Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
4 MDS Sets Up at Atessa
4 MDS Sets Up at Atessa
During the early hours of 19 November, 6 Brigade moved up to occupy front-line positions overlooking the road and the river flats between two tributary streams of the Sangro, the Pianello and the Apello. The trucks of 4 Field Ambulance had to struggle painfully over crowded mountain roads, rapidly breaking up under heavy traffic and constant rain, to reach Gissi, where it was intended the MDS should operate in the coming battle. Although the distance to the forward dressing stations was not great, it soon became apparent that the time taken to traverse the winding hill roads with their many demolitions was far too long to suit the needs of an efficient medical service. Consequently, on the 20th the reception, evacuation, and operating sections, together with the transfusion unit, cooks' and orderly-room trucks and signal van, moved ten miles in the pouring rain to Atessa. At Gissi 5 Field Ambulance, moving up from San Buono, took over the building to run an MDS for sick, and 6 Field Ambulance reached the town on 23 November.
Faced with the task of taking all New Zealand cases and doing all the operative work in the coming action, 4 Field Ambulance established an MDS in the civil hospital in Atessa, which it took over from 6 ADS. The building, which had been knocked about by shelling and the roof repaired with canvas, was still occupied in parts by nuns engaged in nursing civilian sick and wounded in wards on the ground floor. It was decided that the civil hospital was too cramped for use other than as an operating centre. Part of the unit, therefore, moved into the school and established a page 317 dressing station, sending the cases requiring operation to the surgical centre in the hospital building, which was equipped with two theatres. Capt A. W. Douglas, with his surgical team, and Capt J. M. Staveley, with the transfusion unit, had joined the MDS for the coming battle.
By the morning of 21 November New Zealand troops were securely established on the southern edge of the Sangro river flats. Orders were issued that 2 NZ Division would cross the Sangro and establish a bridgehead from which to continue the advance. However, weather interfered and the attack, which was to have been launched on the night of 21-22 November, was postponed from day to day. On the 26th the river was high and running 15 knots; patrols seeking crossing places were at times swept from their feet. Finally, zero hour was fixed at 2.45 a.m. on the 28th.