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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

5 Field Ambulance Brings up the Rear

5 Field Ambulance Brings up the Rear

For more than a week the men of 5 Field Ambulance, under Lt-Col Twhigg, were employed in route marches and other training at Amiriya. Similar training had been done at Helwan while the unit collected its stores and equipment after its sea voyage from England.

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Repacked and with canopies dropped to the level of cabs, unit vehicles, with as much of the equipment as possible, were sent to Alexandria on 19 March. The loading of the vehicles on the ships was most unsatisfactory. Many trucks had to dump their loads on the wharf, then vehicle and load were shipped separately. Previous experience of loss of equipment gave rise to concern as to what would happen at the port of disembarkation.

On 25 March 5 Field Ambulance learned that it would embark with other troops on the Hellenic Steamship Company's Korinthia, a passenger ship of approximately 2600 tons. The move began on the morning of the 26th. Embarkation was completed, and the transport pulled away from the docks in the afternoon to join the convoy and naval escort. One of the four escorting destroyers was a ‘flak’ ship, specially equipped to deal with attacks from the air.

With 54 officers and 987 other ranks crowded into holds, on decks, and in every available corner, the Korinthia was a very full ship. Facilities for washing were completely inadequate, as also were other sanitation arrangements. There were no messing facilities, and the ship's galley provided only hot water for tea. Rations consisted of bully beef and Army biscuits.

Early in the evening of 28 March an enemy bomber sneaked in out of the sun and launched a torpedo at the leading destroyer, the ship evading it by a quick turn. All escort ships opened fire on the aircraft and drove it off. It was learned later that the convoy had turned back from its original course so as to leave the seas clear for the Mediterranean Fleet, under Admiral Cunningham, to engage the Italian fleet in a very successful action known as the Battle of Cape Matapan. In the absence of the British Fleet the convoy might have been destroyed.

The ships reached Piraeus on the evening of 29 March without further incident, and disembarkation began immediately. Because of the troops' apparently unheralded arrival, no trucks were there to meet them, and they had to cover the ten and a half miles to the assembly camp at Hymettus on foot.

For all, the first sight of Greece was memorable—verdant hills, with high mountain ranges in the distance and the sun glinting on the snow. The town of Piraeus was humble and unprepossessing but Athens had a noble air—long avenues of trees, plantations, parks and gardens, grey stone houses with red tiled roofs, and page 68 cheerful smiling Greeks. The Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon, dominated the city.