New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
The problem of the shepherding of the walking wounded across the island and giving them medical attention during that period was fraught with considerable difficulties. The majority of the slightly wounded had to make the trip on foot, travelling during the night on a road crowded with a rather disorganised medley of troops and refugees and a variety of vehicles, and lying up under the olive trees during the day. The force orders were that road traffic should cease during the day, but it was impossible to enforce the order strictly, particularly during the last days of evacuation. There were thousands of Cypriots, Palestinians, and Greeks making their way across the island, and this added to the confusion due to the number of separate forces involved. It was extremely difficult in the weary march across the mountains for the wounded, and even the personnel of the medical units, to keep contact. The best that could be done was to set up medical dressing and rest posts at intervals along the route, where the wounded and the staffs could be collected together again to have wounds attended to and rations supplied.
Large dressing stations were set up by our New Zealand units as well as by British and Australian medical units, especially near the coast, where the men could be collected and helped during the embarkation. The steep and narrow road down the cliff to Sfakia led to great difficulties in embarking wounded men and also brought about a serious delay, with the result that many, who would otherwise have been accommodated on the ships, were unable to be picked up in the time allowed.
The embarkation would have been speeded up – had it been realised at the time – if a larger proportion of medical personnel had been detailed to help the wounded down the cliff; this would have had the added advantage of allowing a large number of personnel of the medical units to be embarked when extra space in the ships was available. It was so very much a question of the speed of the embarkation, as the naval ships had to be as far as possible out of bomber range before daylight.
The troops who were policing the embarkation had an exceedingly hard task, since in the darkness they had to check all troops for their priority, as laid down by GOC Creforce. The large number of Greeks and Cypriots who had to be turned back also caused serious delay. Slips were issued to wounded by the medical units at the staging posts and, as far as possible, order was maintained and the men checked.
In considering all the circumstances the percentage of the force evacuated was satisfactory, and the number of wounded men, some of them seriously wounded, who got away from Crete showed the virility and sturdiness of our own and other Commonwealth troops.