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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

The Sisters

The Sisters

The New Zealand sisters, along with the other sisters from Greece, went temporarily to 7 British General Hospital near Canea when they reached Crete. This hospital was still being set up and had then been open only a week. Without a nursing staff, it had been receiving from 300 to 400 patients daily. Miss Mackay immediately assumed the duties of Matron and organised the nursing staff from English, Australian and New Zealand sisters. The surgical wards and theatres were staffed entirely by New Zealand sisters, and the officer in charge of the surgical division stated that he had never been so well served by any other theatre staff, either in civilian practice or in the Army.

Miss Mackay, with her cheerfulness, tact, and coolness at the most difficult times, set a standard which could not fail to be an page 118 inspiration to all who were associated with her. All the sisters frequently had to take shelter in crops and olive groves during air raids, but not one complained. Excellent work was done by Sister M. E. Jackson1 while in charge of the operating theatre.

Fortunately the weather was fine; in fact, it was hot and dusty. The wind was a nuisance, for it raised the dust in the daytime and made the temperature cold at night; there seemed always to be a breeze from the sea or from the highlands. Many sisters will recall the earnestness and sincerity of the church service held in the open air on their first and only Sunday morning in Crete.

It was a blessing that it did not rain, as all meals were eaten outside, and after two nights in tents the sisters vacated them to make room for patients. They made their beds on the ground and hung their few possessions where they could.

On 28 April it was decided to move the New Zealand sisters to billets in Galatas, where the New Zealand headquarters was established at the time, about a mile and a half from the hospital. The bags and the disabled sisters went by the only available truck; the remainder straggled up the hill in the heat of the day.

The stay at Galatas was short, for the sisters were sent on to Egypt by Col Kenrick as soon as possible. At 4 a.m. on 29 April they were called and before dawn were away in trucks heading for Suda Bay. As they sat around at the port for a few hours waiting to embark, they saw walking wounded coming down from the hills, where they had taken refuge after the Navy had brought them from Greece. At 9 a.m. they embarked, this time on the small Greek ship Ionia, about the size of New Zealand's Tamahine.

There were hundreds on board (180 sisters, 500 walking wounded, and 200 fit men), but the crew, fearful of raids, had fled to the hills, so volunteers stoked the ship. Australians were in charge and gave the sisters the few available cabins. They were resting places but proved very hot and stuffy under blackout conditions at night. The voyage was a slow one. The first night was one of apprehension for there were enemy air attacks, but later a strong naval escort was provided and the rest of the voyage was calm and quiet. Just over 48 hours after leaving Crete, the ship arrived at Alexandria page 119 on 1 May, all on board safe and glad to be back in Egypt. Although a bit dishevelled and many of them hatless, the sisters were glad to see familiar faces on the wharf. Miss Nutsey, Matron-in-Chief, welcomed them at Alexandria, and showed her obvious relief at their return after being ‘lost’.

1 Matron Miss M. E. Jackson, RRC; born Auckland, 11 Jan 1900; Sister, Auckland Hospital; Sister 1 Gen Hosp May 1940-Apr 1942; Charge Sister 3 Gen Hosp Apr 1942-Nov 1943; Matron 3 Gen Hosp Nov 1943-Jul 1945.