Australia-Japan Research Project

AustraliaJapan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
The human face of war
Medical system

The main elements of the Japanese Army medical and evacuation system during the Papuan campaign consisted of the main strength of the 67th Line of Communication (LOC) Hospital at Giruwa, The 1st Field Hospital at Kokoda, and several First-Aid Clearing Stations along the route of the advance over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The hospital at Giruwa acted as the equivalent of a base hospital in the area, and was the staging point for serious patients before they were evacuated to Rabaul. It also contained equipment and personnel to undertake most procedures and treatments required in the field. A LOC Hospital at full strength had a staff of 375–400, and the capacity for approximately one thousand patients. The extreme conditions at Giruwa, however, placed an enormous strain on the ability of the staff to provide care. On 15 November 1942, for example, the hospital had a complement of 57 effective staff for a total of 2,264 patients.

The mobile Field Hospital at Kokoda provided treatment closer to the front lines so that troops could be returned to their units in the minimum time. Minor surgery could be performed at the Field Hospital, though serious cases were evacuated to the LOC Hospital. They were generally staffed by around twenty officers, including up to 15 Medical Officers, and 250 other ranks who provided medical care and transport for up to five hundred patients. Conditions at the Field Hospital were generally fairly poor, with no beds and only limited protection from the elements. The following describes the conditions at the Kokoda Field Hospital during the Japanese advance:

After I left the wounded men, I came across a river about 10m wide. Traversing it was difficult, but a crossing had been constructed. On the other side, a 1m high wooden sign read in black ink "Field Hospital Entrance". Lined up on the nearby embankment were countless white sapling grave markers. I passed through and discovered a field hospital in the midst of the jungle. Inside, numerous small wards were lined up like pigsties. Each was constructed from thin poles with low ceilings. The blackened rotten banana leaves that formed the roof were constantly dripping. The injured and sick were packed inside like sardines.

On the floor was spread green leaves or thin saplings. There were no blankets. The patients lay strewn in their blood-stained, blackened uniforms. Large drops of water fell on their pale faces from the leaves of the surrounding trees. However, they didn’t even have the energy to avoid them. They must have also been tormented from the pain of their injuries, or distressed by high fever. Were they praying for life? Or just waiting for death? Some several hundred of these inmates were probably embraced by unbearable torment. The hospital, where not a word was uttered, had sunk to the pit of a deathly silence.


Closer to the front lines, injured and sick soldiers were treated by Medical personnel attached to a First-aid Clearing Station. These would typically have only basic medical supplies, and would rely on special stretcher bearers and front-line troops for evacuation of the wounded. In addition, along the track back towards the LOC Hospital were several staging areas where basic treatment could be delivered.

Preparations for evacuation of the injured were completed. The injured had been loaded onto stretchers by the youth of the Giyûtai [Formosan Volunteer Unit] and lined up next to the native huts. They had been firmly tied to the stretchers with vines to prevent them rolling off on the precipitous mountain road. It looked painful. Fresh branches were set up over their heads to provide shade from the sun.

The cheeks of the youths were puffed out from the strain as they gripped the rails of the stretchers. The patients’ lives were supported by these heavy rails. For how many days must they travel to overcome these precipitous cliffs and valleys? The realisation of this life and death struggle was etched on their brows.


Contributed by Steven Bullard (AJRP)

Sources
"Miscellaneous orders and bulletins, November 9 - December 8 1942" (Enemy Publication No. 29), AWM55 5/3.

TAKITA Kenji, Taiyô wa moeru (The Pacific is burning), Tokyo: Kachô Shuppansha, pp. 106-07, p. 136.

Printed on 09/22/2019 08:25:35 AM