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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Over Halfaya Pass

page 242

Over Halfaya Pass

A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, rejoined HQ, and on the morning of the 9th the two companies moved behind 5 Brigade and made a slow trip through the minefield, later turning north to reach the main road in darkness and camp for the night.

At first light, in weather that was fine but which also had the chilly touch of approaching winter, the advance continued. The transport rolled on in an endless convoy stretching from skyline to skyline and far beyond. Just west of Sidi Barrani, during a long halt, the adjoining unit to the rear was strafed by a lone enemy fighter and one truck was left in flames.

About mid-afternoon there were signs of movement ahead. The troops, utterly weary of standing about, eagerly clambered aboard the trucks, and the convoy was in motion again. The Buqbuq turn-off was passed. Just beyond was the destination for the day, a flat area already crammed with transport, lying between the road and sea. As evening approached, everyone was startled by the sudden appearance of swarms of particularly voracious mosquitoes. It was impossible to sleep completely covered by blankets, and next day many faces were covered with bites.

That morning (11 November) A Company was ordered to move on ahead. It was rumoured that the forward troops had encountered stiff resistance and that an extra ADS was required. The company left the road and moved rapidly toward Sollum, in extended desert formation, across grey-green, herb-covered plains that sloped gently from the flat-topped escarpments to the white sand dunes of the beaches.

The escarpments and the beach gradually converged until the company moved on to the road and travelled in column to the foot of Halfaya Pass. Later HQ arrived, and the unit pulled off the road towards the beach, where, amidst a mass of closely congested traffic of all descriptions, the vehicles waited all day.

In a surprise attack just before dawn on 11 November, 110 men of 21 Battalion had captured Halfaya Pass, killing 70 of the enemy and taking 612 prisoners, at the cost of one man killed and one wounded.

With the Pass cleared, a continuous stream of tanks, guns, and trucks slowly threaded its way up the winding road. During the morning a few enemy aircraft appeared and bombed and strafed page 243 the traffic on the top of the pass. Throughout the day, parties of the ertswhile defenders of the pass marched through the waiting lines of transport, on the first stage of the road back to captivity. The unit was treated to the diverting, probably unique, sight of a column of prisoners guarded by two New Zealand infantrymen, who, disdaining to carry their own rifles, had compelled two of the prisoners to carry them.

The field ambulance pulled on to the road late in the afternoon, moved at 7 p.m., and slowly ascended the steep pass in darkness, spending the night at Musaid, six miles beyond the summit. On the following day (12 November), after travelling via Capuzzo to an area south of Bardia, the unit set up and opened the MDS.

In the course of the next few days the Division assembled in this area. Throughout the remainder of the month the Division as a whole was occupied with general re-equipping, reorganisation, and recreational training.

Fifth Field Ambulance did not move forward until 8 November, while 4 Field Ambulance continued to run a divisional rest station on the coast a few miles from El Alamein until 18 November, when it moved up the coast to Bardia, accompanied by 4 Field Hygiene Section, and again set up a rest station.