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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

2 General Hospital Goes to Nazareth

page 200

2 General Hospital Goes to Nazareth

In order to be nearer the Division, 2 General Hospital left Gerawla by train at the end of March for Nazareth. A long and tedious journey brought the unit from Egypt to Palestine, and the new site was reached at midnight on 2 April. The hospital was housed in three hotel buildings, each three or four storeys high—‘Terra Santa’, the medical and administrative block, ‘Casa Nova’, the surgical block, and ‘Adriatic’, the reception and isolation block. The male staff were quartered in a school, the sisters in a stone building, a former Italian convent for orphans, where Australians had lived previously, and the officers in a monastery.

The unit settled into its new quarters smoothly and was pleased to be working under the best of conditions. The admission of patients began on 9 April. They came by train from the CCS at Zahle on a narrow-gauge railway that ran through Damascus to Affule, about nine miles from the hospital. By the end of April there were 173 patients and by the middle of June 578—British and New Zealand troops.

The hospital was situated next to the Arab quarter, whose narrow, cobblestone alleyways were used as stock routes for the animals going to and from the homes they shared with their owners; the alleys also served as the handiest tip for rubbish and food scraps, which would not be swept away for a couple of days. These factors, and the display of uncovered food, sugar, sticky dates, meat, and cake in the markets, provided as good an attraction for flies as can be imagined. By a persistent defence the staff were able to keep the hospital and their quarters almost entirely free of them.

To most the town of Nazareth was a disappointment. The name conjured up sacred memories and hallowed associations, so that all expected something out of the ordinary—some beautiful little village nestling in the hills. Perhaps it used to be like that, but the New Zealanders found a typical ‘wog’ town, scattered on three sides of a valley. The town itself was dirty with rough, narrow streets winding tortuously beneath overhanging windows, from which at any moment might descend the household's daily refuse. Mangy dogs roamed about, pawing through heaps of refuse at the street corners. However, the people were found to be a better type and more independent than the Egyptians, and the pleasant countryside page 201 invited walks and excursions. One feature of Nazareth that will be remembered was the ringing of church bells at all times of the day.

In May 42 nurses of the NZ WWSA were first posted to 2 General Hospital. At first their accommodation was cramped, but the male staff moved from the school building to the huts of an Austrian hospice, and the school quarters, refurbished and renovated, became the home of the VADs.

The Austrian hospice was a mile from the hospital, which meant that the men when leaving for work in the morning had to be prepared not to go back until evening. Apart from the distance, which was a source of grievance, the change was undoubtedly good for the men, as they were billetted on a hillside shaded by trees and nearly always kept fresh by a breeze.

The canteen suffered in patronage from the competition of local restaurants, but the day was saved by the introduction of housie, a game not exploited by the Palestinian.

Leave to Syria was opened at the end of May, and in addition the staff were able to explore Palestine. The unit was in Nazareth in the spring, when most days were sunny and when the country was clothed in the green of growing grain, variegated by an abundance of wild flowers of every colour. Pleasant walks could be taken in almost any direction.