Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
WHERE to? This was the query on the lips of all. With the notification in February that all leave was to finish at the end of the month, anticipation reached a feverish pitch. A landing at Tripoli, finishing off the North African campaign? That wouldn't be bad, but why had so many been brought back from the desert? To Italy? But that would be too big a proposition, even though a march on Rome sounded well. To reinforce the British troops in Eritrea, Abyssinia, and Somaliland? But they seemed to be getting on well enough without help. The German threat from Bulgaria and British aid to Greece figured largely in the news and in the minds of all. Besides, had there not been lectures on malaria, and was not Salonika a malaria-ridden place, but why the issue of the much-despised topee? So did argument and counter, suggestion, rumour, and hearsay wax and wane amongst all. First in favour, and also a likely possibility, was Greece.
In such an atmosphere the men had their last leave, said goodbye to friends around Cairo (mafeesh leave for a while), and in letters home hinted discreetly at irregular mails in future. With the issue of final articles of equipment, anticipation rose still higher.
As the medical units completed arrangements for their impending moves, thunderstorms, followed by dust-storms and then heavy rain, made working conditions anything but pleasant. Built up to full strength, 4 Field Ambulance, under the command of Lt-Col P. V. Graves, and 4 Field Hygiene Section, commanded by Maj B. T. Wyn Irwin, left Helwan with 4 Infantry Brigade Group on the morning of 3 March, travelling in their own transport and attached ASC trucks. The convoy followed the usual pattern—a tearing hurry at the start, then progress as if following a hearse, a succession of heartbreaking stops; but Amiriya transit camp was reached at last.
That same evening the ships bringing 5 Field Ambulance, with 5 Infantry Brigade, from England arrived at Port Tewfik. At Helwan 6 Field Ambulance, under the command of Lt-Col W. H. B. Bull, was in the throes of preparation for its move to Amiriya. As was the case in other units, rumour was running wild, and not page 64 one point of the compass was excluded as a possible destination. When, however, the unit, with 6 Infantry Brigade and HQ 2 NZ Division, joined 4 Field Ambulance and 4 Field Hygiene Section at Amiriya in the evening of 6 March, after staging the previous night at Wadi Natrun, little doubt existed in the minds of all that their destination was to be Greece.
The transit camp at Amiriya was used as a concentration area for the troops prior to their embarkation from Alexandria. A great deal of work was carried out by the medical units, especially the Hygiene Section, to improve the sanitation of the camp. The lines were dirty when taken over, and the poor hygiene and sanitation arrangements had immediately to be overhauled. The camp was a bleak and comfortless stretch of sand, notorious for the strong winds, with accompanying sandstorms, so frequently encountered there. It was also within the coastal rain belt, and rain fell at times during the week or more the units spent there before moving to the ships.