Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
At Castellina the various units of the Division were scattered along the line of the road to Siena, many on sloping sites with a magnificent view of the surrounding country. The open MDS, the page 380 4th, stood at the head of a knoll across a gully from 6 MDS. The view took in the rolling Tuscany plain. Lines of dust along its roads rose like smoke from bushfires. The red, cream, and buff of the villages set in the thick velvet green of the trees looked like distant, garden flower pots.
The staff of the CCS learned that a complete change from camp life could be found in the nearby town of Siena. To walk up through the woods at the back of their area, across the hill, down through the valley and then up the steep, narrow streets, was just a matter of a few minutes. The people of Siena were particularly friendly—in fact, the most friendly that had been met in Italy. They seemed to like New Zealanders and were surprised to learn that they were not black natives from some cannibal isle, as they had recently been led to believe by enemy propaganda. Some members of the unit spent all their free time in the people's homes. An hour or so in someone's home, poor though it might be, was a pleasant change from the monotony of camp life.
For the Division leave to Siena was controlled, but most of the men of the field units were able to visit the town. They found it a pleasant, mellow town, walled and quiet. It had been damaged but little, and the celebrated cathedral was untouched. The South Africans made the New Zealanders welcome at their club. Most will probably remember Siena best for the excellent pipes that could be bought at the local factory and for the ceremonial pageantry of ‘II Palio’, enacted for their benefit by banner-bearers and drummers—horses were not available for the traditional race itself. The costumes were rich and fantastic in colour and design, making an impressive sight as the banner-bearers skilfully twirled the banners around them so that they floated and flowed parallel with the ground, or danced easily between the staffs and banners as they twirled them, tossing them high in the air and catching them behind their backs.
On the 24th all units were paraded along the main road to cheer at the passing of some distinguished personage whose identity was kept a secret. It was a blazing, sunny day, there was no shade, and the sides of the road were covered in dust. The troops were soon fed up with waiting, and when at last a car bearing Mr. Churchill came slowly past they were in no mood to cheer. Moreover, not expecting him, they were slightly startled. However, when he had page 381 passed some of them made up for their remissness by roundly cheering a carload of Redcaps, who did not appear to appreciate the honour overmuch.
Instructions were received to lighten loads on trucks to the greatest possible degree to achieve a high standard of mobility. Units combed through medical and personal gear for this purpose. A rather more than ordinarily serious kit inspection was held. Much surplus equipment was found; but at least as much was not found, as it was planted out among the bushes. Some voluntary contributions were made to the salvage heap, but almost as many items were filched from it during the contributing process.