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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Faenza and Senio River Line

Faenza and Senio River Line

Although there had been some advance during November, the general situation at the front was very similar to that prevailing previously. Forli, ten miles above Cesena on Route 9, had been cleared, and Eighth Army had established itself nearly nine miles beyond it facing Faenza on the Lamone River. The Lamone was a perfect example of the type of stream across which the bitterest fighting of 1945 was to take place. It was only 60 to 70 feet wide, but on either side were massive terraced stopbanks of soft earth reaching a height of more than 20 feet. With steeply pitched slopes into which it was easy to tunnel, and about seven feet wide at the top, these stopbanks formed a splendid defensive line. Bologna was now only 30 miles away but seemed as unapproachable as ever.

At the beginning of December the Division faced up to the Lamone River astride Route 9 with 6 Infantry Brigade on the right and 5 Infantry Brigade on the left, each with its respective ADS open near the main road.

In Forli, 5 MDS was open for battle casualties in a former working men's club and 6 MDS for sickness cases in a maternity hospital. Both the MDS and ADS of 4 Field Ambulance were closed and in reserve. 1 Mobile CCS succeeded 5 Field Ambulance as the occupants of a large school building in Forli, to treat battle casualties and evacuate direct to 1 NZ General Hospital by NZ Section MAC as necessary.

On the night of 10-11 December 5 Brigade passed through 46 Division, which had established a bridgehead across the Lamone River to the south-west of Faenza, and was poised to attack towards page 399 Faenza. It was planned that 5 Brigade, with 6 Brigade protecting the right flank, should attack from the bridgehead simultaneously with 10 Indian Division, advance to the Senio River, and isolate Faenza.

The country over which the action took place presented considerable difficulties in the evacuation of casualties. 5 ADS, under Maj R. H. Dawson,1 was in a building on the west side of the Lamone River and south of Faenza. The route of evacuation was along six miles of one-way road, which was extremely rough and deep in mud, and suitable only for vehicles with four-wheel drive. A car post from 4 Field Ambulance, under Capt N. C. Begg,2 was established in a house at the farthest point that could be reached by two-wheel-drive ambulance cars, and the ADS was strengthened by extra jeeps and American Field Service cars.

The building which the ADS had occupied was in direct view of the enemy in Faenza and came in for some shelling before 5 Brigade's attack was launched at 11 p.m. on 14 December. A 40ft by 40ft Red Cross sign was then hung on the north side of the building. Further shelling damaged some of the AFS cars.

When the casualties from the attack began to come in to the ADS at 1 a.m. on 15 December, it was necessary to give them more treatment than was usual at an ADS because of the inevitable delay in getting them back to 5 MDS and 1 Mobile CCS, both of which were in Forli.

When the evacuation route was open for down traffic the patients were sent on to the car post, where they were checked over, resuscitated where necessary, and transferred to two-wheel-drive ambulance cars and taken to Forli when the road was open. Activities at the car post, which handled 116 wounded on 16 December, are described by Capt Begg:

‘The first convoy of wounded came in. They were carried in the Dodges of the American Field Service drivers, who had come over dreadful roads through torrential rain. They were mostly Indians from the sector in the hills on our left. They had had terrible page 400 casualties, and a fair, good-looking English major with both feet mangled by a Schu mine told me he was carried from the field by the last remaining four sepoys of his company. We all worked on these stoical Indians, who were so silent and yet so grateful for any attention. After they had gone we rested a little. As usual in the Eighth Army, it was an international affair. The Indian doctor stood by the fire talking to “Butch”, who was an unmistakable Kiwi. A tall, smooth-faced Texan was helping to reset our table, and chatting to an English orderly. To complete the picture, a Pole, wounded slightly in his seat, was noisily gesticulating as he was carried in, and ineffectually telling people in Italian that he was a Pole and not a German….

‘Each American ambulance carried four stretcher cases and perhaps a couple of sitters. They were often with us, these Yanks, and were old friends of the desert. The first two cases we unloaded from the next convoy were both traumatic amputations of feet. An infantryman, while moving up, had stepped on a Schu mine and blown a foot off. Unhesitatingly, a Yank driver had gone to his assistance. He also lost a foot on a Schu mine. Stretcher-bearers had got them both out of the minefield and they had travelled down together. Both were shocked and wan. The Boss transfused them both, and as they looked at each other across the table, the Yank said, “Blood brothers, huh?” They went on together to Forli….

‘Now rows of Indians and New Zealanders on stretchers lay side by side in the hall, and the sitting wounded had spread into every room. They were methodically examined. Field cards were attached to the clothing of each man, with entries on them telling of wounds and treatments, morphine given and tourniquets applied. Bill and Butch were lighting cigarettes for some; giving hot cocoa, steaming from the cookhouse, to others.

‘So we went on, hour after hour. The fortitude of the patients was enough to make our job worth while. As often as not they smiled and joked with one another, a little relieved that they were not worse off. A jubilant Yank driver pushed back the blackout blanket at the doorway and told us that the Maoris had cut the Via Emilia with a bayonet charge. His eyes were sparkling and he was throwing his arms about excitedly. A quiet Maori voice said, “We're pinned down by the heaviest mortar fire I've ever seen. Lot of wounded waiting for the Doc, and he's been hit, too. We're a long way from the road.” “That'll be the day, when the Ninetieth hold the Maoris up, Hori,” someone said, and the Maori smiled, his perfect white teeth showing up in the dim light.’

After heavy and confused night fighting, 5 Brigade took Celle and then swept north behind Faenza and cut the Via Emilia.

On 16 December 5 ADS moved into a building nearer to Faenza and there experienced two busy days. On the evening of the 16th page 401 the enemy was cleared from Faenza and the evacuation route was shortened. Notable work was performed at the ADS during this difficult period by jeep and ambulance car drivers and the medical orderlies, especially in collecting wounded from the RAPs.