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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Evacuation of Patients to Hospital Ship

Evacuation of Patients to Hospital Ship

On 19 January 1945 the hospital ship Maunganui, with Lt-Col F. O. Bennett7 in charge, and Matron G. L. Thwaites,8 reached Taranto on her fourteenth voyage, and in the afternoon disembarked over 200 Yugoslav patients who had been brought from Port Tewfik. Then, in five hours, the medical staff prepared the wards for the reception next day of 318 New Zealand and five Australian patients from 3 General Hospital at Bari and the Convalescent Depot at San Spirito. This work involved the stripping of all beds, washing down walls and bed frames with disinfectant, remaking beds, and restocking all ward supplies.

Cpl Kilroy9 has pictured for us the scene at 3 General Hospital next morning.

‘It is not yet dawn. No gleam of approaching day brightens the eastern sky, but from the hospital itself fingers of light stretch out into the mist of a winter's morning. At this hour all should be quiet and still, but today white-clad figures are hurrying to and fro, and an air of scarcely suppressed excitement prevails. This is a day of days—for men are going home.

‘Already in a nearby port, a trim white ship, bearing the Red Cross emblem, is tied up at a wharf in readiness to receive its complement of patients.

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‘For weeks there has been speculation among staff and patients as to the name of the ship, the probable date of departure, who will go and who will stay, and now the great day has come. Nurses and orderlies are busily preparing for the evacuation. Men must be washed, fed, dressed. Stretcher-bearers in organised teams are allotted their duties in the various wards. Already a long line of ambulances is on its way to the hospital; the moment of departure is very near.

‘Behind these last-minutes scenes of concentrated effort are many hours of toil on the part of the whole staff (and of the office of the Director of Medical Services, too). Apart from the care of the sick and wounded, much routine work has been necessary. Medical boards have considered each case, typists have prepared the numerous forms required, clerks have worked long hours in checking documents and preparing rolls, the dental staff have given each man any dental attention needed, while the Quartermaster's department has completely re-equipped each soldier.

‘And now they are on the move. Last goodbyes are said, and though not many words are spoken, hand meets hand as men who have forged ties of friendship amid the heat of battle are now separated for a time. Already the medical officers, sisters, nurses, orderlies, and others who have ministered to the needs of the departing patients will have bidden them a quiet farewell.

‘The patients make a grim procession—some on stretchers, some on crutches, some minus a limb or an eye, others showing the ravages of diseases not known in their native country. Yet their bearing reveals no fear for the future. Rapidly the waiting ambulances are filled, the Padre is busy giving out cigarettes, sweets, and Red Cross comforts for the journey to the ship. Those who go and those who stay wave cheerily as the convoy moves slowly on its way. For the staff another evacuation to hospital ship is completed, and they turn back to their normal duties again.’