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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

4 Field Ambulance

4 Field Ambulance

Pioneers of 2 NZEF Medical Services in the First Echelon were 4 Field Ambulance, 4 Field Hygiene Section, 18 nursing sisters, and a regimental medical officer for each combatant unit.

The advanced party of 4 Field Ambulance and 4 Field Hygiene Section arrived in Burnham military camp on 26 and 27 September 1939. The stony fields behind the bluegums on the Canterbury plains were in a rough state at this time. Huts were being built, and roads and areas for parade grounds were being formed and graded. This primitive untidiness, combined with a spell of wet weather, made the camp appear somewhat dismal to the first arrivals.

The officers and NCOs reporting for service in 4 Field Ambulance were mainly from 1, 2, and 3 Field Ambulances of the volunteer Territorial Force, in which the majority had seen several years' continuous service. The officer appointed to command the unit was Lt-Col J. H. Will.1 Five of the other officers—Majors A. A. page 6 Tennent2 and P. V. Graves,3 Captains J. P. McQuilkin,4 R. A. Elliott5 and J. K. Elliott6—were later to have command of a field ambulance, and one (R. A. Elliott) was to become ADMS of 2 NZ Division in Italy. Sergeant-Major C. H. Kidman,7 of the Permanent Staff, acted as instructor, as he did for all the medical units formed in New Zealand and their reinforcements.

For the first week officers and NCOs went through a refresher course at the Southern District School of Instruction. The highlight of this course was the march past at the end of the day's work, the salute being taken by the School Commandant.

The main body of the unit began to arrive in camp on 4 October 1939, the men being accommodated in tents because of the shortage of huts. Included in the main party were men of 4 Field Hygiene Section, who were later placed under the command of Capt B. T. Wyn Irwin,8 and men posted as drivers; these were later transferred to NZASC and attached to the unit. An influenza epidemic in November interfered with training, claiming half the unit as victims, but the enthusiasm was such that the unit made good progress.

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Fourteen days' final leave was granted in the second half of December, all the men being enabled to spend Christmas with their families before returning to camp. On 3 January 1940 the medical contingent marched in the farewell parade through Christchurch, and two days later embarked on HMT Dunera at Lyttelton. The strength of 4 Field Ambulance, including dental and ASC personnel, was 14 officers and 230 other ranks, and of 4 Field Hygiene Section one officer and 28 other ranks.