Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
New Zealand Sisters Embark
New Zealand Sisters Embark
The sisters had remained at Kephissia after the hospital ship Aba had been compelled to leave hurriedly without them, until they moved off with 100 British and Australian nurses in eight trucks at 10.45 p.m. on 23 April, with instructions to move to page 103 Argos, 120 miles to the south. They travelled all night and halted for breakfast at 7 a.m., some ten miles south of Corinth. Shortly after resuming, one of the trucks containing 19 nurses of 1 General Hospital overturned at the foot of a steep hill. Fortunately none was seriously hurt although all were injured. After receiving medical attention, they were loaded into two Australian ambulances, which luckily had pulled up just along the road for their occupants to have a meal. It was daylight and there was sharp enemy air activity overhead; the party continued on until 11 a.m., when cover was obtained under the trees in a cemetery. They remained hidden during the day, before setting out at 8.45 p.m. on the last stage of their journey to Nauplion.
The trucks could not get within about a mile of the wharf, but the ambulances managed to drive almost to the jetty. By now the injured nurses were feeling the delayed effects of the accident. None could have walked very far; heads were aching and arms, legs, and necks were stiff. They stepped on to an old caique, a Greek fishing boat. Not able to see anything in the darkness, they sat about with their bags on their knees and moved silently out to sea.
After a short time the sides of a big black vessel appeared and then the outline of guns. The Royal Navy had arrived, and the 160 women, including QAIMNS and Australian sisters, were glad and thankful. Getting aboard the destroyer, HMAS Voyager, was no easy matter. The sisters had to jump while the small boat was on the crest of a wave and climb over a network of wires, but with the aid of sailors they managed fairly well. One sister (QAIMNS) missed her footing and fell into the water but was quickly rescued.
There is little room on a destroyer at any time, but the Navy found places for the sisters without any fuss and bother as if it were the usual thing to have 160 women on a warship. Most found somewhere to sleep, and sleep they did until dawn. During the morning the destroyer dashed in and out of the convoy. There were two alarms and one short raid, when the destroyer's guns went into action. The noise was tremendous, but the Navy's precision was impressive. By 3 p.m. snowy peaks rose from the sea in the distance—the highlands of Crete, seeming to rise straight out of the blue waters of the Mediterranean. The destroyer steamed ahead with its sleek, low bow cutting the water. A threatened air page 104 raid just before she entered Suda Bay caused a diversion, but shortly afterwards she proceeded direct to the wharf. It is said that the Commander was sorry to lose his female passengers—he had not been aware of so many clean caps, trousers, and shorts as had appeared on his men in the last few hours.
In the rush to get the ships far enough away from land by day-light to escape concentrated dive-bombing attacks, some troops were left behind. Among these were many men of 5 Field Ambulance. These men drifted in to rejoin the unit from time to time during the days following the arrival of the field ambulance in Crete. One party, comprising Maj Fisher, Maj Christie, Capt S. G. de Clive Lowe,20 Lieutenants Lusk, Gray,21 and Moody and 57 men, had embarked on a tank landing craft at Porto Rafti too late to reach the ships of the convoy, which had already put to sea. The naval authorities sent the party in the landing craft to the small island of Kea offshore. After remaining hidden on the island for a day and a night, the men marched eight miles across to the eastern side of the island, where they were picked up by a tank landing craft and taken to Porto Rafti. That night they were taken on board HMS Carlisle, which put them ashore at Suda Bay on the evening of 27 April. They rejoined their unit next morning.