The medical kit of Captain Harding Leaf of the 28 (Māori) Battalion
Captain Harding Waipuke Leaf (Ngāpuhi, Te Hikutu) served inthe Māori Pioneer Battalion in the First World War and the 28 (Māori) Battalion in the Second World War. He received a Military Cross for his service and was killed in action on Crete in 1941. Following his death, his belongings were sent home to his family. Amongst them was the first aid kit and additional medical supplies he had been issued.
Harding’s war trunk full of his personal possessions including the medical supplies ended up in the hands of Harding’s granddaughter Nina. When Waitangi Treaty Grounds built Te Rau Aroha Museum of the Price of Citizenship (opened 2020), Nina was one of the first 28 (Māori) Battalion descendants to offer the museum a loan of her family’s taonga.
After more than 80 years, the supplies remain as they were when Captain Leaf was killed in action on Crete.
It is known that Harding Leaf received the first aid kit sometime between 1939 and his death in 1941. What is unknown is whether he did not use it due to lack of opportunity, or whether he required nothing more from the kit than the iodine and sal volatile. More is known of the kit’s post-war life than the time it spent with Harding.
Harding Leaf has left an incredible legacy to Te Tai Tokerau and Aotearoa New Zealand. The kit and many of Harding’s belongings are now on display at Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Te Rau Aroha Museum of the Price of Citizenship. They can be seen amongst taonga from soldiers of the 28 (Māori) Battalion’s A Company.
“I used to take the kit to work for my Māori and Polynesian students studying a Level 4 computing course to guess what was in the kit in a war situation – a real eye opener for kids of such recent times!” - Nina Seakens (née Leaf) 3 June 2023.
The Paragon first aid kit came in many guises. Harding was issued the metal tin (no. 8125) and despite the contents being almost entirely unused, it is in a rather battered condition. The hinge makes a noise as it is opened, and it cannot be closed completely.
Issued under the British Factories Act 1937, the first aid kit was intended for factories with less than 10 employees. Or in factories ‘in which mechanical power is not used’, it was suitable for up to 50 employees. Harding did not write his name on the card inside to indicate that the kit was issued to him – entirely in fitting with the fact he did not appear to use it.
The contents of the kit are, in places, double-stacked. An itemised list of the tin’s contents is adhered to the inside of the lid with the statement, “Owing to supply difficulties this case may not contain every item on this list. In such event either an alternative item has been included or the omission taken into account in pricing.” With the kit belonging to an active soldier, the hope is the kit contained everything necessary and that budgeting corners were not cut.
Several of the boxes of wound dressings are open. The dressings inside however remain sealed. The Elastoplast branding over the adhesive of the dressings is instantly recognisable, though a number of things in the kit are incredibly outdated including the definition and treatment of hysteria in the first aid manual that accompanied the tin.
A 1944 publication1 in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine stated that there was no agreed policy for the initial treatment of burns. It cited incidences of home remedies including olive oil, flour, cold tea, with dirty and non-sterile cloths used to cover the burns which increased the damage caused by the burn. The first aid kit issued to Harding Leaf in the decade prior thankfully contained several sterile burn dressings of various sizes. All contained euflavine lint as an antiseptic and disinfectant. Euflavine is still being used in wound dressings today.