New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
While 4 and 5 Field Ambulances were running their main dressing stations, or camp reception stations, it was possible to undertake only a limited amount of field training. Fourth Field Ambulance was holding and treating an average of seventy patients, while 5 Field Ambulance had an average of fifty patients. After its arrival in Zabboud 6 Field Ambulance did intensive training in parade-ground drill, went for long route marches, practised erecting and dismantling tentage, and did pack transport drill with mules.
On 22 April A Company 4 Field Ambulance set out for the area above Laboue, where it had been decided to construct an underground fortress ADS in the defensive positions. Constructional work was continued by A Company until 29 May, when it was relieved by B Company. Early in June the battle ADS was inspected by DMS page 319 2 NZEF, ADMS NZ Division, and CRE NZ Division (Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson),1 who recommended certain alterations in the construction.
From 21 to 26 May A Company 4 Field Ambulance participated in a comprehensive exercise with 4 Brigade at Forqloss. A thorough knowledge of equipment and drill enabled the company to function efficiently as an ADS. From the exercise useful lessons were learnt: notably the need for improved communications between RMOs and the ADS, an increased call for ambulances at the ADS, improved lighting equipment for emergency operations, and a duplicate set of operating instruments to obviate delay during sterilisation.
B Company 6 Field Ambulance took part in a similar exercise with 6 Brigade from 29 May to 3 June.
The defended area included some rough, hilly country, and the ambulances carried out training with mules for the transport both of medical supplies and casualties. The patients were strapped on the litters or cacolets, and Thomas splints were utilised in the training. The equipment was arranged in unit mule loads of 160 to 200 pounds and separated according to the different departments for which it was required, such as the reception, evacuation, cooks and quartermasters; so that, if necessary, an ambulance unit could be shifted readily into the hills and set up there with the maximum of speed and efficiency. The ambulances also took part in divisional exercises in the desert to the north-east.
The open-air life, the active work entailed in the construction of the defensive line and the manoeuvres, as well as the welcome change in climate and surroundings from the heat and sand of Egypt, all combined to make for the good health and happiness of the troops. The rations were ample and varied, and extra blankets and leather jerkins were issued to some of the troops, as the winter was severe with snow, hail, and rain. The Division was thus in excellent order to sustain the severe strain of the fighting encountered in the months to come in holding back Rommel at the gates of Egypt.page 320
1 Brig F. M. H. Hanson, CBE, DSO and bar, MM, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Levin, 1896; resident engineer, Main Highways Board; Wellington Regt in First World War; comd 7 Fd Coy, NZE, Jan 1940–Aug 1941; CRE 2 NZ Div May 1941, Oct 1941–Apr 1944, Nov 1944–Jan 1946; Chief Engineer, 2 NZEF, 1943–46; wounded three times; Commissioner of Works.