Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
Move to Lake Trasimene
Move to Lake Trasimene
In the third week of July the Division moved in ten flights from the Trieste area to the shores of Lake Trasimene in central Italy. The convoys passed through Trieste for the last time and wound on around the coast road, high above the lovely blue waters of the gulf. Some of the trucks made ominously hard work of the pull up the hill near Miramare. The medical units' transport was now very old and unreliable. The two-wheel-drive ambulance cars were still in fair order; but the trucks that had carried such heavy loads over thousands of miles, and the four-wheel-drive ambulance cars that had received such a thrashing in the forward areas during every battle had almost finished their useful life.
Crowds of Italians gathered at the Monfalcone factory road fork to watch the columns pass. Day after day the line of vehicles unwound from the areas around Trieste and streamed southward across the Isonzo, the Tagliamento, the Piave, and numerous smaller streams to the staging area at Mestre. Most of the men availed themselves of the showers at the old rest camp in the aluminium factory, and made for Venice without waiting for the evening meal.
The Division was extended over 450 miles as the convoys moved out from the staging areas each morning. From Mestre the route was the main highway through Padua, Rovigo, and Ferrara to Bologna. The Po was crossed with considerably less trouble than on the upward trip. Bologna was flooded and the streets awash. For many it was the first view of the battered city, and the wrecked buildings and streets deep in water made it a depressing sight. The staging area was in a sodden field some distance out of the town. Natural depressions and the ruts made by earlier convoys were page 432 full of water, and the first few unwary trucks became hopelessly bogged. Others sought firmer spots and made themselves fairly safe for the night.
Route 9 was now carrying a staggering volume of both military and civilian traffic. The old winter line at battered Castel Bolognese was passed, and the convoys circled around the outskirts of Forli and settled down on the very familiar road to Rimini. Italian workmen were rebuilding the many destroyed bridges; the bridge over the Montone River was already restored. After a halt for lunch in a seaside area at Fano the journey was continued, units making their sixth trip along Route 76 through Iesi and the Red Pass, where the Howe bridge was still standing, and on over the dusty, up-and-down road of the Esino Gorge to Fabriano and the Santa Maria staging area below the town.
The next stage was the formidable Fabriano Pass over the Apennines. The convulsed tangle of a road was dusty, and the long, merciless slog soon began to take its toll of vehicles. Trucks halted with radiators boiling long before the summit was reached. On the other side Umbria was looking fresh and green, and the convoys held to a comfortable speed that allowed the men to enjoy the countryside. From the high country approaching Perugia the scene was beautiful. The farming country was so rich in the bursting green of trees and crops that it resembled thick emerald velvet. Somewhere in the midst of it the upper reaches of the Tiber and its tributaries flowed, hidden by the trees. Thin wreaths of smoke appeared as silver threads against the green and merged into a faint haze in the farther distance.
Then the Division swung south near Magione, on Route 75, to run down to the concentration area on the southern shores of Lake Trasimene. The concentration area was a stretch of light, sandy soil in a district suffering from an intense drought that made living conditions far from pleasant. No rain had fallen for five months, and every puff of wind drove clouds of dust through the scattering of stunted oaks under which the bivouac tents were clustered. It was quite unnecessary to warn troops against swimming in the vicinity of the towns and villages, whose sewage effluents were discharged into the lake. The lake level was low and the water thick and repulsive.page 433
The high wind and the dust and oppressive heat were reminiscent of Amiriya at its worst. High winds seemed to be a climatic feature of the region. Each day the sultry heat haze of the morning would suddenly let go in a screaming gale of almost cyclonic proportions. On 8 August, after an evening lull, the storm raged on throughout the night, culminating in a terrific electrical storm at dawn.
The disbandment of 4 Field Ambulance was announced on the 9th, and the unit held a wind-up dinner five days later. The 8th Reinforcements had already left and the remnant of 4 Field Ambulance was absorbed by other units.
Rumours regarding the future of the Division were shaken and curiosity intensified by news that reached the units during the afternoon of the 10th. Japan had indicated a willingness to surrender. All ranks eagerly awaited a definite statement, and on the morning of the 15th it came: the Japanese had surrendered unconditionally. There were mild celebrations.
That day 6 Field Ambulance moved to Mondolfo, on the Adriatic coast just north of Senigallia, where rest camps provided some relief from the trying conditions at Lake Trasimene. To 6 Field Ambulance's rest camp came parties from 5 Field Ambulance, which was running an MDS for sick in the Lake area, and sending patients to 1 Mobile CCS at Assisi. Then there was a period of stagnation. The weeks went by, and most of the men, whatever their reinforcement, wistfully concentrated their thoughts on the chances of being home before Christmas.
In the last week of September the 9th Reinforcements left for Southern Italy on their way home. Winter was approaching, and at Mondolfo the month faded out in miserable weather. The battalion leave camps had all vanished from the inland slopes, but the 6 MDS canvas flapped in the high wind as the men sloshed through the mud and suffered the rain that drove in from the Adriatic.