as the representative of the Government :—

"Aotea Convalescent Home" at Heleopolis situated close to the Zietown Camp, was also excellently equipped and managed, the matron being Sister M. A. Farley, late of the Wellington Hospital, who had a capable and enthusiastic staff. The Institution was generously provided by Wanganui, Rangitikei, and Wairarapa residents.
The idea was, I understand, conceived by three Wanganui ladies. Misses M. MacDonell, M. Macdonald, and M. Duncan. After doing duty at " Aotea" for some time Miss MacDonell accepted the position as Matron of the Empire Nurse's Convalescent Home at Zietown, which, has been established largely through the efforts of Mrs. A. de Castro, of Wellington, for the comfort and convenience of Army nursing sisters. In opening the Home on the 25th February last, General Sir John Maxwell, G.O.C. (Egypt) paid a personal tribute to the committee, and especially to Mrs. de Castro, whom I may say, had charge of the Empire Soldiers' Cafe in the Esbekiah Gardens, which was a great boon to all soldiers.

The cheapest and best method of remitting money for the benefit of our sick and wounded is through the Defence Department, Wellington.

Mr. Gibbons had a call from Farrier-Sergt. Blackburn, who was serving in Egypt two years—he went with the main body. He called to express on behalf of our boys in general, their thanks for the benefits received from the Aotea Home, and also wished to express his and their thanks to the staff personally. Sergt. Blackburn tells me that the fame of Aotea was so widespread that when asked in hospital if they had preference for any particular Convalescent Home the majority of them claimed cousinship or relationship of some kind with one or other of the Aotea staff in order to make certain that they got there. He says if the word of the boys went for anything, any member of the staff could claim scores of relations with our forces. He described it as "exactly home."

Writing to Mr. Hope-Gibbons, under date 18th June, the matron of "Aotea" Home says : —

"On behalf of Aotea patients will you kindly thank the Wanganui College Old Boys for the second sum of £20 for 'smokes.' We are able to buy good cigarettes with this (Green Three Castles), and if the W.C.O. Boys could only see how these 'good smokes' are appreciated they would be more than gratified. The "ration allowance" of two packets per week of a very poor cigarette is not much good but the 'Aotea boys' are always fortunate having good smokes. Yellow Three Castles are unprocurable in Cairo, but the green may nearly always be found somewhere. Mr. Macintosh notified me that yellow and green T.C. cigarettes, with a case of Havelock tobacco, had been sent to us, but so far we have not been able to trace it. Major Watson is keeping a look out for them, so we hope to receive them sooner) or later.

The home is going on as usual. I will not write you of it at length just now, because Mr Macintosh tells me he sends you copies of all my letters. There is not much change from week to week. We are kept full, but may get instructions to move to England any day, but so long as there are mounted men in Egypt to whom we can be of help we are quite happy to be left here.
The staff are all pretty well. They all have ample opportunities for a change and holidays. And the members of the staff are taking it in turn to go, two at a time, to Alexandria, where there is a beautiful 'Rest Home' for nurses. It is cooler there and the sea bathing is pleasant.
With kind regards from the staff.— Yours faithfully, M. A. Early."