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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

CCS Crosses into Tunisia

CCS Crosses into Tunisia

The CCS spent three weeks at Zuara before moving on again on 26 February to cross the border into Tunisia. The unit's hospital was handed over to South Africans and the men then packed equipment on trucks lent by 15 British CCS. They were old hands at travelling by now. Usually bedding or tentage was packed on top of the load, and on this the travellers would lounge and sleep as the miles passed by. Ration boxes and water tins were always the last to go on. The inner man was well looked after even if the convoy stopped for only ten minutes.

After passing Ben Gardane—a small Arab town having as a particular feature tunnel-shaped dwellings joined together like a row of dog kennels—the trucks traversed a really atrocious road. Deep ruts and dust from passing tank-transporters frayed tempers and nerves. Everyone was tired out when the destination was reached, but the unit had to set up immediately.

The area, just off the main road and 23 kilometres from Medenine, was undulating, rocky in some parts, and in others deep in fine, powdery sand. Winds were again a source of annoyance, page 264 but fortunately stunted vegetation prevented any large-scale duststorms. The nine wards and other departments were well dispersed as usual. This scattered layout always caused extra work in the running of power-lines to all tents and the maintenance of the two generators. It was never possible to have the departments in the same relative position, so that a new plan of wiring had to be arranged at each location. Theatres and the pre-operative ward had priority, but two days' work was necessary to wire the whole unit completely. Salvaged German cable proved very useful. At Alamein the power motors had generated continuously for long periods—once for seven days—but in this advanced position they could run for only the minimum time because of the shortage of petrol.

Since passing Tripoli the CCS had been the most advanced New Zealand unit and the most forward casualty clearing station. Now it was considered to be too far forward as there was a possibility that the enemy armour might break through and Medenine become a battleground.

At the end of February Rommel began concentrating his armour at Mareth. The danger to the advanced forces of Eighth Army became apparent. Immediate reinforcements were required and 2 NZ Division was called forward. It was an emergency move and a very fast one. Orders were received on 1 March. That day the first column was on the move, and 48 hours later the entire force had completed the 180 miles over a single road, had dug in, and was ready to defend its sector of the line. A new phase in the North African campaign was about to begin.