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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Events in the Withdrawal

Events in the Withdrawal

To ensure that there would be sufficient room in the trucks for the wounded and all members of the unit, 4 Field Ambulance jettisoned large quantities of medical equipment and personal kit, retaining only a minimum of medical essentials, before withdrawing that night. Massed convoys moving south made the 80-mile journey to Thebes a most difficult one, but by six o'clock next morning the unit got into concealment alongside 2/1 Australian Field Ambulance, some 15 miles south of Thebes.

‘When we left the Thermopylae line at 10 p.m. on 22 April,’ said Capt J. R. J. Moore,17 ‘we knew that our time for evacuation was growing shorter and shorter. Our mess became more and more exiguous. An exhausted quartermaster was at one stage heard to declare, “—- the rations,” which was a mighty serious statement for a “Q” to make!

‘The trip was fairly satisfactory, but we saw two signs of fifth-column activity. One was the flashing of lights continually signalling from village to village and from hilltop to hilltop. The other was an early morning incident when Maj McQuilkin produced a miraculous cure of an apparently disabled truck blocking our road by smashing the windscreen with his revolver butt. Both the driver and the engine sprang to life, and the road was clear again.

‘We next fell in with the headquarters of an Aussie field ambulance beyond Thebes and the pass near Villia. Here we lay up in a valley of low scrub and trees for two days, officers and men alike unseeable and unavailable during the daytime, except when tea was brewing or when the sky had been free from aeroplanes for a long stretch. Many were the timid who stood revealed in those days, when German aeroplanes harried the countryside without opposition and almost completely prevented daylight movement by road of any sort. We needed air support, and we did not get it. At this time we heard of a general Greek surrender to Germany.’

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Anticipating a night withdrawal on the 22nd, 6 Field Ambulance buried equipment and medical supplies and an assortment of personal gear. 4 Field Hygiene Section, members of which were to travel in 6 Field Ambulance transport, destroyed its trucks, disinfestor, and other equipment. As ordered, the field ambulance transport moved on to the road that evening, but a few minutes later the convoy was stopped, the DADMS having brought orders from Col Kenrick postponing the move for 24 hours. The field ambulance and the hygiene section were to come under the command of 5 Brigade and retire with that group.

In the morning the buried equipment was dug up and resorted; surgical haversacks were distributed around the trucks and a few instruments retrieved. The men took what they stood up in and, in addition, a greatcoat and a blanket. Similar scenes were being enacted in the 5 Field Ambulance area, for that unit also was to move with 5 Brigade. As only a limited amount of equipment and stores could be carried during the withdrawal, a quantity was placed in a building and a Red Cross flag fastened to the door with a note ‘thanking German airmen for respecting the Geneva Convention’. Material not in this category, including many personal belongings, was made unserviceable in accordance with Corps orders.

The ⅔ Australian CCS at Levadhia having closed, arrangements were made for the 40-odd patients in the 5 Field Ambulance MDS at Kamena Voula to be evacuated to 26 General Hospital at Kephissia. The problem of transporting the wounded was eased considerably by the appearance of four Australian ambulance cars, one of which was sent forward immediately to clear the 4 Field Ambulance ADS. This and the other ambulance cars were to travel in the 5 Field Ambulance convoy as far as Athens, and then break off and take the patients to 26 General Hospital. Two unit ambulance cars were to remain and work under the orders of Capt Macfarlane,18 who was to act as medical officer to a rear demolition party of New Zealand engineers.

Although delayed in getting under way that evening by an air raid near HQ 5 Infantry Brigade, the convoy made good progress along the crowded highway through Atalante, Levadhia, and page 100 Thebes to Athens. The medical section of the convoy included eight ambulance cars for the collection of wounded en route.

17 Maj J. R. J. Moore; born Dunedin, 15 Aug 1915; House Surgeon, Dunedin Hospital; Medical Officer 4 Fd Amb Feb-Jun 1941; Div Cav Jun 1941-Jun 1943; 2 Gen Hosp Jun 1943-May 1945; wounded 15 Jan 1943.

18 Maj T. A. Macfarlane, m.i.d.; born Scotland, 21 Jan 1911; Medical Practitioner, Auckland; Medical Officer HQ NZ Engineers Aug 1940-Aug 1941; DADMS 2 NZ Div Aug 1941-Mar 1943.