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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

5 Field Ambulance Moves to Modhion

5 Field Ambulance Moves to Modhion

At first 5 Field Ambulance was situated near the coast at Ay Marina between 4 Brigade, around Canea, and 5 Brigade, in the Platanias-Maleme area to the west. Then, on 17 May, at a conference at HQ 5 Brigade, it was agreed that the location of the MDS at Ay Marina was too insecure and insufficiently protected by the troops deployed in the defensive positions, and that CO 5 Field Ambulance should reconnoitre a site near the village of Modhion, where 5 Brigade units would be between the MDS and the coast. As a pillion-rider on a motor cycle, Lt-Col Twhigg surveyed the area and chose a site on the outskirts of Modhion, near a road running south from the main Canea-Maleme road. The distance in a straight line from Maleme airfield was about two and a half miles. Towards the coast, in undulating country, Maoris and Engineers were dug in, and beyond them to the west was the rest of 5 Brigade.

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A two-storied house, the local choropsolakia or gendarmerie, was taken over to accommodate the receiving and dressing stations and the more serious cases, further accommodation being made available in the basements of nearby houses and in tents. The unit moved in on the afternoon of 17 May, after a march from Ay Marina. Its transport then consisted of one 15-cwt. truck only, but vehicles of an ASC unit were also used to carry such equipment as the unit had by then gathered together.

In the main, the medical equipment was that carried out of Greece, and consisted of 15 surgical haversacks and three medical companions, supplemented by sets of surgical instruments supplied personally by various medical officers. Some supplies of dressings had been obtained on the island, but these were very limited, and an allotment of Red Cross stores, mainly bandages and dressings, had arrived from Egypt a few days previously. Only 20 stretchers had been retained, along with a proportionate quota of blankets, but these had been supplemented by 50 stretchers and 100 blankets from 7 General Hospital, which had also supplied bandages and dressings and an invaluable drum of plaster of Paris.

Upon the establishment of 5 MDS at Modhion, this equipment enabled the medical officers to do major surgery in a small room which was prepared as an operating theatre. The operating table was improvised from a door supported on boxes, and sterilisers were made from petrol tins. There were no rubber gloves and a very limited supply of antiseptics was available.

From the MDS at Modhion a long ridge extended northwards towards the sea. To the east was a steep, narrow valley carrying a good road, which turned westwards into the village above the MDS, from which it was possible to overlook the small dome of the church at Pirgos and to glimpse the sea, the beach being hidden by a fold in the ground. A portion of the ridge a short distance northwards provided gun positions for several captured Italian guns without sights. The surrounding slopes were steeply terraced, and the southern extension of the valley was occupied by a very old olive grove, whose hollow trees and recumbent lower branches afforded excellent shelter for those not immediately needed in the work of the dressing station.

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The tempo and intensity of the air attack, mostly in the early mornings, increased sharply, though little damage or casualties resulted because of the excellent concealment and the haphazard nature of the bombing. The puncture of a quartermaster's treasured lilo was among the more serious results of these early-morning attacks at Modhion.