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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

2 General Hospital Moves to El Ballah

page 225

2 General Hospital Moves to El Ballah

When 2 NZ General Hospital prepared to leave Nazareth in June, the news from the desert was not reassuring and the unit's return to Egypt was delayed. Meanwhile, it moved to Kfar Vitkin, on the coast between Haifa and Tel Aviv. The change was a radical one. Here the hospital was on a flat sandy stretch back from a cliff near the sea. A little inland were acres of orange groves, while near at hand grapes were to be had in abundance, at about two-pence a pound.

Everyone was housed in huts commanding a view of the open sea. The sisters' cottages had been previously used by convalescent officers, but had in the first place been built as seaside residences for wealthy Jews from Haifa and Tel Aviv. The designs varied slightly, but nearly all of them consisted of two bedrooms, living room, kitchenette, and bathroom, with a front and a back porch.

Some field training was engaged in at Kfar Vitkin, but the afternoons were largely devoted to organised recreational training, swimming, and sunbathing. There were cricket, hockey, and tennis matches, a number against 1 NZ Convalescent Depot, which was in an adjoining area, and a tabloid sports meeting. A donkey derby was a highlight in the sporting events and drew a large crowd. The riders all wore racing dress and there was a totalisator and a loudspeaker system.

Members of the unit were guests at Jewish communal farms. Trips were made to Jerusalem and to Tel Aviv, where the Palestine Orchestra was heard and the Madame Kraus Ballet seen. The nurses staged a concert, which went with a swing and showed the extent of their suntan. Kfar Vitkin built up the health of the unit for the strenuous work of establishing the hospital at El Ballah.

The move to El Ballah was welcomed, though all knew it would entail hard work once more. All the staff were keen to play their part in the active work ahead. On 26 July the unit entrained at Hadera station for the overnight journey to Kantara, its home for the next eighteen months.

El Ballah—meaning a date palm, though no one ever found it there—was a stretch of desert south of Kantara, some three miles from the Suez Canal and almost alongside the Sweet Water Canal. For the first time the unit found itself in a hospital area, together with four other hospitals and a British convalescent depot. Most of page 226 the wards were in Nissen and Army huts, some were tented, and there were also administration and departmental buildings. The staff lived in sunken EPIP tents with tiled floors.

The sisters' tents, shared by three or four, were made comfortable and attractive by the addition of box furniture covered with gay floral chintz. The sisters' compound was completely hemmed in by a large mud-brick wall, giving no view but a patch of sky and a broken line of trees growing beside the Sweet Water Canal. The sisters' mess and lounge were in Nissen huts; the lounge with its gay curtains, bright cushions, piano, and easy chairs looked very homely. Then, too, plenty of water, good showers, and a bath were greatly appreciated. El Ballah was within easy reach of Cairo, while Port Said and Ismailia also made good shopping and leave centres.

Four days after the unit was established in this area it was admitting patients, mostly New Zealanders. Glad to be hard at work again, everyone was ready for the rush of patients that came from El Alamein.