Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
Disquieting rumours about a move to winter quarters in the north seeped down—first the Division was going to the Siena area, and later this was changed to Florence. On the last day of September A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved to Florence with 9 Brigade. Then the company handed in its equipment and ceased to exist, its men being dispersed to other units, including a new page 434 unit, 4 Rest Home, for which two villas on the Via Torre del Gallo were taken over. The CCS moved to Florence too, and there in October the unit became 6 General Hospital under Lt-Col Bridge. The 4 Field Hygiene Section had many duties in Florence until December, when it merged into the Hygiene Section for the force going to Japan.
As they were in the process of winding up, 5 and 6 Field Ambulances did not go to Florence. For them there was a brief, busy period of greasing, wrapping, ticketing, and packing medical equipment. Break-up functions brightened things up temporarily. At 6 Field Ambulance's farewell evening on 6 October, Lt-Col Edmundson briefly traced the history of the unit over its life of five years, and thanked members for the unsparing service they had given. Two days later Col Edmundson was appointed DDMS 2 NZEF, and the day after the medical equipment was despatched to the Medical Stores Depot, Bari, and the few remaining men posted to other medical units. Six men were detailed to man medical posts at staging camps along the route through France for those fortunate enough to be given a chance to see the United Kingdom before they returned to New Zealand. The final Letter of Disbandment was sent to the Senior Medical Officer 2 NZ Division, Lt-Col Pearse,3 and 6 Field Ambulance's long life with the Division was brought to a close.
In the final operational report of 5 Field Ambulance, the commanding officer (Lt-Col D. P. Kennedy) placed on record an appreciation of the work of officers and men, both NZMC and NZASC, whose work and, in some instances, whose lives had built the unit. Tribute was paid to the pleasant co-operation with units of the Division and other Allied forces. One of the basic functions of the medical services was the collection, treatment, and evacuation of sick and wounded. For this 5 Field Ambulance was mobilised, and it was felt that, at the conclusion of its duty, the unit had sincerely endeavoured to do this. The success which was achieved was a tribute to the officers and men who had served with 5 Field Ambulance.page 435
‘Now that the time has come for the Eighth Army to disperse. I want to thank and congratulate all ranks of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the splendid contribution you have made to victory…. Your Division has played its part with the greatest distinction, and your splendid fighting qualities have achieved successes that have often been decisive to the operations of the Army as a whole…. You leave the Eighth Army with the affection and the good wishes of all who have fought with you through the long and arduous campaigns of the past four years. We shall miss you much. Good luck to you all.’
At Senigallia 1 General Hospital was the first of the three hospitals to close down—on 3 November. At Helwan 2 General Hospital (with Lt-Col Owen-Johnston as CO and Miss C. M. Lucas4 as Matron) closely followed when its operations ended on 22 November, but at Bari 3 General Hospital continued until 9 January 1946. Miss M. J. Jackson5 had succeeded her twin sister as Matron, and Lt-Col C. R. Burns6 became CO after Col Caughey. At San Spirito the Convalescent Depot functioned until January.
By that time the hospitals had a proud record of service—they could all count their patients in tens of thousands. Between April 1941 and January 1946 3 General Hospital admitted 46,000 patients, while 1 General Hospital between September 1941 and October 1945 (that is excluding the periods in England, Helmieh, and Greece) admitted 40,516. The 2 General Hospital total of 32,481 was equally, if not more, impressive, as that hospital was equipped and staffed for only 600 beds as against the 900 beds of the other two hospitals.
There were very few members of 2 NZEF who were not patients in at least one of the hospitals at some time or other, and many page 436 made the acquaintance of all the hospitals. They could all testify to the efficient service always given, and those who made up the staffs of the hospital units have good reason to be proud of their records.
The floating hospitals played their part, too, in the taking of invalids, both wounded and sick, back to New Zealand and caring for them on the journey. The Maunganui in her 17 voyages, mostly on the New Zealand run, carried 5677 patients. The Netherlands Hospital Ship Oranje, which was partly staffed by New Zealanders, under Lt-Col G. F. V. Anson,7 being a much larger and faster ship, carried home over 2500 New Zealanders in a few trips, besides taking many thousand British patients to South Africa and the United Kingdom.
To England, Egypt, Greece, Crete, Western Desert, Palestine, Syria, Tripolitania, and Italy went the hospitals. On their different sites, by careful planning coupled sometimes with rapid improvisation, they were able to meet all the problems of caring for the sick and wounded. Whatever New Zealand hospital they were in, whatever the location, whatever the accommodation and whatever the season, patients always felt that they were receiving the best of attention possible in the circumstances, and for their part, by their cheery co-operation, they gave every encouragement to the staffs of the hospitals in their service for the sick and wounded.
What of the future? Men may ask,
What of the future? What of the task
For you who served in these dark years?
Fear not—let faith o'ercome your fears.
But rest not! There's a task to do,
A mighty task for all of you,
For when you've ended strife for gain,
The world is yours—to build again.8