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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Part of Medical Units

Part of Medical Units

In the actual movement around the flank of the enemy line there were no battle casualties, and the medical units were not called upon until the Division deployed across the enemy's line of retreat west of Agheila on the night of 15 December. That night 6 MDS, with a surgical team and transfusion unit attached, opened 2 miles west of Divisional Headquarters. An ADS company went with 6 Brigade as it moved north to cut the main road, and another company went with 5 Brigade when it took up a position northeast of Divisional Headquarters, but separated from 6 Brigade by a gap of 6 miles. The MDS of 14 Light Field Ambulance of 4 Light Armoured Brigade was located 2 miles south-west of Divisional Headquarters and opened with arrangements to send all cases to 6 MDS. In reserve 10 miles east of Divisional Headquarters was 5 Field Ambulance, but because of a threat by an enemy column this group moved a further 10 miles back during the night.

From engagements on the morning of 16 December there were twenty-three battle casualties admitted to 6 MDS through the ADSs. One AFS ambulance car, with an American driver, a New Zealand orderly, and three patients en route from 6 ADS to 6 MDS, was captured by a German column. On 17 December the sick and wounded, totalling 84, were placed in charge of A Company 6 Field Ambulance, which was instructed to go back by the divisional route. The track proved so rough and so hard on the wounded that the OC, Major R. A. Elliott, decided to cut across down the Marada track to the coast road at Agheila, where the leading units of 51 Division were contacted and the patients handed over to 16 MAC. The ADS then rejoined the Division by the coast road, following closely behind the mine-clearing parties.

When the Division moved to the west of Nofilia on the morning of 17 December 6 MDS, with a surgical team and 2 FTU, opened 8 miles south-west of Nofilia. Here thirty wounded from 4 Light Armoured Brigade were admitted, and here at an isolated spot in the Tripolitanian desert seriously wounded men received high-grade surgery in what was really a field hospital. Severe cases, including brain wounds, were operated on within a short time of being wounded, and received the benefit of blood transfusions and the most modern drugs.

Evacuation of the serious cases was effected by two Red Cross planes from Nofilia aerodrome on 21 December after the New Zealand Engineers had formed a track across the rough desert with bulldozers. The remainder of the patients (81) at 6 MDS were evacuated that day by road convoy to Marble Arch after the road had been cleared of mines. A few miles west of Marble Arch 4 Field page 410 Ambulance was acting as a Corps MDS, with one company at Marble Arch airfield as an air evacuation centre. From the aerodrome all cases were flown further back to El Adem by transport planes on their return trips after bringing up supplies. This was a more or less impromptu arrangement by 4 Field Ambulance which worked most satisfactorily, and resulted in the evacuation of 253 patients in six days.

On 21 December 2 NZ Division moved to the coastal area near Nofilia and 5 Field Ambulance opened an MDS, with 6 Field Ambulance remaining closed alongside. Thereafter until the end of December, while the position remained static, 5 MDS treated a constant small stream of casualties resulting from mine explosions. Moving further west on 26 December, 4 Field Ambulance rejoined the Division, while on 22 December 14 Light Field Ambulance had reverted with 4 Light Armoured Brigade to the command of 7 Armoured Division further forward.

The battle casualties and sick handled by the two New Zealand medical units in the Agheila operation from 11 to 21 December totalled 104 and 164, of whom 69 and 149 respectively were New Zealanders.

In regard to administration generally, ADMS 2 NZ Division was pleased to make the comment: ‘The Division was never better served by Corps and Army than in this period. Supplies were adequate and came forward quickly, extra ambulances were provided early, so that even in the long desert move we felt quite happy and confident that we could deal with all possible casualties; air evacuation was arranged quickly in answer to our signals.’