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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

In the Volturno Valley

page 337

In the Volturno Valley

The Volturno was an easy river making its way in gentle, unhurried bends. It was pleasant to see again a river that lay like an inlay between flat green banks, and not one cramped between high walls as if kept in a press, like the rivers on the Adriatic coast. There was an appreciable sweep of river valley before the hills burst upwards. The dotted houses of scattered villages could be distinguished by their red and buff colours in the sunshine.

The whole divisional concentration area consisted of mildly sloping sections of olive plantations, well divided by roads and reaching back to the hills, which were heavily covered with scrub. Deep ditches divided the area into sections. The ground between the rows of olive trees was worn to a smooth, bare brown by turning wheels and tramping feet. In places grape vines were festooned between harshly pruned trees resembling willows.

An MDS was opened by 6 Field Ambulance on 19 January, entirely under canvas, on an area handy to the road, free of trees and under a heavy crop of lucerne. While the reception and evacuation teams remained on duty to deal with about 30 admissions a day, the rest of the unit route-marched, constructed roads, or played football and other games.

Alife was about three miles away and was found to be a dirty, uninteresting village. It was surrounded by an ancient, crumbling wall, little of which was visible beneath a luxuriant growth of ivy. Outside the village an American shower unit operated with elaborate equipment. The showers run by 4 Field Hygiene Section were installed some six miles up the river bank, near the Raviscanina turn-off.

From the ADSs the serious cases were evacuated to the MDS, and the rest held and treated until fit to return to their units. The patients at that time were a particularly good crowd. None of them was very sick, and coming from various units, each had a fund of jokes and reminiscences that were new to the others. In fact, far from having the atmosphere of a field hospital, the evacuation shelter resembled a social club.

The nearby houses sent representatives to the mess queues at meal-times. The house across the road from 6 ADS sent a minute boy, known to the company as Tony, who used to approach slowly, page 338 accompanied by an incalculably old woman. Occasionally a bottle of wine appeared as a token of the family's appreciation and to encourage a continued supply of spare food. From a house nearby came an exceedingly pretty little girl named Noelina and several of her many young brothers. Her family had no wine; so she would shyly invite some of the men, usually the cooks, to spend an evening with them. A visit to their house was quite an experience. The food consisted chiefly of unflavoured macaroni, animals' feet cooked more or less whole, and chestnuts, baked to a rock-like hardness, that were a source of anguish to a New Zealander, who hesitated to admit to the powerfully-fanged Italians that his mouth was crammed with false teeth. The whole family talked simultaneously while loudly crunching the adamantine chestnuts, and the resultant uproar was only too frequently augmented by the howls of the youngest infant.

The news of the Allied landing at Anzio, behind the German lines, was announced on 23 January. It infused new life into the rumourmongers. The most favoured story was that the Division was about to exploit an expected break-through and hurtle on to Anzio and Rome. Two days later the brigade major of 5 Brigade visited the units and gave a talk on the Division's probable role. Operations would depend entirely on events. While a break-through role was envisaged, it was possible that a sufficiently large bridgehead would not be established.