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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Capture of 6 Field Ambulance

Capture of 6 Field Ambulance

The invasion had caught 6 Field Ambulance at breakfast. The men took cover and, while the Luftwaffe roared incessantly overhead, lay hidden in their dugouts and slit trenches and listened to the fury that was loosed above for an hour and a half or more. Some wards and the dispensary and medical store over at 7 General Hospital were set on fire.

A member of 6 Field Ambulance, Cpl P Curtis,3 tells the story of the next stage:

‘After what seemed an eternity things relaxed a little, when suddenly a shadow slipped over our heads and I looked up to see a glider disappearing behind the olive trees, a little too low for comfort. This left no doubt of Jerry's intentions. Paratroops, too, started to appear in the sky like flowers suddenly opening.

‘Shortly after this, shots were exchanged just behind us and coming nearer. Then we heard guttural voices which seemed to come from all directions. We had erected a canvas structure over our beds which was between us and a Jerry. A tommy gun chattered near at hand, and looking up I saw the head and shoulders of a paratrooper with his back to us firing into our bivouac. We jumped out of our trench but were immediately covered by others on the left and right. The one immediately in front swung round…. I felt we were for it, but he aimed a kick at my companion and motioned us to proceed to our ground flag some twenty yards away, where other members of the unit were already seated. The round-up then began in earnest, and presently some 250 patients and staff arrived from the hospital. One gentleman appeared without any pants, but was given permission to retrieve them!

‘The German officer in charge, who could speak reasonable English, then explained the position but seemed rather annoyed at a complete lack of seriousness which came over the company gathered round the flag. Photos were taken and a lunch of bully and biscuits provided, the Jerries helping themselves to the tinned peas and fruit. The officer told us that we had been blitzed because our area was wanted for a seaborne landing, and that we were to be page 124 taken during the night to the plain behind Galatas. He then produced a map of the island showing the location of every well. The deep well which some of our chaps had dug next to the cookhouse to save themselves the trouble of water-carrying was the only one not marked—hence the extra strafing of our “machine-gun nest”.’

Lt-Col Plimmer had been ordered by an enemy parachutist to surrender, and while getting out of his trench unarmed he was shot through the abdomen. He died within a short while.

At 7 General Hospital close by, a wounded German pilot, formerly a patient at the hospital but now armed with a tommy gun, assisted to round up the patients and staff, with whom were the ambulance men quartered at the hospital. It was a grim sight to see charred bodies of patients in some of the burnt-out ward tents, and Pte D. W. Sampson,4 pointing to the many wounded, remonstrated with the Germans, but to no effect. The prisoners from the hospital were also herded around the Red Cross flag in the field ambulance area, although some were able to avoid capture and remained with the more seriously ill hospital patients who could not be moved.

Out in the open the captive party, several hundred in all, remained for some hours gazing into the muzzle of a spandau, with guards armed with tommy guns covering them from the sides. Padre Hopkins,5 with a few men, was permitted to conduct the burial of Lt-Col Plimmer, and Capt Lovell, Lt Ballantyne, and two others were sent under guard to 7 General Hospital to carry out further treatment on a German with a severe chest wound. During the morning several wounded in the area were tended by the medical officers and men of the units.

In the early afternoon the whole party, under cover of the olive trees, was marched off up the valley behind the camps and up the hill ridge leading towards Galatas, carrying with them some of the wounded in blankets and with their German captors distributed along both flanks and in front and rear. In an attempt to shoot the paratroopers, a patrol from 19 Battalion opened fire on the party as they were on the ridge near the top of a hill. The German bringing up the rear of the party was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire across his body, squealed loudly, and fell in his tracks. page 125 Three men from the ambulance were killed and several others wounded. In something of a panic, many yelled to the infantrymen to stop, and they were obliged to hold their fire while the Germans hurried their captives on over the hill.

3 WO I P. Curtis; born Timaru, 16 Mar 1919; medical student, Marton; NCO 6 Fd Amb 1940-41; 1 Mob CCS Oct 1941-May 1945.

4 L-Sgt D. W. Sampson, m.i.d.; born Christchurch, 22 Jun 1915; chemist's assistant, Invercargill.

5 Rev. H. I. Hopkins, m.i.d.; born Dunedin, 30 Aug 1908; Anglican Minister, Temuka; p.w. May 1941.