- Morris, Kenneth N., Surgeon Lieutenant, RAN
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Canberra I
- July 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We were working among the wounded – mainly on the forecastle – with our torches – the fire could be seen for about 30 miles distance – yet there were constant shouts at us to ‘Put out those lights’. Funny enough now but productive of some very picturesque replies at the time.
There were all types of assorted incidents such as lowering a boat filled with wounded only to find it riddled with splinter holes – finding a group of wounded men carefully laid out on a pile of explosive ammunition and the fire three feet away – but I can’t recall them all now and they would take hours to tell. There were some pretty grim stuff also – trunks without limbs – heads without bodies, etc – one poor devil with his bell wall split open saying as everyone passed ‘‘Don’t tread on me guts’.
After a few hours a U.S. destroyer came alongside and took off a number of our wounded. They themselves had been hit and had a pile of their own wounded and having only one doctor they asked for medical assistance so the Surgeon Commander and I went over. Things had been pretty poor on the Canberra but I think that it was even worse on the destroyer owing to the crowding – at one stage I found myself giving plasma infusions in the seamen’s W.C.’s.
The destroyer had to leave the Canberra in a hell of a hurry because they thought that we were being attacked again.
Later we went back with another destroyer and took off the rest of the wounded and survivors. About 11.30 we were transferred to a transport ship – those on the other destroyer went to another transport. We found that we had 200 plus American and Australian wounded and eight doctors on our transport. We three Australians formed an operating team – three Americans formed another and the remaining two attended to the minor stuff.
The Surgeon Commander gave the anaesthetics – mostly intravenous inductions followed by ether when necessary and the other Surgeon Lieutenant and I took it in turns to assist each other operate. We knocked off at midnight for five hours sleep and then went on again until midnight the next night by which time every casualty had been attended to once. It took us seven days to reach the nearest port and although the work became increasingly light we weren’t exactly working union hours. For theatre attendants, nurses etc. we had a varied selection of cooks, stewards, stokers and seamen who, although they were a menace for a while, were so keen to be of use that they soon became a tower of strength.
Fortunately the Americans had everything that opened and shut in the way of equipment and were more than generous with it. I have nothing but the profoundest admiration for them.
We used sulphathiazole powder on all the wounds and by mouth in bad cases. The results were staggering. When we last saw them (8 days after the engagement) the majority of the wounds were as clean as surgical incisions. Of course we did what debridement we could, but it was by no means exhaustive as we had not the time to spend on individual cases.
It was very interesting to see cases who had their major wounds well debrided and powdered – some minor wounds only powdered, and what we had regarded as insignificant wounds – untouched. In every case the major wounds were covered with healthy granulations – the second class were clean but the granulations were rather oedematous and not so healthy – the third untouched type in every case formed pus in what were large quantities for the size of the wound. A pretty convincing demonstration I think. We only had ordinary sterile gauze to cover them with and it used to stick – I think that something like parawax would be ideal.
The Americans had a magnificent supply of dried plasma in a very handy apparatus. We used unbelievable quantities of it. I often started one and even two flowing in the time it took to dress the patient on the table after the operation – remove him and get the next in. When I had started them I would get an able seaman to look after it – most of them had never seen anything except beer or milk coming out of a bottle before.