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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Episode on Monastery Hill

Episode on Monastery Hill

In the withdrawal five wounded men had to be left lying in one of the many caves on Point 202. The unit's medical orderly and stretcher-bearers had given medical treatment to the men at the time they were wounded, and subsequently while they sheltered in the cave. On the afternoon of 25 March the RMO 24 Battalion (Capt A. W. H. Borrie), with a stretcher-bearer party under protection of Red Cross flags, successfully evacuated these wounded men in an operation which carried more than its share of excitement. The incident is best described in Capt Borrie's own words and serves to illustrate the link-up between regimental medical officers and stretcher-bearers and the field ambulances.

‘In the afternoon I was asked if I would accompany a second search party to Monastery Hill. I took with me 19 men. Armed with three Red Cross flags, Red Cross armlets, and stretchers, we left the Indian aid post and ascended to Castle Hill, which was in our possession. At Castle Hill I split the party into two, taking with me Sgt Thompson,4 Pte Worth,5 and nine others….

‘As we were making our way across, we noticed some figures near old C Company HQ waving a flag. When we reached them we found they were the four Kiwis and one man of Essex Regiment who had been left behind. They had given up hope of being collected, so an hour previously the fittest of the party had handed page 353 round a large bottle of rum, dropped by parachute the day before. Fortified in spirit, these five lying cases had dragged themselves down to the road, a rough journey of 20 yards, and had managed to move a few yards along the road, each one helping the other.

‘As we had two stretchers for all five, I decided on the hand-carry of three wounded, leaving six men to carry the other two, three per stretcher. As we were setting out, a German soldier came out of the ruins on Point 165, waving a Red Cross flag and advancing along the road towards us….

‘In broken French we argued, and then Thompson and Worth were taken into the ruins on Point 165 to see the Commandant. The Commandant asked for a cigarette—Worth immediately gave him a full packet. The German explained that, as the English had shot at a stretcher-bearer at Cassino, the Cassino commandant had ordered that there was to be no further evacuation of British from Monastery Hill. He gave his approval, however, for our evacuations, coming down with Thompson and Worth to inspect us.

‘We heard them coming but dared not look round until they were beside us. A nod of the head from Sgt Thompson was the sign for action, so we picked up our wounded and set off for the Castle, making double-quick time before the Germans changed their minds. After a steep, difficult descent from the Castle, we reached the Indian aid post, then took the wounded by jeep to 6 NZ ADS. An examination of the wounds showed that all were in excellent condition, a tribute to the care the stretcher-bearers had taken in their seven days' isolation.’

When this attack on Cassino ended, the road to Rome through the Liri Valley was still barred. Nevertheless, there had been substantial gains. A firm bridgehead had been established over the Rapido River, nine-tenths of the town of Cassino captured, and a foothold obtained on Monastery Hill, where Castle Hill was firmly held. Enemy casualties must have been severe. Then, too, pressure on the Anzio beach-head had been relieved.

The NZ Corps was disbanded on 26 March, and a general reshuffle of New Zealand troops in the Cassino sector followed.

4 S.Sgt R. J. Thompson; born Belfast 25 Aug 1913; warehouseman, Christchurch.

5 Pte H. C. Worth, MM; born NZ, 8 Nov 1919; seaman, Auckland.