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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Sinking of SS Chakdina

Sinking of SS Chakdina

At half past five on the afternoon of 5 December the SS Chakdina left Tobruk harbour carrying 380 wounded, of whom 97 were New Zealanders. The Chakdina was not a hospital ship, but her use had been arranged by the British ADMS in Tobruk. In addition to the wounded she had on board some officers and men who were going to Baggush to resume duties with HQ 2 NZ Division. Among them were Maj M. Williams, OC 4 Field Hygiene Section, WO I R. W. Cawthorn,18 and two men of ADMS's staff. Just after nine o'clock an enemy plane released a torpedo, which exploded in one of the after holds of the Chakdina. She sank within three and a half minutes. There was very little chance of escape, except for those who were unwounded or only lightly wounded, and who were in a favourable position at the time. Only 18 of the New Zealand wounded were picked up by the destroyer HMS Farndale, which also rescued all except one of the Divisional Headquarters medical staff. The survivors reached Alexandria on 7 December, and the casualties were admitted to the detachment of 3 NZ General Hospital there. The sinking of the Chakdina was the only major misfortune in the evacuation of New Zealand wounded during the war.

18 Lt R. W. Cawthorn, MBE; born England, 3 Mar 1907; assurance officer, Wellington; NCO 4 Fd Amb Oct 1939-1941; Office of ADMS 1941-42; Officer i/c Medical Records 1942-43; Medical Archivist (NZ) 1943-44.