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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Functioning of Medical Units

Functioning of Medical Units

This was a daylight attack and direct observation by the enemy resulted in an increase of the proportion of killed to wounded. For instance, RMO 24 Battalion handled 45 killed and 116 wounded, compared with 10 killed and 86 wounded in the initial advance at the Battle of Alamein.2 The wounded were collected promptly in the wake of the advance, some by jeep, and evacuated to the ADS. The RMO of 24 Battalion, Captain Borrie, moved up into the battalion area just as it got dark, and worked in a blacked-out Austin ambulance car, concentrating on the seriously ill lying cases. Three ambulance cars were brought up and sent away full; then some anti-tank portées were used to carry the patients back. The arrival of two more ambulance cars enabled the RAP to be cleared by 2 a.m. on the 27th, after which time fewer wounded were brought in, but sufficient to keep the RMO busy until 1 p.m. The page 432 other RMOs were likewise busily engaged, particularly the RMO of 28 (Maori) Battalion, Captain D'Arcy.2

The 6th ADS was sited alongside the embankment which was the Roman wall. Some of the tanks moving up passed through the lines and drew some anti-tank fire to the vicinity after the attack started. Casualties reached the ADS very soon, and in a night of work the ADS dealt with American airmen, New Zealanders, Germans, and Italians.

The 5th ADS received only eight wounded from 21 Battalion's attack on the night of 25–26 March. For the main attack, the unit moved through the first minefield to a position about one and a half miles behind the start line, and not more than two miles from all RAPs. The first casualties reached 5 ADS at 6 p.m., and from then on a steady stream continued for the next thirty-six hours when a total of 224 was reached, including 44 prisoners of war.

Between 4 p.m. on 26 March, when the attack started, and 8 a.m. on 27 March, 168 Light Field Ambulance and 4 Field Ambulance, reinforced by the 1 CCS surgical team under Captain A. W. Douglas, as well as by Major Bridge's team, handled 240 casualties. Everything worked smoothly and supplies were adequate. During the day 127 cases were evacuated by air ambulances and the holding situation thus eased. However, there were 400 patients in 4 MDS by evening. All reserve stretchers and blankets were in use but the situation was well in hand, especially as the enemy resistance had been broken and there were few further casualties.

The main New Zealand Corps, with 5 Field Ambulance, moved forward late in the evening of 27 March, and first light next day found them through the Roman wall and moving up the valley towards El Hamma. Slow progress was made on 28 March. Casualties resulting from bombing and patrol activity were dealt with by 5 Field Ambulance and sent back to 6 Field Ambulance for evacuation. On 29 March the Corps turned east and headed across rough country for the town of Gabes, which was reached that night. In the final phase 5 Field Ambulance carried along such casualties as occurred and set up on the Gabes–Hamma road, 5 miles from Gabes, on 1 April. From here the cases were evacuated to 1 NZ CCS, which had come up the coast road to a point 5 miles south of Gabes at Telboulbou.

Bad weather on 28 March restricted planes from landing on the airfield behind the Tebaga Gap, but that day the welcome news was received that the Medenine–Hallouf–Bir Soltane road was now open page 433 and that Brigadier Ardagh, DDMS 30 Corps, had sent thirty MAC cars, which he had held ready for this purpose. On 29 March five planes arrived and these, together with the thirty MAC cars and twelve cars from NZ Corps and eight 3-ton trucks from the field ambulances, cleared over 400 patients that day to the medical centre at Medenine. This left twenty-three abdominal cases that were not fit to move. When the other medical units moved forward a company of 4 Field Ambulance, equipped with a wireless set, remained with these wounded, who were eventually flown out on 2 April. During the Mareth line actions between 5000 and 6000 prisoners were taken and a detachment of 4 Field Hygiene Section was attached to the prisoner-of-war cage, where it deloused prisoners and disinfected trucks and guards.

2 In this battalion 50 were killed and 62 wounded on 26 March and 8 killed and 72 wounded in the initial advance at Alamein on the night of 23–24 October 1942.

2 1Maj C. N. D'Arcy, MC, m.i.d.; Morrinsville; born Carterton, 6 Jun 1912; house surgeon, Waikato Hospital; medical officer Maadi Camp Apr–Sep 1941; RMO NZASC Sep 1941–Aug 1942; 28 (Maori) Bn Aug 1942–Jun 1944; 2 Gen Hosp Oct 1944; 6 Fd Amb Nov 1944–Feb 1945.