War kept killing after 1918: study

The shooting stopped on November 11, 1918, but World War 1 continued to kill New Zealanders for years afterwards, new research says.

Veterans' experiences resulted in many dying after they got home - either from the effects of wounds, or from mental illnesses, alcoholism or suicides induced by the experiences on the frontline, a newly published article whose co-authors include University of Otago academics, said.

"Some types of morbidity impacts could have been lifelong for some, for example from missing limbs, residual shrapnel/bullets that were never removed, permanent lung damage from poisonous gas exposure, and psychological trauma,'' the article said.

"Burdens of non-fatal disease were also high, with sexually transmitted diseases estimated at 12,000 cases. Lice infestation may also have been universal.''

The article, in the latest issue of Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, said the war's impact was such that male survivorship past reproductive age (15-45) dropped by up to 10 years for the generation caught up in the conflict.

Overall, 18,166 military personnel deaths are credited as being from World War 1, with 16,703 of those being before Armistice Day.

More than 41,000 were wounded, and at least five soldiers per thousand per week were reported sick.

By 1921, 31,764 veterans were receiving war pensions for disability.

"While there is still more to learn, it is already clear that from a health perspective New Zealand paid a high price in health terms for its part in this war,'' Nick Wilson of the University of Otago department of public health, Wellington, said.

Prof Wilson and fellow authors - George Thomson (Otago), Jennifer Summers (King's College London), Glyn Harper (Massey), Evan Roberts (University of Minnesota) and independent researcher John Horrocks - suggested further fields of study could include examining war pension files for evidence of the breadth of psychological damage caused by the war, what kind of non-fatal injuries were suffered by combatants, and whether the wartime environment in New Zealand affected civilian life expectancy.

"We know from modern information that when a woman is widowed when she is pregnant, the shock can impact on the developing foetus which can then cause a reduced long-term life span as an adult,'' he said.

Perversely, while World War 1 was probably the greatest destroyer of New Zealand families, it also had some subsequent health benefits, the researchers found.

"It also stimulated a range of advances in medical and surgical services, psychiatry and public health, which benefited participants of the war and the civilian population in subsequent decades.''



We already know much of this. Does it stop NZ from sending troops to fight overseas? No.