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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Hospital in Tripoli

Hospital in Tripoli

On 25 January it was decided that 6 Field Ambulance MDS, under Lt-Col Furkert, and 8 South African CCS should operate a general hospital in Tripoli, pending the arrival of a British general hospital unit. On the 26th the MDS occupied the northern wing of the modern, well-appointed building of Caneva Hospital, standing about one mile from the Benito Gate, the western entrance to Tripoli. Because of chaotic conditions in the town, electricity was available for only four hours daily, and the operating theatre and corridors were wired from the unit's lighting plant; the water supply, also inadequate, was augmented by a relay of buckets from the water cart. By 3 p.m. 50 patients had been admitted to the 6 Field Ambulance wing, and on the 27th the number rose to 120. The unit was working extremely well and giving full general hospital treatment. In addition, one of the tarpaulin shelters was erected outside the gates, with equipment and a detachment of orderlies, to deal with the sick parades of adjacent units. More beds were procured from Tripoli on the 29th, bringing the available accommodation of the wing up to 208 beds, 170 of which were occupied within two days.

Several English nursing sisters were attached during this period. Accustomed to working with orderlies of hospital units who, generally speaking, have little opportunity to carry out treatment, they page 259 were frankly astonished at the manner in which the orderlies of the New Zealand field ambulance took over the work of the hospital, carrying out the instructions of the medical officers without difficulty. Members of the original staff, Italian sisters of a religious order, were also in occupation, and all members of the unit warmly appreciated their willing service in operating the laundry and performing general tasks about the buildings.

black and white photograph of soldiers eating

Christmas Dinner, 1942, for 5 Field Ambulance, Nofilia

black and white photograph of nz sisters

New Zealand Sisters at 1 CCS, Cyrenaica

black and white photograph of medical unit

1 CCS in wild flowers at Sirte

black and white photograph of soldiers sitting

Patients and staff gather for open-air concert at 3 NZ General Hospital, Suani Ben Adem, Tripoli

Perhaps the outstanding feature of life at Caneva was the almost nightly anti-aircraft barrage. Tripoli and the surrounding countryside bristled with guns, which filled the night with frenzy and pandemonium and plastered the sky with shellbursts. The blast from a battery immediately behind the hospital shattered one window after another.

The hospital was kept busy. At one stage 233 beds were occupied in the 6 Field Ambulance wing. On 20 February most of the patients were evacuated by hospital ship, but there was a general feeling of relief when 48 British General Hospital took over next day.

In the divisional area on the outskirts of Tripoli 5 Field Ambulance, under Lt-Col McQuilkin, opened an MDS on 23 January and was relieved by 4 MDS, under Lt-Col King, on the 30th. It was a beautiful, peaceful region of vineyards and olive and almond groves, sheltered by windbreaks of tall gums. Alas, the peace was soon to be shattered. Across the road from the field ambulance area was a vintnery, with a vat as big as a standard army hut, full of potent red wine. From the moment of its discovery the North African nights lost their elusive air of romance and were rent by catcalls and wild Bacchanalian choruses.

Mr. Churchill visited Tripoli on 4 February, and members of 6 Field Ambulance at Caneva Hospital helped to line the road along which he drove to HQ 30 Corps. In the afternoon, medical units in 2 NZ Division's area took part in a divisional parade reviewed by the Prime Minister. The parade was an impressive spectacle. The Division passed the saluting base in columns of twelve, marching to the pipes of 51 (Highland) Division, followed by the armour and guns.

While at Caneva Hospital it had been a simple matter for the men of 6 Field Ambulance to stroll in to Tripoli through the Benito Gate whenever they were off duty. But beyond an attractive page 260 waterfront, with a number of fine buildings and a variety of palm trees, Tripoli had little to offer. Practically the only things for sale were shoddy, worthless souvenirs at exorbitant prices, and oranges; and, as one soldier was heard to observe, after eating a Tripoli orange it was advisable to suck a green lime to sweeten the mouth.