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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy



In spite of Italian promises, no water or food reached the captured medical centre by 5 December and the patients were desperate, some having swollen and cracked tongues. After the evening meal that day the quartermaster announced that there were only 30 gallons of water left for a total of 860 patients and staff. As this was not enough to give all the patients even their limited ration the next day, the Italians decided to move everyone from the wadi as soon as they could bring in enough vehicles.

page 176

That night there was much activity among the Italians, but the New Zealanders took little notice of it as British planes had been bombing and strafing each night and the Italians would hastily change their positions. However, next morning there was no sign of the Italians, and at eight o'clock some British troops of 7 Armoured Division drove over the western escarpment and those in ‘Shellfire Wadi’ were relieved.

Nobody became excited as everything happened so quietly, and very soon there was plenty of work for the medical orderlies to do. Transport was called for by radio, and during the morning 19 three-ton trucks and three ambulance cars arrived. These, together with three or four of the remaining New Zealand trucks in tow, were loaded with about 510 wounded and 210 medical personnel and moved off to the south in the middle of the afternoon. The most serious cases, the patients of the Mobile Surgical Unit, were held back for the ambulance convoy which arrived later. By six o'clock this convoy also headed back to the Egyptian border with all patients and staff on board, and Shellfire Wadi, which had seen so much feverish activity, was deserted.

The convoys reached the chain of medical services, British and South African, near the frontier wire, and the patients next day received full medical care from 7 South African CCS and 14 British CCS. The remnants of the medical group returned to Baggush, which they had left so full of hope only four weeks before.