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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Desert Hospital at Gerawla

page 156

Desert Hospital at Gerawla

In November 2 General Hospital, under Col Spencer, left Maadi to establish a tented hospital in the Western Desert. The site was near Mersa Matruh, at Gerawla. A few trees growing near the water point gave that lonely little station its only and considerable mark of distinction. Beside the railway ran the road, and just beyond the road, behind a well-built embankment, was the site chosen for 2 General Hospital.

Arriving at Gerawla on 4 November, everybody set to work unloading the 200 tons of equipment from the trucks, erecting bivouac tents, and preparing the site. During the initial period 60 men of the newly formed 1 NZ Casualty Clearing Station were attached to the unit and provided willing help.

Hard manual work continued for the next three weeks—in spite of the heat and the rocky ground, the men worked hard with pick and shovel to excavate sites for wards as a protection against bomb damage. Graders and steam rollers came to their aid, while gangs of native labourers worked spasmodically. The theatre block, comprising operating theatre, plaster-room, X-ray unit and resuscitation ward, was dug out to a depth of six feet, and the cookhouses and telephone exchange sunk to a depth of four to five feet. All these dugouts were roofed with corrugated iron. Many other tents were sunk to a depth of three feet. The staff dug away the ground under their bivouacs, individual rivalry producing comfortable quarters, in some of which there was standing room. Ward tents were laced and laid out, ready to erect at a moment's notice, and equipment was distributed so that the unit was soon ready to function. Deficiencies were rectified by using odds and ends of material salvaged from nearby areas.

The hospital site was laid out in the form of a cross, the administrative offices forming a small central cross and the ward tents a larger one. It was thought that the nature of the unit would be recognised from the air, especially when the roofs of the tents were painted red. By 23 November, when the sisters rejoined the unit, the digging in of tent sites and the erection of tents was completed and the hospital ready to take patients. The opening ceremony was held—only 20 days after the unit first arrived. The flag was broken out on a beautiful day, the bright sunshine, crisp air, page 157 and sparkling blue vista of the Mediterranean combining as a happy augury for the future work of the hospital. The sisters gave a tea party to mark the occasion.

Towards evening a plane passed overhead towards the railway station and appeared to be back-firing rather badly. Sisters, ever solicitous for the wellbeing of the Air Force, and also with their fair share of feminine curiosity, rushed outside their tents to see what was happening, talking altogether in the way that women sometimes do, when a masculine voice of authority shouted, ‘Tell those —-girls to take cover! Jerry is machine-gunning the station!’ With more haste than dignity they did as they were bid, but it was many months before they could live down the incident.