WORK OF THE NEW ZEALAND MEDICAL CORPS
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This is an important film which shows in great detail the system of casualty evacuation and treatment used by the New Zealand Division on the Western Front during World War One, from 1916 to 1918.
In June 1917, when this film was shot by NZEF Official Photographer Lt H. A. Sanders, the New Zealand Division was in the line south of the River Douve with the front line forward of Ploegsteert Wood, in Northern France. It was a period of heavy activity. “From 15 to 30 June our causalities were reported to be: 106 killed; 801 wounded. There was an increasing casualty list due to gas poisoning and there were clear signs of nervous exhaustion in many of the sick”. (A.D. Carbery, The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War, 1924, p.318)
Wounded men were evacuated from the front line by stretcher bearers carrying the wounded to the trench tramways that ran through Ploegsteert Woods and taken to the Regimental Aid Post. This is where the casualty was checked by the Regimental Medical Officer and the wound stabilised. The casualty was then evacuated as quickly as possible, by wheeled stretcher, or “jigger” as the New Zealanders called them, or by stretcher party or trench tramway, to the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). At the ADS wounded were checked, dressed and serious cases quickly evacuated by motor ambulance to the Main Dressing Station (MDS), in this case No.3 Field Ambulance at Pont D’Achelles. At the MDS casualties were given anti-tetanus shots then examined by surgeons and either passed on to nurses, or in serious cases, immediately operated on.
The film also shows the operation of the sanitary section. Men are seen entering the Divisional baths and handing their clothing and blankets to men running Fodden Lorry Disinfector with two Thresh Chambers which could each deal with thirty blankets an hour (twenty minutes in heating, twenty minutes in steaming and twenty minutes in drying). This was to kill the lice which infected most front-line soldiers and which were responsible for much of the disease and scabies found in the trenches.
Sanders' film carefully captures the various medical systems that were used and the viewer should be reminded that at the time the ambulances that feature handled some 800 wounded men a fortnight.
This film was not released by the War Office Cinematographic Committee, likely because it was too realistic, and so was not shown to New Zealand audiences until after the war.
From notes by Chris Pugsley.
Reference number F4310
Collection Film and Video Collection
Media type Moving Image
Place of Production NEW ZEALAND/AOTEAROA
Production company New Zealand Official War Film
Photography: Lt Henry A. Sanders
Distribution (NZ): New Zealand Picture Supplies
Distribution (UK): Pathe Freres