National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

A Family Connection

Omokoroa No. 1 School from north of Tauranga recently spent a day at the National Army Museum. Prior to their arrival the museum was contacted by the family of Brigadier William Henry Blinman Bull whose great-grand niece was coming with the Omokoroa School class. The museum has in its collection a German dagger belonging to Brigadier Bull which he brought back from his time as a prisoner of war and they were hoping she would be able to see it.

This lead the museum’s Education Officer Mark Hays on a journey of discovery into the life of Brigadier Bull. Blinman Bull had a remarkable career, a trained surgeon he joined the Medical Corps in 1917. By the time World War II started he was the Commanding Officer of 6th Field Ambulance and saw service in the Middle East, Greece and Crete.

On Crete he was captured by German Paratroopers on 28th May 1941 whilst caring for a group of 46 severely wounded at a WWCP (Walking Wounded Collection Point) in a schoolhouse at Neon Khorian. The group had been due to be picked up by trucks for the withdrawal from Cretehowever the trucks were unable to get through.

Lt Col Bull had this to say about his captors,

“Treatment by the Germans was, on the whole, fairly correct except that they:-

1. Removed 9/10ths of our one month’s supply of food.

2. Would not or could not provide medical and surgical necessities for five days.

3. Would not evacuate the severely wounded, several of whom died as a result of inadequate treatment.

4.Would not allow us to procure surgical supplies from Kalives, only miles away, although large quantities were known to be there.

5. Took away at once 3 NZMC medics wearing red cross armbands, for the purpose of carrying ammunition.

At aged 44 Lt Col Bull became the highest ranking New Zealand Medical Corps officer to be taken prisoner during WWII. He eventually ended up at Stalag VIIIb Lamsdorf as the Senior Medical Officer.

In November that year (1941) there was an outbreak of typhus in the camp after British orderlies working with lice laden Russian clothing at the delousing station developed the disease. Bull immediately organised anti-louse measures including cancelling all gatherings in church, schools and theatres and imposed a curfew. He also ordered all patients and staff in the hospital to be stripped, clean shaven top and bottom, bathed and put into fresh pyjamas and clean beds.

Seeing me completely shorn hopping into a bath one of the British medics called out Eh, you look like a roody plooked dook”.

Because of the precautions only 18 of the 10.000 prisoners developed typhus and only 3 died.

Blinman Bull like most of the inmates at Lamsdorf, was concerned at the appalling treatment given to the Russian Prisoners of War (POWs). He organised medical treatment and distributed comforts from the Red Cross parcels for them, which incurred the wrath of the Commandant and German authorities.

Despite several warnings he continued helping the Russians and as a result was eventually shipped to Oflag IVc Colditz Castle, “the camp for bad boys”, from 3 Sept 1942 until 28 April 1943. The castle had walls 2m thick, guards outnumbered prisoners and being positioned on a hill above the Mulde River in Saxony, was considered escape proof.

After WWII Blinman Bull, now a Brigadier became DGMS Director General Medical Services for the New Zealand Army. His “adventures” were to continue during the Korean War when he made a visit to the Korean Theatre in 1951 (aged 54) to visit the troops. Along with 700 reinforcements on the troopship Wahine they were shipwrecked on the Korean coast. Fortunately all on board were rescued with no casualties. He was to comment later that the conditions in the Korean were appalling but because of the excellent medical services in the field that soldiers were probably better off than in any other campaign. They were able to be in hospital in Japan within 7 hours of being wounded.

Brigadier William Henry Blinman Bull NZMC, CBE, OBE, ED, MB, ChB. FRACS ED, retired in 1954, and died in Wellington 15 March 1976.