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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Excitement at a Car Post

Excitement at a Car Post

During the afternoon of 16 April 4 MDS closed, and in heavy rain it withdrew at eleven o'clock that night, leaving a car post at HQ 5 Infantry Brigade and another at Kokkinoplos to evacuate casualties from 23 Battalion. To relieve the men already maintaining the car post at Kokkinoplos, a stretcher party went forward, arriving at the post—in the village school—just as darkness began to fall.

‘When my own party moved forward,’ said Pte Fleming, ‘it was to a village (Kokkinoplos) half-way up the slopes of Mount Olympus. We began the climb, by ambulance, in pouring rain. As the road became even steeper so it became muddier and more nearly impassable. There were bends so sharp that they seemed impossible to negotiate. More than once we had to “put our shoulders to it”, scrambling, cursing, in the mud. The cold was biting, and we were glad indeed to reach our base, which we did just as darkness began to fall. The village school was our stretcher-bearer post. Joy of joys, fires were alight, and the classrooms in which we camped were cheerily warm, though the wind whistled through the cracks in the floorboards. We found our mates, whom we were to relieve, busily drying their clothing before the stoves. They had had an exceedingly hard carry, it seemed, working in rough mountain country, and with a long distance to march. “I'd never honestly seen mud knee-deep before,” said one, “but I waded through oceans of it today.” And it seemed he had, for he was using a pocket knife to clean his trousers from the knee down.

‘We settled down on the hard boards to sleep, ringed about the fires, while outside the rain fell steadily. Some thirsty soul found the caretaker and whispered longingly of cognac in his ear. “Yes, page 86 yes,” said the worthy, “Cognac. Good, give me a hundred drachmae.” There was a hasty consultation in the darkness, from somewhere came the money, and very shortly there was cognac.

‘Little sleep was permitted us that night. Towards midnight there began a resounding series of crashes in the rest of the building. Our men were falling back, seeking shelter in the school. Morning found us so nearly in the front line that it did not much matter. The school was packed with weary, mud- and rain-soaked men—men who had been in action day and night without sleep, without rest, for over 48 hours.

‘Water was put on to boil, and hot drinks were quickly prepared for as many as possible. The enemy was pressing on, they said, creeping unseen, and often unheard, through the mist and rain. Our men were holding him just beyond the village. Outside on the muddied slopes men were preparing to fight again. The mountain, the village, the advancing foe, all were hidden in the thick rolling mist.

‘Soon a runner appeared. There were shouted orders, and out into the fog again went the weary men, tired almost beyond endurance, but still keen to give the enemy all and more than he could take. “You medical orderlies had better clear out,” said the MO. “The enemy's entering the village.” The ambulance moved out, while seemingly only a few yards away, but unseen, tommy-guns and rifles began a deadly chorus.’