Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
IT was hard to believe that it was all over. But as the days passed and no more battle casualties arrived at the medical units, the staffs began to realise that their work was nearing an end. The cease fire did not mean cease duties for the medical units: there were still the sick and accidentally injured to be treated. But never again would ambulance cars from forward units line up at the reception tent. No more would the pre-operative ward be full of wounded soldiers waiting for operation and the freedom from pain that only anæsthetic could bring. No longer would the surgeons spend tiring days and nights in the theatres removing splinters and bullets, setting fractures, or amputating limbs. When the full significance of all this was realised, it was accompanied by a sense of relief and a deep feeling of satisfaction in services unfailingly rendered to comrades in need. Thanksgiving services in the units added a final spiritual touch.
Relaxation was a natural consequence, and the consistently fine weather in May and June helped to promote it. There were cricket matches, swimming parties, and sports meetings. At a divisional regatta the men of A Company, 5 Field Ambulance, distinguished themselves by winning two races in a German reconnaissance boat they had salvaged. At a trotting meeting in Trieste crowds of troops watched some keen finishes as New Zealanders drove Italian horses in the Sangro Stakes, Cassino and Florence Handicaps, Rimini, Faenza and Senio Stakes, and Trieste and New Zealand Handicaps. There were frequent picture shows and opera performances.
Venice was second only to Rome in the interest it held. Both cities had been spared the ravages of war and all civilian amenities were intact, while both had a wealth of historical interest. As in Rome, the New Zealanders had a club in a lavish hotel—Hotel Danieli—which was luxuriously furnished. Only a proportion of page 430 the men was able to stay here, but leave camps, including that run at Alberoni on the Lido island by 5 Field Ambulance, catered for all the Division.
New Zealanders cruised along the canals or lagoons in gondolas. They saw the San Marco church with its gold mosaics, the Palace of the Doges, the Bridge of Sighs, the pigeons in Saint Mark's Square, surveyed the city from the top of the Campanile, crossed to the Lido, the famous millionaires' playground, which had lost much of its magnificence.
After the novelty of riding in gondolas had worn off, the men discovered that Venice, as in its heyday of the fourteenth century, was a centre of commercial activity. The universal currency in Italy, cigarettes, was here to a certain extent supplanted by chocolate. This commodity, replacing the golden ducats of bygone ages, became the ‘open sesame’ to many transactions. Silk, lace, glass mosaics, and other fancied goods, cheap after the liberation of the city, rose sharply in price within a few weeks. These souvenirs for their folks at home, the men hoped soon to be able to present in person.