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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

The Surrender

The Surrender

By 2 May 15 Army Group forces had conquered Italy. The country was entirely in our hands from Messina to the Brenner, from the French border to Trieste. The Germans, cut to pieces, page 424 dazed and despairing, laid down their arms, adding 230,000 prisoners of war to those already taken, and raising the total bag to between 600,000 and 900,000.

In the early morning of 3 May, 6 Field Ambulance reached Monfalcone after a long and tiring run of 114 miles from Padua. April had been a hectic month. The MDS had admitted 1268 patients, 723 of whom had been battle casualties and 545 sick. From Forli the unit had travelled at every speed, from the slowest of crawls to flat out, over roads no more than three days old and others built many centuries before, roads in the last stage of disintegration, and solid roads that carried their traffic with hardly a jar.

Monfalcone was not friendly, and the situation was irksome after Padua's welcome to the New Zealanders. Large numbers of Yugoslav troops were billeted in the town and neighbourhood, and the town hall in the main square was adorned with an immense red star, outlined in electric bulbs, with a large portrait of Tito at the topmost point. Already the walls of buildings were splashed with red pro-Tito slogans, and bi-lingual proclamations in Yugoslav and Italian were everywhere. One forbade any manifestation of national sentiment in the streets. Yugoslav and Italian partisans wandered around, literally bristling with weapons, and all Allied troops were warned against becoming involved with Yugoslav forces or taking part in any political meetings or demonstrations. Similarly in Trieste there was tension, too, and the Division was temporarily committed to a defensive role.

There was little spirit of celebration noticeable when, at noon on 2 May, the Germans in Italy officially surrendered, nor when Winston Churchill announced Victory-in-Europe Day on the 8th. The chances of being involved in more hostilities at any moment seemed by no means slight. The civilians were wildly excited, but amongst the staffs of the medical units there was not the excitement one would have expected. Demonstrations of joy were far more marked when Tripoli had been occupied and when the fall of Tunis had been announced. But that was two years previously. Those two years had been hard and long. Now that they had passed and the end had come, thoughts did not dwell so much on the victory that had been anticipated for so long but rather on going home.

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