Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
The Battle of Britain
September was the month of the Luftwaffe's mass raids on London, planned to smash the way for an attempt at airborne and seaborne invasion. During the first week the New Zealand troops in reserve, by now a well trained and mobile force although not yet fully equipped, were moved nearer the coast to occupy what were virtually battle positions covering the Folkestone-Dover area. Early in the month the Prime Minister himself found time to inspect a parade of New Zealand units at Mytchett. Mr. Churchill made one of his inspiring speeches and gave evidence of his energy and insight.
On 4 September the surgical team at 1 General Hospital was suddenly called to Weybridge to help deal with bombing casualties. The Vickers aeroplane factory had received a direct hit, causing many casualties, although fortunately it was lunch-time and many of the 10,000 employees were away. Surgical and resuscitation teams had also been brought from London, and all worked through the afternoon and evening until midnight. It was early morning before a weary New Zealand surgical team returned to Pinewood.
From these large air raids, casualties were also admitted to Pinewood from London—men, women, and children, old and young; some in the clothes in which they had been extricated from the rubble; all with the dust and dirt seemingly ingrained into their skins; some severely injured, all badly shocked. Bomb casualties were then a new experience to New Zealanders, and they were impressed by the courage of the sufferers.
Later in the month the threat of invasion lessened as the weather over the English Channel became worse. To avoid the strain of stand-to at dawn and dusk each day, a relaxation of the manning of defences was ordered; troops were granted leave, sports were organised, parties travelled by bus, sightseeing, or visited hot baths in nearby towns. Life in billets in Kent was enjoyed by the men—the quaint villages, hotels, old houses and churches, the hopfields, orchards, and oast-houses provided a setting far removed from the usual military camp. Many had cause to remember the hospitality of English homes and people.page 59
It had originally been intended that the Echelon should have been relieved of its operational role on 13 September, pending its embarkation for the Middle East, but these orders were cancelled three days before, and the New Zealanders stayed in bivouacs covering Dover. The postponement had been ordered personally by Mr. Churchill after a visit to the Dover sector. At first it was intended that the departure of the Second Echelon would be delayed only a few weeks and that it would leave for the Middle East towards the end of October. However, because of the urgent need in the Middle East for reinforcements of armour, artillery, and antiaircraft units, its departure was again delayed. The New Zealand force retained its operational role under command of 12 Corps and was largely concentrated in the Maidstone-Ashford area of Kent. The happiest relations existed between the soldiers and the civilians, many of whom established canteens and organised entertainments.