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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Voyage of 4th Reinforcements to Egypt

Voyage of 4th Reinforcements to Egypt

The staff of 3 General Hospital were a small group of 205 among the 4300 troops comprising the third section of the 4th Reinforcements. Most of the unit were in eight-berth cabins on the Nieuw Amsterdam, while about fifty were quartered in a large lounge. Some were not so fortunate, having to sleep in hammocks in somewhat cramped conditions. So large was the number being carried that meals had to be held in three large sittings; purchases at the canteen, wet or dry, meant hour-long waits in endless winding queues.

The voyage to Australia was uneventful, the troops gradually settling down to shipboard life, with its attendant discomforts and advantages. After a brief call at Sydney, with the famous bridge as the main sight, the Nieuw Amsterdam joined a convoy consisting of the Queen Mary, Aquitania, and later the Mauretania. In this exalted company she sailed into Fremantle. Perth hospitality, which by now had become renowned among members of 2 NZEF, was sampled. On the first day in Fremantle no leave was granted to other ranks, but the sisters were permitted to go ashore, provided they were escorted by the CO. Much interest was displayed by all other personnel on the ship at the sight of Col Gower leading a long single file of sisters down the gangway on to the wharf; thence, in and out of various obstacles, to buses, waiting about half a mile away.

After leaving Fremantle the Queen Mary left the convoy to take Australians to Singapore. Bombay was reached on 22 February 1941, and by the 24th all members of the unit had disembarked, the sisters being quartered at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, while the male staff travelled to the Rest and Leave Camp at Deolali. They welcomed the opportunity to visit Bombay and page 23 see the sights of the city, but conditions at Deolali were greeted with little enthusiasm. This introduction to other than European modes of life did not impress any of the unit with the ways of the Eastern native. Views of ‘The Gateway to India’, Malabar Hill, visits to Narsik, or haggling in the bazaars were events to be remembered amidst the vivid contrasts between beauty and sordid filth, colour and drabness.

Deolali was left on 11 March, and the unit embarked on the Empress of Australia at Bombay. One of the other ships of the convoy was the Nieuw Zeeland—loaded with Australians!

As the convoy steamed up the Red Sea, all eyes were turned towards the African coast. The even tenor of the passage, in fierce heat, was broken on only one occasion by an alarm for ‘Action Stations’, with a warning of enemy planes in the offing. The alert passed, however, without incident. Port Tewfik was reached on 23 March. Some 74 ships were counted in the harbour, confounding shipboard rumours that heavy raids had put the port practically out of action.