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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

CCS Moves up to Zuara

CCS Moves up to Zuara

The CCS moved from Tamet on 9 February to an area west of Tripoli. Chest and abdominal cases were left in the care of a nursing team until their evacuation by air could be arranged. The journey was the most interesting the staff had had since leaving Syria and was in direct contrast to previous trips through Egypt and Libya. The road was bad until after Buerat, but northwards from there a modern bitumen highway made travelling comfortable. Again signs of civilisation appeared, and soon the convoy had entered a richly cultivated belt. Palm trees grew in profusion, rising tall above green, fertile acres. Wells were amazingly plentiful. Cactus fences and fig trees reminded one of Palestine.

Leptis Magna was the camping spot for the night. No sooner had the trucks stopped than dozens of local egg-vendors appeared as if by magic. Tea and sugar only were accepted in exchange. Even heavy rain in the evening did not discourage those hopeful of trade. The famous ruins of Leptis Magna were only a few minutes' walk from the camping area, and many took the opportunity to visit them.

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Homs, a walled coastal town, was passed next morning, and from here the way lay through hilly country. Miles of anti-tank ditches could be seen but all had apparently been a waste of time. By now the belt of palms had been left behind and neat fruit farms appeared. Cypress trees bordered the road, while twin rows of these graceful evergreens in many places marked an avenue leading to a neat white farmhouse. Peach, apricot, plum and almond trees were in blossom, providing a pretty and welcome spring scene after the months spent in barren surroundings. Soon the road led along cliffs bordering the sea. In the distance silver barrage balloons glittered in the sky above the port of Tripoli.

A stop was made for roadside lunch in an avenue of tall eucalyptus trees five kilometres from Tripoli. The town was by-passed, however, as the convoy travelled west along the coast road, through Zavia and Sorman to Sabratha. The original arrangement had been that the unit would set up here in the hospital section of a former Italian barracks. Now plans were changed. The main section of the CCS was to continue on a further 25 miles to Zuara. The CCS surgical team was withdrawn from the New Zealand Division and, joined by the advanced party from Tamet, was to act as a Light Section at Sabratha. Minor casualties were to be handled there.

As the main party continued on along the coast, the country again changed. Fertile acres gave place to swampy land studded with palms. These in turn thinned out until the scene was a semidesert one, with clusters of trees around oases. Zuara was reached by mid-afternoon, the distance travelled from Tamet having been 340 miles. The unit's function here was to receive casualties from Eighth Army during the advance on Ben Gardane. The sisters did the journey by staff car, staging three nights with 8 South African CCS in Tripoli.

At Zuara, for the first time since Zahle, in the Lebanons, the unit had the use of a building. Situated on the fringe of this small coastal town, the building had originally been an Italian hospital and more recently had been used as enemy barracks. Much cleaning was required before it could be used to hold sick and wounded. The spacious rooms were ideal for the CCS wards, but it was found more convenient to set up the theatre and pre-operative ward in tents in a walled compound at the rear.

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All around were places likely to receive attention from hostile aircraft. The area bordered a corner of the main highway, along which there was a great volume of military traffic day and night. Half a mile to the north was a small harbour which, although full of sunken fishing vessels, was being cleared by engineers. The railroad passed close by to the south. Two kilometres away was the railhead and ammunition dump, and a short distance south-west was a forward fighter airfield. It was no wonder that minds were not always tranquil when aircraft droned overhead at night.

Admissions here were not heavy, but they brought the number handled by the unit since leaving Cairo up to 10,000, including those treated by the Light Section. Evacuations were made daily by road to Tripoli; later, a few were sent by air. When returning from the forward areas with accommodation available, the ambulance plane would circle over the unit area. If there were patients ready for evacuation a Very-light signal was fired by Reception. The aircraft would then drop a message giving details of the room available and would land at the nearby airfield. Patients were despatched immediately by duty ambulance car.

In off-duty hours the staff again found relaxation in sport. On hard mud-flats opposite the hospital, a tennis court was marked out and camouflage netting was used as a net. Soccer, too, was played on these extensive mud-flats. Some of the men preferred walking, while others were able to go boating on the small harbour. All ranks had an opportunity of visiting Tripoli. Only a few hours could be spent there, however, as it was a 70-mile trip each way. The days were becoming longer, although for the most part cold weather prevailed. Frequent winds blowing in strongly from the Mediterranean tried the tempers of the tent dwellers.