Allenby’s Other Battle.

. Medicine is often overlooked in general histories of the Great War. We hear about the battles, the home front, women, football, but rarely medicine and illness, the medical  exception being the Spanish Flu. Medicine can however tell us much more. It can confirm the Australians made it into Gaza during the second battle of Gaza. There was three cases of gonorrhea in Australian soldiers who took part in the battle. Gonorrhea is not easy to catch in the open desert, so it is a good indication that they were infected inside Gaza. As well as sexually transmitted diseases the soldiers of Allenby’s  Army faced another potential killer disease, malaria. Malaria in Egypt and latterly in Palestine had four origins. It was carried by some soldiers from India, a benign primary form was also was prevalent along the Canal, Before the advance into malaria also broke out in a limited scale and odd places in Sinai, and a malignant form of the disease in Palestine itself.

The Public Health department of Egypt had fitted out a railway car as a mobile biological laboratory which they placed at General Murray’s disposal for use in the Canal Zone in April 1915. the Egyptian Expeditionary Force,EEF-Allenby’s Army had to wait until April 1918 for mobile laboratories to be sent out from Britain. Meanwhile a pamphlet was dispatched to all Medical Officers with instructions on how to diagnose malaria and arrange suitable treatment and care for soldiers with the disease. A base laboratory was established at No.24 Stationary Hospital by Sir David Semple.  The Desert Mounted Corps also had an ANZAC Field laboratory, but for the rest of the EEF there was no way medical officers in the field  could quickly confirm a soldier was suffering from malaria or another similar illness. in February 1918 an RAMC Captain suggested the formation of Malaria Diagnostic Stations,MDS. Seven medical officers and sixteen orderlies were trained for a month from the third week in March 1918 and at the end of April 1918 these men had formed two  MDS units. Each unit could be carried in one general service wagon.

During the summer of 1918 Turkish prisoners and the Egyptian Labour Corps became particularly prone to malaria, Medical Units at the railheads were rapidly expanded, with laboratories at Ludd, Jerusalem, Deir-el-Belah, and Jaffa. Hospitals for prisoners of war were opened next to casualty clearing stations as well as at Deir-el-Belah, El Arish, and Kantara. The Egyptian Labour Corps was susceptible because it was they who were carrying out the anti -malaria work of draining marshes and diverting streams. Over two hundred man hours were spent from April 1918 on the various anti-malaria projects. Mosquito breeding areas were targeted wells were oiled, shell holes were filled and or oiled,  ponds and marshes were drained, reeds cleared as far as possible all breeding areas, mostly were stagnant water could accumulate were dealt with.  British forces were still being infected, but less and less. Malaria only finally being checked when the medical services insisted that only the bare minimum of troops could continue the pursuit and all others were to be withdrawn to healthy camp sites. An attempt was made to get the Australian stopped from wearing shorts-malaria being carried by mosquitoes, this was heavily resisted. The odd thing is evidence suggests, (2) that the troopers themselves were more afraid of malaria than they were of being wounded. More preventative measures were also used. Ronald Ross had discovered how malaria was transmitted from one infected person to people not infected Veils, nets creams and gloves were issued. Quinine however was not compulsory, doctors were not sure of its effectiveness, and was also in limited supply.

Dispite the anti malaria campaign and the counter measures, during the closing months of the war, the final pursuit by the EEF of the remains of the Turkish Army it was noted that there seemed to be a higher incidence of malaria cases in the Desert Mounted Corps. It is thought this is because the Desert Mounted Corps operated in the Esdraelon Valley. It was the failure of the second Transjordan attack, the so called second raid, meant that the bulk of the bulk of the mounted troops had no option but to remain in the valley. Summer temperatures in the southern half could reach higher than 120F, (I am to old to convert this to centigrade, but it is extremely hot.) To the north and after the end of summer, Damascus suffered a malignant outbreak of both malaria and the flue on the 6th October 1918, Malaria was carried into the city by troops of the Desert Mounted Corps, with 2,000 patients in the Barracks Hospital alone the resources of the RAMC were seriously strained. 4th Cavalry Division was also heavily infected, and was unable to continue the advance.The arrival of No.66 Casualty Clearing station and 96 class A(1) RAMC men from Kantara plus the Assistant Director of Medical Services help ease the situation. Allenby was left with only the 5th Cavalry who had spent just one night in the Jordan valley being able to continue the advance reaching Homes on the 16th October. Chaytor’s force also began to suffer after several days in the Jordanian valley. In just two months Chaytor had lost over 8,000 men to mainly malaria, this compares with 139 battle casualties since September. Two thirds of his starting force were now gone.

Footnote.

1) Class A men from the RAMC were being retrained in Kantara as infantrymen due to the manpower shortage.

2) Allenby’s Military Medicine p131

References,

Eran Dole, Allenby’s Military Medicine

Eran Dolev, Yigal Sheffy, and Haim Goren (Editors) Palestine and World War 1 Chapter 7.

Major General Sir WG Macpherson History of the Great War Medical Services Vol 3

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