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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

The ADSs with 5 and 6 Brigades

The ADSs with 5 and 6 Brigades

At 3 a.m. on the 26th, at moonrise, B Company, 6 Field Ambulance, under Maj Duncan, moved forward through a cleared gap in the minefields to set up again as ADS for 6 Brigade against the page 270 ancient Roman wall that stretched southward from the Djebel Tebaga across the gap to the Djebel Melab. All that remained of the wall was a high embankment of earth into which the men dug their slit trenches. A high wind sprang up at dawn and developed into a thick dust-storm that lasted all day. Throughout the morning and the early afternoon the vicinity of the dressing station was shelled and mortared, the target evidently being a road immediately to the rear. At 2 p.m. A Company, 5 Field Ambulance, serving 5 Brigade, moved forward one and a half miles through minefields to Kebili and set up its ADS under Capt Tyler in a well-protected position within two miles of the RAPs.

At 3 p.m. the first RAF bombers went over. Half an hour later the artillery barrage began and the roar of the squadrons overhead was drowned in the rolling gunfire. Tanks of 8 Armoured Brigade advanced through the swirling dust ahead of the New Zealand infantry battalions, many tanks passing through the ADS area and drawing enemy anti-tank fire. Soon the first ambulance cars came back over the shell-torn tracks from the RAPs, and the night-long stream of wounded had begun. There was further shelling during the night, shells and mortar bombs bursting around the dressing station to the agitation of some of the casualties lying in the shelters.

The wounded began to arrive at 4 MDS at 6 p.m. and in sufficient numbers to keep four operating teams working through the night until three o'clock next morning. Even then the staff could not rest for long as more wounded came in all day, until that night the MDS was holding 400 patients. All stretchers and blankets were in use and extra shelters were erected from truck covers and tent flies. The hot, windy day had made conditions unpleasant for the patients; and on the 28th a dust-storm raged all day, so that aircraft could not land on the airfield behind Tebaga Gap to evacuate the wounded. During the day, however, the welcome news was received that the Medenine-Hallouf-Bir Soltane road was now open and that DDMS 30 Corps (Brig Ardagh) had sent 30 ambulance cars. On the 29th five planes arrived at the airfield and these, plus the 30 ambulances, and twelve cars and eight 3-ton trucks from the field ambulances, cleared 392 patients.

Few wounded had been admitted on the 28th and 29th as the capture of Tebaga Gap was completed by the 28th, the enemy having page 271 withdrawn from the Mareth Line the previous night. The decisive defeat of the enemy at Tebaga Gap cost him many men and much material, and the turning of the line marked the beginning of the end for him in Tunisia.

On the morning of 28 March the ADSs closed and moved forward with their brigades, while 5 Field Ambulance advanced with the Corps also. The dust-storm had persisted and was still blowing when the column moved into the Tebaga Gap on the morning of the 28th. A Junkers 88 bombed the column, killing and wounding 29 men, and a few hours later an Me109 strafed it.

In the late afternoon of 28 March, 6 ADS pulled into a small side wadi and attended to the bomb casualties. It was a pleasant, fertile spot, surrounded by bare, precipitous cliffs, and the men slept amongst barley and broad beans beneath fig and olive trees. It was with some reluctance that the gear was packed and loaded for departure in the morning. The hills gradually fell away and fields of barley appeared. In the later afternoon the column spread out in desert formation and halted until dark, when it moved forward on to a tar-sealed road. A halt was made for the night at eleven o'clock. Road demolitions prevented the original intention of continuing through the night to a concentration area north-west of Gabes being carried out, although A Company, 5 Field Ambulance, following 5 Brigade on a different route from New Zealand Corps, had done so.

The 30th dawned wet and dismal. The blown-up roads were taking longer to repair than had been anticipated, and though the 6 Brigade troops were aroused at half past five, there was no move until about 10.15 a.m. The route lay through the outskirts of Gabes and the large date plantations that surround the town. Arabs swarmed in hundreds. On the 31st the ADSs moved with their brigades to bivouac areas.

When 4 and 6 Field Ambulances moved forward 41 miles on 31 March to join the Division, a company of 4 Field Ambulance, equipped with a wireless set, remained with 23 abdominal cases who were not fit to move; they were eventually flown out on 2 April. During the Mareth Line actions between 5000 and 6000 prisoners were taken, and a detachment of 4 Field Hygiene Section was attached to the prisoner-of-war cage, where they deloused prisoners and disinfected trucks.