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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Visit of His Majesty the King

Visit of His Majesty the King

On 16 June the hospital was informed of the anticipated visit to the locality of ‘General Lyon’, and elaborate arrangements were made for his arrival. Included amongst these preparations was the closing of the main Tripoli road for two days. This and other arrangements provoked much speculation as to the identity of the mysterious General, but all were convinced that he must be a very high ranking official. On 19 June the air was thick with planes apparently engaged on an endless patrol of the skies, and the arrival at Castel Benito of one plane, with heavy escort, further confirmed the popular belief.

On the following day the hospital was visited by General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, and Sir James Grigg, Secretary of State for War in the United Kingdom Government. But the identity of General Lyon remained a secret until the 21st, when 3 General Hospital paraded for His Majesty King George VI, who was visiting the troops in North Africa. Officers and other ranks, both patients and staff, were drawn up on either side of the road as His Majesty passed on his way to inspect 1 Armoured Division. On the return journey King George, who was accompanied by General Montgomery, stopped while Col Gower was introduced to him. After asking a few questions regarding casualties treated in this site, the King reviewed the hospital staff as he drove slowly through the lines.

Any hopes at 3 General Hospital that the unit was shortly to move were sadly dashed when it was disclosed in June that a crisis expansion of 200 beds was to be provided for. The expansion to 1100 beds was completed by 10 July, the date of the invasion of page 285 Sicily, but the first convoy of any size from this campaign did not arrive until 20 July. Casualties were not as numerous as expected, but a block in the lines of evacuation caused the bed-state to rise until on 13 August it reached 1071, the highest number of patients in hospital at any one time up to that date. In August there were 1740 admissions, but with the campaign in Sicily successfully concluded the numbers decreased.

Of their life in Tripolitania one of the sisters wrote:

‘Fleas were not the only enemy occupants of our territory. We peered fearfully under the canvas flaps of our EPIP tents, set amidst the gum trees, for scorpions and other reptiles, and then braced ourselves to deal with all possible hazards. These we were told included booby-traps, fifth columnists, faulty sanitation, dehydrated cabbage, and the RAF.

‘The first two we did not meet. The third refused to be attacked on our own level and kept caving in. Dehydration we do not discuss, we were not enthusiasts; and only the timid among us scanned the sky above our roofless shower house, for aircraft flying lower than 1000 feet, and slower than 200 miles per hour.

‘We were a stopping place when the Division returned from Tunisia. For three days and nights the battle raged, and the mess staff strove gallantly to keep up the supplies of food and drink for the hordes of bronzed warriors who thronged our mess. On the fourth morning the sole remaining sign of the siege was the place where our piano had formerly stood. Wearily and thankfully we returned to nursing as a full-time occupation.

‘On 21 June, dressed in formal white, two rows of us stood gladly in the sweltering sun to see the King smile at us as he drove slowly along Mussolini's Libyan highway. Earlier in the day our Matron3 was presented to His Majesty at the parade in the Piazza Italia, Tripoli. Leslie Henson, Mae Craven, Vivien Leigh, and several other celebrities came out one day to entertain us. With traditional colonial hospitality we turned on rain, which leaked through the tents over the performers and audience impartially. The sun shone, however, for Noel Coward when he entertained us and the temperature hit 110 degrees with no effort at all….

‘July saw the invasion of Sicily, and then Tommy casualties began to arrive. Practically all these patients developed malaria, having been infected before being wounded. The incidence of malaria among the staff was low, for our precautions were good. Nets, mosquito leggings, and long sleeves after sundown—not to page 286 mention mepacrine, which added to our already dehydrated appearance that delicate shade of yellow that indulgence in that drug brings.’

3 Miss M. Chisholm.