New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
Fourth Brigade occupied defensive positions in the Bekaa valley about 20 miles north of Baalbek, and 4 Field Ambulance established an ADS at Djedeide and an MDS in Gouraud Barracks in Baalbek, where Headquarters New Zealand Division was also located. The 4th Field Hygiene Section was also in Baalbek.
Sixth Brigade was based on Aleppo, 180 miles from Baalbek, near the Turkish border. Its task was to delay, by demolition of all lines of communication from Turkey, any enemy attack long enough to cover the withdrawal of base installations from the Aleppo area, and subsequently to fall back on to the Djedeide fortress.
Sixth Field Ambulance took over for an MDS the 100-bed Italian hospital in the centre of Aleppo which had previously been page 317 occupied by 2/8 Australian Field Ambulance. The field ambulances were completely equipped to AFI 1248A scale, including malaria diagnosis panniers. Expendable medical supplies were drawn from 8 Advanced Depot Medical Stores in Beirut. Indents were necessarily fairly large because the New Zealand medical units serviced numerous British and Imperial troops in the divisional area, as well as giving out-patient and emergency treatment to impoverished civilians where no local medical practitioner was available.
Until the arrival of the newly formed 1 NZ CCS at Zahle on 22 March and its opening in the American hospital building, donated by ex-residents of Zahle, on 1 April, and the opening of 2 NZ General Hospital at Nazareth on 12 April, the field ambulances held more sick and accident cases in the divisional area than was customary. At the end of March 6 Field Ambulance was holding and treating 61 cases at Aleppo and 4 Field Ambulance had 71 cases at Baalbek. On account of this, and more particularly because of problems in connection with the disinfestation of women refugees coming over the Turkish frontier, ADMS NZ Division considered it advisable to ask for four members of the NZANS to be temporarily attached to 6 Field Ambulance. This request was approved by General Freyberg, and DDMS 2 NZEF arranged for four sisters to report to 6 Field Ambulance on 25 March. It was also expected that the sisters would be of great assistance in training nursing orderlies. Six Australian sisters who had been attached to 2/8 Australian Field Ambulance on disinfestation duties remained until the New Zealand sisters arrived. This was the first occasion in which nursing sisters were attached to a field ambulance of 2 NZEF.
Pending the establishment of 2 General Hospital in Palestine, ADMS NZ Division arranged for 53 General Hospital in Damascus to receive serious cases from among the New Zealanders in the Bekaa valley, evacuation being made by motor ambulance cars to Rayak station, thence by rail to Damascus. From 6 Field Ambulance at Aleppo serious cases were at first evacuated some 200 miles to Beirut, some of the patients being transported by the American Field Service, twenty of these cars being attached to the Division. This was the first contact of the New Zealanders with this fine volunteer Red Cross organisation, which was to have a long, friendly, and valuable connection with the New Zealand Division.
With the first opening of 1 CCS as an established unit at Zahle, at the southern end of the Bekaa valley, on 1 April, patients were evacuated from both 4 and 6 Field Ambulances to this unit. From Baalbek the distance was only some 20 miles. The line of evacuation from Aleppo was much longer, about 200 miles, but an excellent road as well as a narrow-gauge railway ran down through Hama, page 318 Homs, and along the Lebanon valley to Baalbek, and thence further south, passing near Zahle. There were eight nursing sisters on the staff of the CCS, which was able to function as a small hospital with satisfactory facilities for operative treatment. It was well sited on the top of a hill, 3500 feet high, on the approach road to, but well away from, the picturesque town, which lay in a hollow to the west. The unit personnel were happily accommodated in tents on the adjoining hills.
When 2 General Hospital opened at Nazareth in Palestine on 12 April the CCS was able to evacuate hospital cases to it. Until 21 April patients were taken to Nazareth by American Field Service ambulance cars. After that date patients were loaded by the CCS at Zahle on to an ambulance coach on a train in the evening and, travelling on the narrow-gauge railway via Damascus and Deraa and through the Yarmuk and Jordan valleys, reached Affule on the plain of Jezreel in Palestine some eighteen hours later. Here the patients were off-loaded on to motor ambulance cars and taken the distance of 9 miles to Nazareth.
On 6 April 5 Infantry Brigade, including 5 Field Ambulance, started moving from Maadi to Syria, and on 11 April this brigade took over from 6 Infantry Brigade at Aleppo. Thereupon 6 Brigade proceeded to Zabboud, in the Bekaa valley about 24 miles north of Baalbek, where defensive positions were being organised.
Fifth Field Ambulance took over the operation of the MDS in the Italian hospital building from 6 Field Ambulance, which established an ADS at Camp No. 2, Zabboud.