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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Move to the Frontier

Move to the Frontier

On 11 November the New Zealand Division began its approach march by motor transport to the Libyan frontier. The trucks were well loaded with gear, including some stowed away in three wooden racks (two along the sides, one along the front) suspended from the canopy frame. Most of the men's personal gear, other than bedrolls, went in these racks, the remainder being used as additional padding on the tops of boxes and panniers. A member of a group travelling on one of the trucks, Pte F. L. Newcombe,1 of 4 Field Ambulance, gives us the following picture of the journey:

‘In the driver's seat rode our officer, commonly known as “Old Bill”, then the driver, Doug. On the back in a row, lying on their backs as they couldn't sit up beneath the forward rack, were Carv, Bernie, Bill and Jack; then came Vern and “Happy”, one sitting on each side, myself in the centre. At the tail, in a jumble of legs and bodies all their own, were “Butch”, “Curly”, Colin, Al, “Cocoa”—derived from Bournville; while Dave, being NCO in charge, perched here, or stretched yards of body over other people's legs as the night went on. In “civvy street” we numbered ourselves the following occupations: waterside worker, schoolteacher, slaughterman, clerk, railway employees (2), warehouseman's assistant, barber, student demonstrator, upholsterer, bookkeeper, tramway linesman, fire-brigadesman, and apprentice to a maker of wooden clogs….

‘Of the journey that afternoon (and subsequent days and nights) one has the usual glimpses that remain, while other memories have gone. Busy military traffic, both ways; the pink, or cream or red, page 158 sand and rocks and pebbles of the desert country; the last tiny glimpse of white sand and blue sea before the Mediterranean disappeared from view; of a Field Bakery and cries for mungaree; a halt at dark for a snack; the refitting of bodies and legs into a jigsaw puzzle, containable by the truck; the first of a series of desert night rides; the bumps, bangs, and general cold discomfort; curses now and again; memories and tales of Greece cropping up all the time; someone with a remarkable repertoire of songs in which others join when they know them; at length, halts for rest, the digging of slit trenches, and fitful sleep using a steel helmet as a pillow, battle dress as bedding, and the stony ground as a bed.’

1 L-Cpl F. L. Newcombe; born Wellington, 20 Oct 1910; civil servant, Wellington.