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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Siting of Medical Units

Siting of Medical Units

When the Division moved up on 1 March both 5 and 6 Brigades had their ADSs, and 5 Field Ambulance under Lieutenant-Colonel McQuilkin opened an MDS within the fortified perimeter of Medenine. It was rather more forward than usual, being within half a mile of 6 ADS and 4 miles of 5 ADS. To the MDS were attached the surgical team from 1 NZ General Hospital and also 2 NZ FTU. With Rear 2 NZ Division, some 30 miles back towards Ben Gardane, were 4 and 6 Field Ambulances and 4 Field Hygiene Section.

From the Corps medical point of view, however, it was considered necessary to have an efficient forward medical area so that patients could be rested, treated and fed, and the major cases operated on before evacuation by a long and rough road to Ben Gardane. An page 422 alternative line of evacuation by the Medenine–Zarsis–Ben Gardane road was considered, but the road became so damaged in the salt pans south of Zarsis that it was considered it would prove inadequate for large numbers of ambulance cars.

At a Corps medical conference called by Brigadier Ardagh a plan was devised to meet the tactical situation and, at the same time, provide a satisfactory medical service for the battle. The 5th British Light Field Ambulance, less three sections, and 151 British Light Field Ambulance were grouped with Light Section 1 NZ CCS as the forward corps medical area, the field surgical unit and field transfusion unit with 151 Light Field Ambulance joining Light Section 1 NZ CCS to form a surgical centre to deal with all necessary surgery. The CO 1 NZ CCS (Lieutenant-Colonel L. J. Hunter) remained to act as SMO Forward Corps Medical Area.

The policy enunciated was that only life-saving and urgent major surgery was to be done and that, until it was seen how the battle developed, all other casualties were to be sent to Rear Medical Area at Ben Gardane as soon as possible after any necessary rest, readjustment, relief of pain, resuscitation, or food had been provided. A control post was established at the western end of the forward area to admit cases firstly to 151 Light Field Ambulance until it was full or working to capacity, when admissions would be diverted to 5 British Light Field Ambulance, all of these patients being recorded as direct Corps admissions. All cases for surgery or major resuscitation were to be transferred at once to the Light Section 1 NZ CCS surgical centre. A track was marked from this area north-east to the Zarsis road to permit the medical units to withdraw if necessary without having to go north-west and then east by the main road. An effort was to be made at all times to retain sufficient ambulance cars at the surgical centre to lift and carry at short notice all the severe lying cases there, and both light field ambulances were to be kept as empty as possible by continuous evacuation to Corps rear medical area at Ben Gardane.

As a precaution the ‘drill’ in case of a move being necessary at short notice, and if it should be impossible in the time to move all serious cases, was discussed. It was expected that even should the enemy armour or other forces occupy the area they would be mopped up or driven out in a very short time, and it was felt that if the severely wounded were there with the minimum staff to attend to them they would not be molested deliberately. On the other hand surplus staff, and in particular senior officers, would be taken away as prisoners as at Sidi Rezegh in November 1941.

It was therefore laid down as a direction that prior arrangements would be made in such circumstances to leave the minimum staff page 423 necessary to attend adequately to the wounded, with sufficient food and medical supplies, etc., but that all senior officers and all others would move off and all vehicles would be taken away.

On 28 February the Corps layout had consisted of 1 NZ CCS in the forward medical area with 151 Light Field Ambulance in close proximity, and 15 (Mobile) CCS in the Ben Gardane area. The forward area was on the MedenineBen Gardane road, a few miles east of the Zarsis road junction, and it was thought possible that the position might be endangered by a southerly outflanking thrust. With this in mind, the Heavy Section and sisters of 1 NZ CCS were sent back on 3 March to Ben Gardane to join 15 (Mobile) CCS, forming a 30 Corps rear medical area.