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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

4 Field Ambulance Near Florence

4 Field Ambulance Near Florence

To establish an MDS nearer to the forward elements of the Division than 6 MDS, which was still functioning on Route 2 near Tavarnelle, HQ and A Companies of 4 Field Ambulance on 4 August occupied at Casa Vecchia a fine, old-world mansion on the hills overlooking Florence, seven miles from the Arno. The dome of Florence cathedral could be seen, but members of the unit had to be content with that glimpse of the city until, with all other divisional units, they were given leave there some months later. The elaborate and baroque furnishings of the villa were removed upstairs, and the spacious ground-floor rooms laid out in reception, resuscitation, operating, and evacuation centres. The upper floors were placed out of bounds, and the aged padrone remained in residence. Though bemoaning his cruel fate, he proved fairly cooperative, and opportunity was taken to point out that his position, though trying, could have been much worse. Accommodation for all ranks continued to be under canvas. The unit was joined by 1 FSU, 2 FTU, and NZ Section MAC. Only a few battle casualties were admitted.

As it became apparent that the enemy intended to fight in and about Florence, arrangements were made for a regrouping. The enemy had withdrawn across the river, and a co-ordinated attack by the Fifth and Eighth Armies was planned, 13 British Corps crossing in the vicinity of Florence and 2 US Corps passing through the New Zealand positions, with the object of forcing the Germans back on the Gothic Line defences.

As usual each brigade had an ADS set up. 6 ADS was situated near Montelupo, overlooking a tangle of valleys and spurs to the river and the heights beyond. Above stood a cluster of rather dilapidated buildings, crammed with refugees from Empoli. The nearest village, a scattering of houses along the road about half a mile to the rear, was rather inappropriately named Il Paradiso.

With a small shift only required on duty to treat and evacuate the few patients admitted each day, most of the men were once page 378 again free to do more or less as they wished; and being by this time experts in the art of getting their feet under the table, they were soon distributed through the homes in the vicinity.

After tea on the first evening, two men took a guitar up to the roadway by the houses and started chanting such lively tunes as ‘South American Joe’. The company and the Empoli people converged on the spot, and before long a full-scale sing-song was in progress, the Italians, with their vast repertoire and their life-long familiarity with mass singing, easily outdoing the New Zealanders. The sound must have carried for at least half a mile, for parties of the extremely earthy-looking denizens of ‘Paradise’ came hurrying along to add their voices.

Thenceforward the gatherings were a nightly feature, usually beginning after the radio news. On arrival the company radio was set up on the bonnet of the evacuation section truck, and the refugees and inhabitants used to pack around to hear the news in Italian. One of the men invariably stood guard over the set, stoically enduring the smell of infrequently washed bodies.

The weather was for the most part fine and warm, though there was rain on the 10th and 11th, when several of the bivouacs were flooded. The days passed all too quickly. More and more United States troops were appearing in the area, and between 14 and 16 August they relieved the Division, which withdrew to Castellina, near Siena.