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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

6 ADS Snowed Under

6 ADS Snowed Under

There was little activity at 6 ADS. The cold was numbing and the men remained in their bivvies, crouched around potato-tin braziers. They emerged only at meal-times to slosh through the deep mud to the cooks' truck. Early on New Year's Day the weight of snow became too much for the bivvies. One after another they collapsed; many of the occupants, startled out of sleep, had some difficulty in getting clear. A 180-pound tent followed almost immediately; it crashed and lay thrashing on the snow as the men it had sheltered fought their way out to join other refugees in the tarpaulin shelter. Two hours or so later, when everyone had settled down again, one of the supporting poles snapped, the canvas split across, and the whole shelter subsided in a heap of snow, canvas, and struggling men. Someone mournfully, if tunefully, informed the unappreciative company that he was ‘dreaming of a white Christmas’.

Bundling up what gear they could salvage, the unhappy company set off into the snowstorm and located a small bamboo-cane hut into which they all squeezed together. They shared the blankets and remained there until morning, when heavy rain turned the foot of snow and the mud beneath to a knee-deep slush.

The ADS was out of action. Walking to the cookhouse for meals presented some difficulty, and it was impossible for vehicles to enter the area. For two days casualties were taken direct from the car post to the MDS. They were few, as the snow made any big attacks impossible.

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The new year brought a succession of fine days. The wind remained cold, but the skies were clear and the snow-covered hills and valleys sparkled in the sunshine. The Italian women and girls searched the fields for fuel, and plodded up the road through the snow in their pitifully inadequate makeshift footwear, carrying bundles of twigs and branches on their heads. At meal-times they gathered around the cookhouses, waiting patiently for scraps. The contribution of the Italian men to the support of homes and families was wrapped in mystery.

On 3 January 5 ADS took over from 6 ADS, 5 Brigade having relieved 6 Brigade during the night. Fortunately a heavy frost had left the ground hard enough for the vehicles to move out under their own power. On 12 January a warning order was received stating that 2 NZ Division was to be withdrawn at short notice, ostensibly to a training area south of San Severo. The medical units prepared to leave after an exacting two months' work under wintry conditions.

At Atessa, from 20 November to 31 December, 4 MDS admitted 751 battle casualties and performed 198 major operations, while at Castelfrentano from 14 December to 7 January 6 MDS received 657 wounded and performed 178 major operations. After taking over from 6 MDS at Castelfrentano on 7 January, 5 MDS under Lt-Col R. A. Elliott admitted 152 battle casualties. During its two months at Vasto the CCS handled approximately 3500 patients, including the sickness cases admitted from 5 Field Ambulance.

The withdrawal of the division took place in mid-January. As a red herring the ‘training area south of San Severo’ was a complete success. Even the Italian civilians had no idea where the Division was going. Once the convoys were under way, however, rumours containing a grain of truth began to circulate among the troops. Before long belief changed to conviction; the destination was the Fifth Army front.