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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Preparations for Departure

Preparations for Departure

The time for embarkation was obviously near when, on 25 September, orders were received to prepare staff tables and loading returns for vehicles. The units packed all equipment, removed shoulder titles and cap badges, and obliterated all divisional signs on the vehicles. Early in October the units moved to the embarkation transit camp which had been established in the stony, dusty waste of the Ikingi Maryut staging area. The troops, quartered in tents, were continually smothered in the fine dust that rose in swirling clouds on every breath of wind. It caked around the eyes and lips, and could be tasted in the mouth and gritted between the teeth. Conveniences were poor, and meals were of a nature requiring the minimum of preparation. A large tented Naafi served morning and afternoon tea and beer to an endless queue.

The men spent many hours rearranging packs, seeking to devise a load that included everything yet could be carried without making the bearer wider than the average door, and which would sit more page 296 or less comfortably on the back without giving a tortoise-like forward thrust to the head.

Embarkation rolls were prepared, and the minimum of equipment that would be required at the destination loaded and despatched to the personnel ships. The units assembled and marched to embussing points, the men tottering under a hundred-pound load that included, besides the normal packs, a bivouac tent, a bush-net with supporting poles, summer and winter clothing, a leather jerkin, spare boots, and a two-gallon water can. The gear was no sooner gladly dropped from already numbed shoulders than there came the inevitable order to pick it up again and change position. A fleet of 10-ton trucks arrived, and the troops clambered aboard, about twelve men to a truck, and set off for the docks at Alexandria.

There was usually a long wait at the wharf, and scratch meals and hot tea were prepared while barges and lighters, each craft packed with khaki-clad, sun-tanned men, came and went between the shore and the troopships anchored out in the stream. Various units stood about in groups, clustered around their dumped piles of gear. No one seemed anxious to swing up his load until the last moment. One man who had sat down with his packs attached had to be assisted to an upright position. At last the men were told that they were moving off on the next lighter. They helped each other on with their packs and filed up a narrow, one-man gangway to the deck of their lighter, the bush-net bags and water cans, carried in either hand, bumping and clanking against the stanchions. Again the gear was thankfully dropped; and again and again it had to be picked up and moved as men were packed more and more closely on the deck. By the time the lighters pulled away from the wharf the men were completely immobilised in a tangle of equipment and legs.