Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
CCS Moves up to Gerawla
CCS Moves up to Gerawla
When the CCS left Gharbanyat on the morning of 8 November there were already signs that this part of the desert was returning to normal. Smoke rose from the chimney of the gypsum factory, occasional trains passed up the long-disused railway line, while wandering Arabs and their camels once more appeared. The war was over for this region. A cold wind blowing in from the sea filtered sand over the theatre and ward sites where 1 NZ CCS had played its part in the historic Battle of Alamein.
On the fully loaded trucks there was little room for comfortable travel. Some of the men contrived to lie down on mattresses, while others sat up behind the cab or clung on precariously to gaze at the relics of battle. Strewn along both sides of the road were burntout trucks, charabancs, staff cars, German and Italian planes, gutted tanks, and useless anti-aircraft guns. Shells, tins, and jerricans in scattered heaps told of hasty retreat. During long delays in page 244 the dense traffic, many explored wrecked cars and trucks. There was always the possibility of discovering a prize.
The convoy stayed overnight at Fuka and next day took nine hours to travel the 40 miles to Gerawla. Here, where wrecked vehicles were still smouldering, the unit opened on a site near to that occupied a year before by 2 General Hospital. It erected nine wards and in the following week admitted 700 patients, mostly sick. From an Italian hospital at Smugglers' Cove, east of Mersa Matruh, several German field hospital tents with canvas floors were salvaged. Light and simple to erect, these tents added greatly to the mobility of the CCS. At Gerawla water had to be rationed and the men would queue up once a day for half a bottle each.
As they stood in the queues the men speculated about the future. British and American forces had landed in Morocco and Algeria and had advanced into Tunisia. What would be the fate of the enemy, what army would reach Tripoli first, and how far the CCS would travel were questions of the hour. The unit was to go farther than most men conjectured. The next step was a move up to Tobruk.
A strong wind was blowing when the convoy left Gerawla on 19 November, and in half an hour a thick dust-storm had developed. Visibility was reduced to a few yards, and travel at little more than a crawl was most uncomfortable. Sitting on top of the loaded vehicles, the men had no protection against the swirling sand and the keen, biting wind.
Skirting Mersa Matruh the trucks swung inland, following the main bitumen road past the airfield and through the deep perimeter defences. Soon the well-known desert corner, Charing Cross, was reached. Turning west here the road ran in a straight line for 80 miles. With absolutely no relieving features, the stony desert stretched flat as a table top to distant horizons.
After Sidi Barrani was passed next morning, the road became little more than a rough desert track twisting between barren hillocks. Water cans, buckets, and loose equipment rattled and clattered as the trucks jolted over the rough surface. Feeling anything but happy as these conditions continued for mile after mile, the men looked like ghosts in the clouds of white dust enveloping each vehicle. Then the heavily laden trucks slowly climbed Halfaya Pass. The going was better now. Soon the Wire was behind them page 245 and the CCS was in Libya. The rubble heap that had been Fort Capuzzo was passed, and an hour and a half later the buildings of Bardia showed up white against the blue sea. Near here was the New Zealand Division. The familiar fernleaf roadside signs of the various divisional units were left well behind before the day's trip was over.
Gambut was passed early next day and by mid-morning Tobruk was reached. The advanced party had already marked out the sites for the various departments. Much to everyone's delight a large quantity of mail, the first for several weeks, was waiting.