New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
General Withdrawal towards Sfakia
General Withdrawal towards Sfakia
The New Zealand medical units proceeded to a transit camp about a mile and a half away on the Kalivia–Sfakia road and there dispersed under olive trees to lie up and rest, hidden from the air. However, there was a continual movement along the road of vehicles and men on foot, the latter mainly Greeks and Cypriots; and this attracted enemy planes which strafed the road and the shelter alongside. In the late afternoon of the 27th an order was received from the OC of the transit camp that all medical units were to move out at 9 p.m. and proceed by night as far as possible along the road towards Sfakia, on the south coast, and disperse and lie up at dawn.
At the same time all walking wounded were directed to proceed from 2/1 Australian Field Ambulance along the same route and to follow similar instructions in respect to concealment at daylight. Two trucks were made available to assist with the more seriously page 188 wounded walking cases with the unit, with medical equipment, and with any unfit medical personnel in the party. Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg in one truck returned to 2/1 Australian Field Ambulance to collect walking wounded and rations. Later, at Neon Khorion,1 3 miles south-west of Kalivia, he contacted Lieutenant-Colonel Bull, who had established there a walking wounded collecting post and dressing station, where previously it had been intended that 5 Field Ambulance should establish an MDS. (For this move the orders were issued but 5 Field Ambulance did not receive them.) Rations, a field medical pannier, and some equipment were left at this post, and it was arranged to send a vehicle back with more equipment and a medical officer from 7 General Hospital to relieve Colonel Bull. Conditions on the narrow road were extremely trying all through the night because of delay brought about by vehicles frequently breaking down, and by others, such as a recovery truck, which were incapable of moving above 6 m.p.h. Where delays were caused by such difficulties, the vehicles were ordered off the road in order to speed up the progress of those capable of moving more rapidly.
Between Alikambos and Ay Ioannis two trucks evacuating light cases from Khalepa, under the charge of Major Christie, turned off at dawn into a small valley at the side of the road. The wounded were dispersed among the scrub and rocks whilst the trucks were concealed beside some stunted trees. Signs were posted on the roadside.
The party was joined shortly afterwards by another vehicle, also carrying a capacity load of sitting wounded in charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg. All the wounded were dispersed and, with limited means, dressings were adjusted and renewed, stimulants given, and a search made for water. The wells proved to be nearly three-quarters of a mile from the dispersal point. The only water available was what could be carried in water-bottles by those able to scramble to the wells. A truck was sent back for Colonel Bull but could not reach Neon Khorion as a road demolition had been prematurely blown south of Vrises. During the day it was found that there was considerable troop movement along the roads, and it was decided to try to proceed further by day with the wounded in these trucks. Red Cross flags were made from red blankets and white sheets, and, with these emblems prominently displayed, the two vehicles moved off, filled to capacity. This convoy successfully reached Ammoudhari (the location of Headquarters NZ Division) page 189 without interference from enemy aircraft, and later continued to the end of the road two miles from the beach.
In the later afternoon the party passed the divide and began to descend past Imvros, debussing all casualties in a new dispersal area about half a mile north of where the road commenced its final zigzag and spiral descent to the point at which it ended uncompleted some two miles or so from the village of Sfakia. Major Christie and Captain Palmer were instructed to continue down the road to a group of caves situated on a small ledge on which was a stonewalled well. Another well lay to the south. A narrow, deep ravine lay on either flank. They were to assist in the collection of walking wounded and to take charge of those who were to proceed to the embarkation point that night.
Other trucks from 5 and 6 Field Ambulances under the command of Major Fisher, CO 6 Field Ambulance, had proceeded beyond Imvros until they were in sight of the sea, and near the end of the road at Komitadhes, by 6 a.m. on 28 May. Here the patients were unloaded to disperse and shelter during the day. Major Fisher made preliminary arrangements with the British embarkation staff for the disposal of walking wounded and for the early embarkation of medical personnel.
About a mile south of Imvros Captain Lomas had established a walking wounded collecting post, where there were 400 to 500 walking wounded hiding up. He had the assistance of members of 5 and 6 Field Ambulances.
The trucks conveying the CO 5 Field Ambulance and patients arrived at the end of the road about 3 p.m. and there deposited the walking wounded at a walking wounded collecting post, under the charge of Captain A. C. Rumsey, RAMC, and a New Zealand staff.
At this point near Komitadhes the road ended abruptly at the edge of a 500-foot escarpment. From there a precipitous goat track led down for two miles to Sfakia, where there was a shingle beach. The difficulties attending evacuation were apparent, and Major Christie and Captain Palmer were sent to the beach to reconnoitre the route.
Immediately the walking wounded had been unloaded from the trucks, the vehicles were sent back along the same route to make contact with Colonel Bull and party should they have negotiated the road demolition south of Vrises. Alternatively, they were to pick up wounded.
Colonel Bull and his small staff of Captain A. J. King, AAMC, and eight NZMC orderlies remained at Neon Khorion on the morning of 28 May with forty-six seriously wounded men. Events page 190 during the morning provided a striking commentary on the extreme difficulties experienced during a retreat. Between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. an Australian battalion passed through the dressing station from the direction of Kalivia. Two officers informed Colonel Bull that there were still between him and the enemy two commando battalions which were not due to retire before nightfall. It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise to him to find the enemy arriving in force about midday to capture the dressing station. (Later, it was learned that the two commando battalions had retired before dawn on 28 May.)