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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

On to Sousse

On to Sousse

After evacuating to the MDS a few casualties from the night's bombing, A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, followed the Division and moved rapidly northward. Passing the tarpaulin shelters of HQ Company, the company traversed vast flower-covered plains that flashed with colour to the skylines, and in the later afternoon entered a region of olive groves. There seemed no end to the olive trees. They stretched in lines away into the distance, and down the long vistas surged vehicles of all descriptions. A halt was made ten miles from La Hencha.

To everyone's astonishment the company was informed that it was on the flank, that German forces were in the vicinity, and that it would have to provide pickets. Orderlies and stretcher-bearers spent the night rambling through the grove with a souvenir Italian rifle. Enemy aircraft continued their attentions during the evening. Invisible in the darkness, they flew low over the trees, dropping occasional bombs and firing occasional bursts of tracer. page 276 The only damage done was to the olive trees, several of which were blown out of the ground.

A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved at 7 p.m. on the 11th, and after travelling nine miles through the groves and then along cactus-lined lanes, camped in a field west of the La Hencha-El Djem road. Several accident cases were brought in and treated. The company was away before dawn on the 12th, moving northward in desert formation. Eight miles only were covered, however, when the whole brigade was held up by the column in front having to break down to single file on the road north of El Djem. During the whole day A Company covered only 15 miles and halted in the evening one mile west of El Djem, in sight of the ruins of a huge amphitheatre.

By this time HQ 6 Field Ambulance had evacuated its patients by ambulance cars to Sfax and moved up, joining 2 NZ Divisional Administration Group on the 11th, and reaching La Hencha on the 12th. The two attached sections, 2 NZ FTU and 1 NZ CCS surgical team, left to operate with 4 Field Ambulance. 6 MDS opened at La Hencha, where it remained until the morning of the 14th, staging patients back along the main road to Sfax. There was little for the staff to do, and many of the men moved around among the local Arabs, bartering ‘V’ cigarettes for fresh eggs.

Still in desert formation, divisional units left El Djem early on the 13th. It was a cold morning, with a clear sky, and as the trucks moved away over the soaking grass all eyes were fixed on the old colosseum, which towered, overwhelmingly impressive, in the sun-suffused dawn mist. After five miles of cross-country going the units turned on to the road and travelled northward in column of route. Though Sousse had been occupied early on the 12th, and patrols had pushed on eight miles beyond before encountering the enemy's rearguard, the advance continued to be slow. The crowded road had become the only practicable route, the surrounding countryside being cut by deep wadis and watercourses.

As the column wound through Sousse the people lined the road, cheering and waving flags. A bulky but supple Arab girl performed a seemingly endless Salome dance on a low embankment, bringing roars of approval from the passing troops. An old Arab, seated on a donkey cart, waved a wine bottle, between deep draughts of its contents. He, too, received delighted greetings.

page 277

Sousse fell behind. Units continued northward along the main road, stopping for a meal in small copses of olive trees, and moving on to stage about two miles south of Sidi bou Ali. Late in the afternoon of the 14th A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved forward four miles and opened the ADS in another olive grove west of the road, while B Company, 5 Field Ambulance, set up on the Enfidaville-Kairouan road.

When the Division moved through Sousse on 13 April, 4 Field Ambulance left the surgical team and one company to follow on when it had disposed of the patients. When the advance halted on the 14th, the ambulance set up on a very good site just off the main tar-sealed road, half a mile north of the village of Sidi bou Ali, and remained the open MDS for the attack on Takrouna.