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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy


page 272


There ensued a pause at Gabes. An MDS was opened by 5 Field Ambulance on the Gabes-El Hamma road on 1 April.

On 30 March half the CCS moved 50 miles from Medenine on to Teboulbou, five and a half miles from Gabes, and next day the rest of the unit joined it and set up ready for the next battle. On the journey the unit was able to see the defences of the Mareth Line, with its many formidable strongpoints, tank ditches, and wadis. It was no wonder that the casualties had been so heavy. At the new site many civilians, including well-dressed women and children, gave a smiling welcome to the troops.

During daylight on 3 April 5 MDS provided treatment for several patients; their numbers increased substantially during the night in consequence of enemy bombing raids. At 7 p.m. all the troops were very pleased to see a Heinkel III bomber being shot up by ack-ack. This plane, with others, had dropped bombs in the MDS area and some of the staff had had a lucky escape from serious injury. Apart from the extreme cold of the night, the continuous dropping of flares and bombs disturbed everyone's rest, and daylight was welcomed. Fortunately the medical personnel escaped injury.

At 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. next day there were two further enemy air raids, and many casualties, some with severe injuries, were admitted. Major Bridge spent a strenuous day operating. At 4 p.m., when he was working on one case, the lighting plant broke down just as he was seeking a bleeding axillary artery. The operating tent which was sealed up against dust was plunged into darkness, but he finished the operation by the light of a hurricane lamp. At 6 p.m. Captain Douglas took over from Major Bridge, who returned to the field ambulance. Many admissions during the day came from 168 British Field Ambulance, and included Air Force and Royal Navy personnel, Indians, Free French and Mauritians, besides New Zealanders.

The weather was fine and hot. Swimming and leave parties from closed medical units went to Gabes which, though badly damaged, was full of interest for the troops, providing them with their first glimpse of a French town. Many of the famous Chasseurs d'Afrique were strolling about the streets.

On 5 April the men of the medical units were given an outline of the operations ahead, in which 6 Field Ambulance, under Lt-Col page 273 Fisher, was again to be the MDS with the Division, opening en route as required. On the 6th 30 Corps would deliver an attack on the enemy positions at Wadi Akarit, a wadi running inland for about ten miles in a south-westerly direction from a point on the coast some 20 miles north of Gabes. Extended from the Gabes-El page 274 Hamma road to just south of Wadi Akarit, 2 NZ Division waited, ready to advance immediately 30 Corps breached the enemy line.