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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

In the Peneios Gorge

In the Peneios Gorge

On 16 April the enemy's furious assaults on the tiny force at Platamon reached a climax. A heavy tank and infantry attack drove 21 Battalion back to the historic Vale of Tempe, in the narrow Peneios Gorge, ten miles to the rear.

When Col Kenrick received word that 21 Battalion had been thrown back, he arranged for four ambulance cars to go immediately to the Peneios Gorge and for medical officers and orderlies to be sent from 6 Field Ambulance at dawn to the western end of the gorge to treat and bring back casualties. For this task Lt Sutherland5 was put in charge of an advanced dressing station detachment of 25 men from B Company and two ambulance cars. When they reached the neighbourhood of Rapsane they were unable to set up a dressing station, so the detachment remained on wheels and treated wounded in the ambulances. That night was spent under the artillery hill positions with shells from the opposing forces whining overhead. In the early hours of the morning the men packed up ready to move back, but there was a delay as it was necessary to await the return of Lt Sutherland, who had gone forward for information.

Then, into the little valley where the party waited, came enemy aircraft in force. With a deafening roar of engines and a piercing scream of sirens, the dive-bombers swept into the attack, their machine guns spattering the ground with a deadly hail. In those terrifying moments of fear bordering on panic it seemed that no one could escape, yet no one was hurt. Meanwhile, by sheer weight page 85 of men and metal, the enemy was scattering the New Zealanders and their Australian reinforcements in the Peneios Gorge. Lt Sutherland returned to his detachment with the startling news that the Germans were almost on top of them. The men piled into their vehicles and were away in a few minutes, but they had gone only a few hundred yards when enemy aircraft again attacked them. Scattering to the roadsides, the ambulance men found themselves amongst grim-faced infantry with fixed bayonets. Returning to the vehicles with a number of wounded, they lost no time in getting under way again, and, with only one unit casualty, they ran the gauntlet of further bombing, strafing, and shelling to rejoin their unit.

5 Maj A. W. Sutherland, m.i.d. (2); born NZ, 21 Dec 1915; House Surgeon, Dunedin Hospital; Medical Officer 6 Fd Amb Oct 1940-Sep 1941; 24 Bn Sep 1941-Jul 1942; 3 Gen Hosp Jan 1943-Dec 1944.