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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Stretcher-Bearers of Combatant Units

Stretcher-Bearers of Combatant Units

In the Cassino action the work of the stretcher-bearers was made most arduous because of the masses of rubble and deep shell craters that had to be negotiated in carrying patients out of the battle area, quite apart from the fact that the areas to be crossed were under constant mortar and artillery fire and were covered by snipers. It was the duty of the stretcher-bearers to leave sheltered positions to bring in the wounded from the exposed areas, a duty requiring a considerable degree of courage and physical endurance. By the nature of the action a wounded man might be lying out for some considerable time before reaching the RAP, where the unit medical officer was stationed, and this meant that a very great medical page 539 responsibility also fell on the stretcher-bearer in giving efficient first-aid attention under difficult conditions.

For instance, the RMO of 25 Battalion considered that the low proportion of killed (and died of wounds) to wounded in his unit, 37 to 160, could be partially accounted for by the efficiency of his stretcher-bearers. The stretcher-bearer was also subject to more than the normal combatant risk, as was also shown in 25 Battalion, where the casualty figures for the stretcher-bearer section were higher than for any other section in the battalion. Out of sixteen company stretcher-bearers, two were killed—one by mortaring, the other by a sniper. While the first stretcher-bearer was attending a wounded officer in an exposed position both were killed, their bodies being recovered side by side with the officer wearing a half-applied bandage. Five others were wounded and this, together with one taken ill, made a casualty return of 50 per cent. Reinforcement stretcher-bearers were not available and the remaining half of the section had to cope with the work.

Lance-Corporal Pritchard,1 who was a medical orderly in A Company 25 Battalion, was awarded the MM for his work as a stretcher-bearer. During the whole afternoon of 15 March while he was with the forward assaulting company under heavy mortar and shell fire and in full view of enemy snipers, he attended to many wounded and got them all to a place of safety. On 19 March, during a dawn attack towards the Continental Hotel, he again performed the same task. When our attack had been beaten back, a wounded man was left some distance in front of our positions. In spite of heavy mortar and small-arms fire, Pritchard left our positions and waded up a stream four feet deep until he reached and carried out this severely wounded soldier. During the whole of his journey he was subjected to small-arms fire from a range of 100 yards.

1 L-Cpl G. E. Pritchard, MM; Stratford; born NZ 25 Mar 1918; farmhand.