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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

On to Nofilia

On to Nofilia

By dawn on the 16th 6 Brigade had patrols on the main road. Very few of the enemy now remained to the east, and at 3.10 p.m. instructions were received to rejoin the Division. B Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved westward behind the brigade, opening an ADS in an area south-west of Nofilia. On the 19th the brigade moved to an extensive area near the Via Balbia, and the ADS was established on the south side of the road, Kilo 7, west of Nofilia. (Opened in 1937, this road ran from Tripoli right through the Italian colonies in North Africa to the Egyptian border.)

Meanwhile, on the 17th, HQ Company moved with the Division toward Nofilia, where the Scots Greys were in contact with the page 251 enemy. There was a hold-up for a time after midday when the armour went into action. The field ambulance halted and the men watched shells bursting in front of them, while occasional anti-tank shells, overs from the tank battle ahead, whistled past and thudded into the ground.

At nightfall casualties began to come back. The MDS was set up, and theatre staff and nursing orderlies worked almost without pause until 3 a.m. During the morning of the 18th, however, work slackened off somewhat. There had been 39 admissions, including three cases with brain lesions which were operated on satisfactorily despite unfavourable conditions. Most of the others were men from the Scots Greys with severe burns—their regiment was operating Sherman tanks with 4 Light Armoured Brigade.

The stream of casualties continued intermittently throughout the day, another 55 being admitted. 6 MDS was by this time holding 88 patients, seven having been discharged. Because of the long lines of communication, the roughness of the country, and the serious condition of many of the casualties, evacuation was extremely difficult. On the 19th a further 22 were admitted, 20 of them being held, bringing the total number up to 108 and seriously taxing the resources of the MDS. To the difficulty of evacuation was added the corresponding difficulty of bringing up supplies, and rations, both of food and water, were becoming short. However, on the 19th engineers began to bulldoze an ambulance track, along a route reconnoitred by Lt-Col Furkert, through to Nofilia to the north-east, the enemy having evacuated the town the day before.

A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, rejoined the MDS on the 20th. It was the first convoy to move over the Via Balbia in that region, the advance along the coastal strip not having gone beyond Marble Arch. After cautiously negotiating the narrow cleared lanes through the mine-strewn areas surrounding the demolished bridges and culverts, the company turned south at a point west of the Nofilia turn-off and drove inland, over wild, switchback desert, to the MDS.

By 21 December the track to Nofilia was completed and the main road and airfield cleared of mines and booby traps. All the patients, with the exception of 14 serious cases who, with a medical officer, were flown direct from Nofilia, were sent by road to 4 Field Ambulance, which was acting as Corps MDS near Marble Arch. One page 252 company of the unit worked at Marble Arch airfield as an air evacuation centre. From the aerodrome all patients were flown back to El Adem by transport planes returning there after bringing up supplies. This was a more or less impromptu arrangement by 4 Field Ambulance and, with the ready co-operation of the pilots, it worked most satisfactorily, resulting in the evacuation of 253 patients in six days. Six bombs were dropped in the MDS area one night, but although vehicles and tents were damaged, no one was injured.

The Division then concentrated near Nofilia. 6 Field Ambulance went into reserve in a pleasant area on the seaward side of the Via Balbia, and 5 Field Ambulance set up an MDS near the beach, where it was joined by 4 Field Hygiene Section. The prospect of working again as an MDS pleased all ranks of 5 Field Ambulance, as, except for a few days at Tobruk, the unit had been living in and out of its trucks during the advance.

Thus the first of the Division's left hooks had been slammed home, and although, unfortunately, it had not been a knock-out blow, it had helped to force the enemy out of the Agheila line without prolonged resistance. During the whole operation the medical units had provided service of an extremely high order.