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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

1 General Hospital at Pharsala

1 General Hospital at Pharsala

From the beginning of April patients were sent back by the field ambulances to 1 General Hospital at Pharsala. The choice of a site for 1 General Hospital was difficult and involved some delay, but when a decision was made in favour of Pharsala, the members of the unit, arriving there on 22 March, set about establishing a hospital.

The site at Pharsala, where Julius Cæsar defeated Pompey, was 130 miles north-west of Athens, in a long valley with a small river flowing briskly over a gravel bed. In the north, parallel with the river, the ground rose sharply to end in a broken granite ridge about 900 feet high. The first few hundred yards from the water was well grassed and drained. This was the area selected for the men's tents. To the south the land rolled back in steadily rising hillocks, interspersed with ridges at right angles to the stream, to a rocky formation some 1200 feet high. The distance from the river to the place where the country became too steep for use was about 700 yards. In the east was a fair-sized creek running into the river, and beyond it the ground rose sharply in hills of about 500 feet. The distance from this creek to the main road to Athens was one and a half miles. A standard gauge railway ran south six miles away. This was crossed by a metre-gauge line, the nearest station of which was three miles from the hospital. A loop siding gave access to both lines and provided accommodation for Greek page 78 ambulance trains which were already in commission on both gauges. The village of Pharsala was two miles away.

The whole area, though not wooded, afforded good cover from aerial observation, and the digging-in of tents made them moderately safe from air attack. Nearly all the wards were sited in places where they could not be seen from the road. All ward and staff tents were dispersed at intervals of 100 yards or more.

In tents on a farm, the unit, in spite of difficulties and inadequacies, set about establishing hospital arrangements which compared not unfavourably with those of a permanent institution. Shepherds led their sheep and goats nearby to the sweet tones of many little bells. Elderly washerwomen and boys with baskets of oranges visited the hospital. Occasionally, storks flapped around in pairs, and in the evening the croak of frogs disturbed the peace.

Pharsala could be reached by a donkey track over a big hill behind the hospital. It had a little town square surrounded by small shops and coffee houses; a radio roared its bulletins about an uneasy Europe.

On 1 April orders were received that 24 British CCS and 189 British Field Ambulance, both stationed outside Larissa, would evacuate cases to 1 General Hospital the following day by motor ambulance convoy. Accommodation was then available for 180 patients. Seventy-two patients were admitted the next day, and by 6 April the hospital was able to take 490 patients. The first serious case was an Italian airman who was shot down in the vicinity that day. On 4 April the sisters rejoined the unit. They had reached Athens on 27 March after an uneventful journey and had been quartered in billets at Kephissia for a few days.