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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Across the Idice

Across the Idice

By 20 April forward troops of the Division (5 and 6 Brigades) had cleared Budrio and reached the banks of the Idice River. That night infantry smashed spandau nests and struggled over mines and wire on both floodbanks to force a crossing. Engineers had three bridges open by morning, and 5 and 6 ADSs moved across the river in the afternoon.

The opposition was now staggering before repeated hammer blows. Polish troops had entered Bologna just as Fifth Army troops came in from the south. The Division moved across Route 64, the main Bologna-Ferrara highway, and swung north through San Giorgio, making contact with Fifth Army troops, overrunning enemy rearguards and plunging ahead. It crossed the River Reno and reached the Po just south of Bondeno by 23 April. On this date 4 MDS moved up to San Venanzio, just south of the Reno River.

As it followed the path of the Division on its move to San Venanzio, 4 Field Ambulance saw something of the battlefields. The approach to the Senio was thickly studded with camouflaged dugouts and stiff with wire. The real damage began on the opposite stopbank. It was blackened and scorched and pitted, and the small villages near the bridge had been pounded to so many rubble heaps. The road curved through the rubble mounds, very rutted, dusty, and bumpy. Groups of civilians were already poking hopelessly among the ruins. Beyond this there was an area thoroughly patterned with shell holes and trees slashed and torn by splinters. Here began, too, the carefully marked sets of enemy slit trenches that lined the road on both sides almost to the Po. They were page 417 indicated by tufts of straw on a long stick, so that any driver pressed for time during road strafing could tumble in without any frantic searching. Houses on both sides of the Santerno had been demolished into rounded heaps of rubble, and the makeshift road provided a bouncing way through them. On the formed road again the traffic clotted into a solid mass. The roads were good and tar-sealed, but the edges were crumbling and trucks had to weave from one side to another to pick a smooth passage. The country was still fairly flat and still plentifully besprinkled with trees. Everything within windborne range of the roads became whitened by drifted dust. Dead animals coated with dust lay beside smashed, horse-drawn equipment.

The route then lay through grain-growing country. The dusty, deep-rutted roads made one think of the hold-up there would have been had it rained heavily.

At the Idice there were the same conditions as at previous river crossings. The approaches to the Bailey bridge were very rough and dusty. On the roads were groups of cycling partisans, equipped with weapons and flags, decorated with whiskers and full of song. Sometimes lorry loads of them passed by.

In the villages crowds thronged the pavements to wave to the trucks. The people had not yet pulled down the German notices though all were overjoyed that the Germans had gone. Partisan headquarters were seething with enthusiasm.

By now the Division had advanced so far that the line of evacuation to the CCS at Forli had become particularly long. On 22 April instructions were given that the Light Section was to move fifty miles ahead next morning. Excitement ran high round the unit for a few hours as the necessary equipment was hastily packed and loaded on the trucks. After this the men to travel with the section had to pack their own gear, discarding some of the extras they had accumulated after five months in one place.

Breakfast was at five o'clock next morning, and an hour later the section, under command of Maj Alexander,2 moved off. The journey up through Faenza was full of interest, particularly around the Senio. There was little traffic on the road, and the convoy page 418 made good progress through Castel Bolognese, Imola, Castel San Pietro, and on to the university town of Bologna. This city had fallen to the Fifth Army only two days previously, and the bewildered people cheered wildly as the vehicles passed through—not for many months had they seen so much petrol-driven traffic. Near a small country village named San Marino, the section set up in the beautifully planned grounds of a chateau, and within a few hours the first patients were received.

During the next few days the rest of the unit, with the exception of a small rear party, also moved to the new location and set up in tents. Only a few casualties were received here. These were sent back to the school in Forli where a 100-bed detachment from 2 NZ General Hospital, under Lt-Col Caughey, had taken over as a temporary staging unit. For the first time in its history 2 General Hospital was operating an independent detachment. The hospital at Caserta was now commanded by Col. I. S. Wilson.3