Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
5 Field Ambulance
Fifth Brigade's manoeuvres were continued from time to time throughout October. A surprise order to be ready to move early on 25 October caused most units to believe the operation to be a real one, although it was only a practice. During the month several aircraft, both German and British, crashed in the brigade area and several delayed action bombs were located.
Lt-Col Twhigg assumed the appointment of ADMS, NZ Division (UK), but retained command of 5 Field Ambulance. Under arrangements with DDMS 12 Corps, all New Zealand patients were held in special hospitals so that they would not be too scattered. 5 Field Ambulance alone was responsible for the evacuation of casualties from the force's area and for the care of all but serious cases. Two ADSs and an MDS were established. Besides taking patients back to the CCS or to hospital, the unit returned patients from hospital or, when required, transferred them to the Convalescent Home. In addition to the Warbrook Convalescent Home, a camp reception hospital at Farnborough (formerly operated by 1 NZ Convalescent Depot before it went to Egypt, and later by 1 NZ General Hospital) was reopened on 14 October for convalescent patients and was staffed by a detachment from 5 Field Ambulance.
During September and October 186 patients suffering from various injuries, many of them football ones, were admitted to 5 Field Ambulance. A common cause of admission was respiratory disorders, for which during the two months 104 patients were treated, this total including 79 with minor influenzal infections. The total number of cases evacuated by the ambulance beyond unit RAPs2 was 617.
Months passed and winter came. There was still no invasion. The New Zealanders saw a civilian population laugh at bombing, saw a small but courageous Air Force chase the Germans out of the daylight sky, and marked the heroism and self-sacrifice of the page 61 ARP services. And they profited by what they saw. When they came to leave England they breathed something of the same spirit, and they left an excellent impression.
When the New Zealand force returned to the Aldershot Command during the first week of November, the MDS was set up at Runfold and the ADS at Heathcote, and both acted as reception hospitals.
After six months in England a week's leave was granted, with free travelling warrant. Most of the men went to Scotland, though some took the opportunity to visit relatives in other parts of England. One-third of the unit went on leave at a time so that it could still function over the leave period.
Early in December there were rumours of embarkation as equipment was sorted out and general preparations made. Over the Christmas period the English people went to no end of trouble to entertain the New Zealanders, and many were invited to civilian homes for Christmas dinner.
On the night of 1-2 January 1941, units of the Second Echelon began to leave Aldershot Command for ports of embarkation to join the rest of the Division in the Middle East, their original destination. It was the middle of winter and influenza was prevalent. Snow fell in the afternoon of 2 January, when B Company, 5 Field Ambulance, left Heathcote by train for Liverpool, where they embarked on the Athlone Castle the next day. There was further frost and snow on the 3rd, when HQ and A Companies cleared the houses and grounds of ‘Inglewood’ and ‘The Spinney’ at Runfold, marched to Farnham station, and left by train for Newport, Wales, where they embarked on the Duchess of Bedford on the 4th. The next day this ship moved out into the Bristol Channel and then up the Irish Channel to reach Belfast on 7 January, where the Athlone Castle and other ships joined the convoy on the 11th.
On 12 January the convoy sailed from Belfast Loch in the early morning, heading west in a zigzag course and then south. All ranks at first slept in their clothes in the danger zone and wore steel helmets and lifebelts while on deck. The ships' hospital accommodation was taxed by the number of influenza patients, and nursing orderlies from the field ambulance companies were attached to their respective ship's hospitals for duty. When the influenza page 62 abated there was a mild epidemic of measles on board the Duchess of Bedford.
After crossing the Equator on the way south, enjoying leave at Cape Town, and crossing the Equator on the way north again, the convoy reached Port Tewfik on 3 March. As the troops prepared to disembark, they were informed that they would not be long in the country and were advised to take full advantage of any leave granted to them. Units of the New Zealand Division in the Middle East were then leaving Egypt for another theatre of war.