Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
3 General Hospital
After a false start, the formation of a third general hospital remained tucked away in the back of the minds of the military administrators until 11 October 1940, when instructions went out to the Districts to proceed with its mobilisation. Each District was required to provide a certain quota of orderlies, storemen, dispensers, clerks, and specialists. The Commanding Officer, Col G. W. Gower,27 and the Registrar, Maj J. Russell,28 arrived in Trentham Mobilisation Camp on the evening of 27 October, right in the middle of a trial air-raid alarm—a forerunner of the trials and unexpected events to be faced in the days to come. During the following three days the remaining members of the unit entered camp. On its strength were 14 officers, 48 sisters, and 143 other ranks.
At first personnel of 3 General Hospital were quartered in the main part of the camp, but later they moved to the racecourse and utilised the tea kiosk and the upper part of a grandstand as billets. On 16 November the unit was inspected by the Director-General page 13 of Medical Services, Brigadier F. T. Bowerbank,29 and sufficient proficiency in marching had been attained by this time to evoke praise.
Two days later members of the unit left on final leave. On 30 November, leave completed, it was learned with mixed feelings that departure had been delayed. A ‘farewell’ parade of all 4th Reinforcements through the streets of Wellington took place on 14 December. Despite this official leave-taking, training continued until 23 December, when the unit departed on special Christmas and New Year leave. This unexpected visit to families during the festive season was welcome, but the strain of saying farewells again was trying to most.
On return to Trentham in the New Year, the unit was moved from the racecourse to tents in the western area of the camp, a move necessitated by the holding of a race meeting. The accommodation provided proved far from satisfactory; tents of 1916 vintage were incapable of turning even a light shower and were quite inadequate for the torrential downpours experienced on several nights.
At dawn on 1 February 1941 the staff of the hospital rose to prepare for embarkation. Everything moved smoothly, and 3 NZ General Hospital left Trentham as part of 3rd Section, 4th Reinforcements. It was a clear and sunny day and, with the band playing, Col Gower marched at the head of his men to the railway station, where the troops entrained for Pipitea Wharf. The vessel that was to carry them to the Middle East was the Nieuw Amsterdam, 38,000 tons, the most modern of the Holland-America Line.
As the troops went aboard, they quickly deposited their kits in the quarters allotted to them and returned to the decks. As soon as all were embarked the crowds were permitted to move on to the wharf, and an address was given by the Prime Minister, the Hon. P. Fraser. Then, in the early afternoon, amid the cheers of friends gathered on shore, the ship pulled out and the long voyage began.