New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
BY October the units of 2 NZ Division had been rested and reorganised and trained for operations under quite different conditions from those of the desert warfare they had waged for two years. After their strenuous desert campaigns, the troops had recuperated at leave camps on the seacoast near Alexandria and in Palestine. Back in Maadi Camp a generous section of each day's programme was devoted to sport. But the fitting of the Division for further operations went steadily on. The motor transport which had covered huge mileages in the previous two years had to be thoroughly overhauled, and much of it replaced. Equipment similarly had to be renovated. In the medical units the large tents had to be replaced. Fire power was increased by more and better weapons, while the force as a whole was immensely strengthened by the absorption of the newly trained and equipped 4 Armoured Brigade. This formation in itself represented no small achievement, for to bring it into being men who had already seen long service as infantry had tackled difficult technical courses and had undergone many months of hard work and constant effort while their comrades were taking part in the victorious but not easily won advance from Alamein to Tunis. For this brigade it was not necessary to train and equip a special light field ambulance. The field ambulances were mobile and the armoured brigade was not meant to function as part of a complete armoured division; and campaigns in Europe or the Pacific were not likely to include movements over great distances such as had characterised the operations in Africa. The light field ambulances had not proved very satisfactory during the desert campaigns and were not equipped to carry out any major treatment. (In New Zealand 21 Light Field Ambulance had been trained in 1942 for service with 1 NZ Army Tank Brigade, but it did not go overseas as a unit, and a number of its members had arrived in the Middle East with the 8th Reinforcements in January 1943.)
However, 4 Field Ambulance was given special instruction on subjects peculiar to the armoured brigade, such as methods of removing casualties from Sherman tanks, and it undertook special page 492 exercises with the brigade. Each tank and armoured car had a first-aid kit in its equipment. In addition, a change in war establishment, effective from 24 September 1943, gave 4 Field Ambulance four extra motor ambulance cars and three jeeps.
Colonel R. D. King had been appointed ADMS 2 NZ Division on 15 June and his place as CO 4 Field Ambulance had been filled by Lieutenant-Colonel J. K. Elliott of 1 General Hospital. Within the divisional medical units there had been a consideràble change of personnel, opportunity being taken of the quiet period to effect exchanges between field ambulance and regimental medical officers. A number of medical officers had completed courses in gas warfare, tropical diseases, and anti-malaria work. Refresher clinics for RMOs had been held twice weekly at 1 General Hospital. In addition, weekly clinical discussions were held at Maadi Camp Hospital on subjects of general interest to medical officers. Among the subjects discussed were the treatment of battle casualties at RAPs, ADSs, and MDSs; modern treatment of burns; recording of cases in the field; the forward treatment of orthopaedic cases; special surgery- -head, chest, and abdominal injuries; sulphonamides; NYD neurosis; and the establishment of field ambulances. These meetings, being attended by members of all units in the medical chain, were extremely valuable for the review of techniques and results.
By July the field medical units were in a position to undertake general intensive training again (though the field exercises were restricted by the lack of serviceable vehicles) and this training continued throughout August and into September. Early in July Brigadier Kenrick in addressing all divisional medical officers emphasised the importance of training, with special attention to change of country and tactics, of bringing inoculations of troops up to date in view of epidemics in Europe (typhus injections were to be given as the vaccine became available), and of adequate malaria control.
The culmination of the training was marked by a ceremonial parade of divisional medical units at Maadi on 10 September. General Freyberg, attended by the DMS, inspected the parade, presented awards and decorations to officers and other ranks, and took the salute at the march past. The high standard of efficiency resulted in Brigadier Kenrick expressing his opinion that the field ambulances had never been better trained or equipped.