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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

Move Into Libya

Move Into Libya

All three New Zealand field ambulances and the Mobile Surgical Unit were concentrated on 18 November, 20 miles west of Conference Cairn. One company from each field ambulance was then detached and came under command of its respective brigade. These companies moved into Libya with their brigades on the night of 18-19 November.

‘That night the whole visible world around us seemed to be moving on wheels,’ wrote Pte Newcombe. ‘There were lines of vehicles, sometimes roaring as they sped ahead or, faltering, took some rise, or with grinding brakes descended a faintly glimpsed declivity. In this manner we crossed the Wire, dust in the air, a cloudy sky, lights of traffic colour guides, occasional bangs and flashes, these last the subject of many surmises.

‘With daylight dispersal, the column's vehicles were scattered over a huge area of undulating ground as far as the eye could see. That morning the first patients were received.

‘The afternoon was notable for two investigating Messerschmitts who, like angry silver hornets, darted down from the clouds, but being met by a cone of ack-ack fire, quickly made for cloud cover and were off. Our own bombers with fighter escort passed over in numbers that seemed unreal to us with our memories of Greece—was the boot really on the other foot? At 3 p.m. the brigade group moved north about twelve miles and they lay up in laager until 1.30 p.m. on 21 November.

‘As we moved forward on 21 November we suddenly came across many tank tracks and heaps of empty tins and scattered wrappers. Halting here, we got down and looked them over—tins of peach jam and tomatoes were both Italian make; cigarette packets were Austrian; chocolate wrappers came from Bordeaux, while sausages, naturally, were German.’

page 159

The main bodies of the three field ambulances, the Mobile Surgical Unit, and 4 Field Hygiene Section crossed the wire on 21 November and dispersed that night near Point 187. Next morning the medical group moved on in desert formation to a point south-west of Sidi Azeiz crossroads. West of Sidi Omar the convoy had to make a deviation to avoid enemy shellfire from a battle then in progress in that area. It was planned to set up a chain of dressing stations, with one every 25 miles, back to the casualty clearing stations near the frontier. While 5 Field Ambulance, under Lt-Col Twhigg, moved back to Point 187 to set up an MDS, 4 Field Ambulance, under Lt-Col Tennent, opened an MDS eight miles south-west of Sidi Azeiz. The Mobile Surgical Unit, under Maj Furkert, was attached to 4 MDS, and 6 Field Ambulance was in reserve.

The Mobile Surgical Unit, the only unit of its kind in the Eighth Army, was attached to the field medical units to carry out major forward surgery of all types. It carried elaborate equipment in a specially designed van, and also a valuable extra supply of water. It was fully mobile and self-contained and had a picked staff of surgeons and nursing orderlies.