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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Medical Side

The Medical Side

From the middle of November onwards the medical units wrestled with problems totally different from those to which they had been accustomed in North Africa. The countryside was broken and hilly, with devious winding roads linking hilltop villages. Rain on the heavy soil formed thick impassable mud. The siting of units depended entirely upon the possibilities of getting vehicles off the road. In wet weather this became impossible. Fundamental rules that came to be observed were that vehicles must put on chains before leaving the road, must park above road level, and must always point downhill towards the road. The ancient hill villages had one-way streets easily blocked by transport. In the cold and wet it was necessary to use buildings wherever possible both for medical purposes and for the billeting of troops. The rather poor buildings in 2 NZ Division's area were not very suitable for ADSs, let alone MDSs. At Furci on 13 November, as no suitable building for an MDS existed, 4 Field Ambulance established a small MDS under canvas. This was moderately satisfactory as the tents were pitched when the ground was dry and straw was placed on the floor. Here sick were received from all divisional units and evacuated to 5 British CCS at Vasto.

On 19 November, when 6 Infantry Brigade moved up to the front line, 4 Field Ambulance proceeded to Gissi and there established an MDS to serve operations forward of Atessa. The country road between Gissi and Atessa had bridges and culverts demolished, was narrow and very twisty, and was unsuitable for dense and heavy traffic. It became apparent that the time involved in evacuation from Atessa to Gissi was far too long, so on 20 November 4 Field Ambulance moved up to Atessa, leaving at Gissi a detachment which took over a building vacated by 33 Indian Field Ambulance. The page 505 surgical team from 1 General Hospital and 2 FTU accompanied the MDS to Atessa, which was situated on a hilltop overlooking the valley of the Sangro.

Medical arrangements for both 6 Infantry Brigade and 19 Indian Infantry Brigade were undertaken jointly by 4 Field Ambulance and 33 Indian Field Ambulance at Atessa. In the damaged school-building the reception sections of the units were located. Here all light cases were dealt with and evacuated. All cases requiring surgery were sent on to the damaged civil hospital building, where two operating theatres were established by 4 Field Ambulance and the attached New Zealand surgical team. A section of the Indian field ambulance was attached for help in nursing Indian patients, who were all surgically treated by 4 Field Ambulance.

The segregation of the operating centre was primarily due to the limitation of buildings, but it was found to be of great advantage as the operative treatment and nursing of the serious cases proceeded unhampered by the turmoil of a busy MDS. The treatment and nursing of abdominal cases was particularly facilitated by being done under good conditions in the hospital beds. The transfusion unit was in a ward of the hospital. With salvaged telephones the attached ASC personnel improvised communication between the unit's three buildings, and this was a decided help.

Battle casualties were evacuated via Scerni and Cupello to Vasto, to Light Section 1 NZ Mobile CCS. This route for the most part was the supply route of 8 Indian Division, and special permission for its use by New Zealand ambulance cars was granted to ADMS 2 NZ Division. This was an immense advantage as the long, rough, and winding route via Casalanguida, Gissi, and Furci would have been an intolerable ordeal to badly wounded men. The ADMS on 15 November recorded that the roads were blocked with demolitions and slips and blown bridges. They were also very steep and tortuous, and thick mud was everywhere. It took three and a quarter hours to do 13 miles. Sick were evacuated through Casalanguida to 5 Field Ambulance MDS at Gissi, and thence direct to Termoli.

On its arrival at Atessa 4 Field Ambulance took over three serious cases from B Company 6 Field Ambulance, which then moved down towards the Sangro River as an ADS for 6 Infantry Brigade. The operating theatres at the MDS began to work as soon as they were set up and worked steadily in the ensuing weeks at this location. At first there were sporadic casualties from shelling in 6 Brigade and 19 Indian Infantry Brigade. When, on the night of 22–23 November, the latter brigade attacked on the left flank across the Sangro towards Altino, the difficult task of getting wounded back across the swollen river fell to 33 Indian Field page 506 Ambulance. Most of the casualties did not reach the MDS for some twenty-four to forty-eight hours after they were wounded.