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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Siting of Divisional Units

Siting of Divisional Units

On the Fifth Army front there was much greater destruction of buildings than on the eastern side of Italy, and all Corps medical units had to resort to the use of tents for all accommodation despite the atrocious winter weather with heavy rain and cold winds. When the Division moved into the line all well-drained areas were already occupied by United States units. Medical units moving to new sites found themselves faced with extensive draining and roadmaking before the areas were made habitable. In this connection valuable help was given by the Divisional Engineers. Available medical areas were so limited in extent that dispersal of tents was impossible. Protection against air attack, although this was unlikely in view of the Allied air superiority, was dependent on a very prominent display of Red Crosses.

In view of the impending operations by NZ Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel J. K. Elliott, CO 4 Field Ambulance, who had been deputed to establish a battle MDS, reconnoitred forward on 4 February along Route 6, the main road to Rome, for a suitable site. The available sites were strictly limited and an open, cultivated field was selected 6 miles south of Cassino, at the side of the main road near the shattered village of San Pietro Infine. This spot was within shelling range of enemy positions south-west of Cassino. In wet weather on 5 and 6 February, the unit moved to this area to erect an MDS. As first priority a semi-circular roadway was formed through the area. Rock was carted by unit transport and large quantities disappeared in the mud. The assistance of the engineers for two days was obtained later and tip-trucks fed by a mechanical shovel made real progress possible. As a preliminary foundation, fascined branches and logs were used. The area was satisfactorily roaded within a fortnight—this was fortunate in view of the extremely wet weather which followed.

Five tarpaulin shelters were set up in suitable relation to the semi-circular roadway, dispersal not being attempted. Each shelter was provided with a base of a layer of gravel surmounted by a layer page 533 of hay. Over this was stretched the canvas floor, and the spreading of more hay on this ensured warm, dry conditions. To heat the shelters an excellent type of down-draught wood-burning stove largely superseded the oil stoves and charcoal braziers. The men of the unit were accommodated in bivouac tents.

When 5 Brigade moved into the line on 5 February, 5 ADS accompanied it and established a tented ADS near the railway line south of San Vittore and 6 miles from Cassino itself. The following day 6 ADS moved up with 6 Infantry Brigade to the San Vittore area east of 5 ADS and continued to function as an ADS to its brigade, which was in reserve with 4 Armoured Brigade; 4 ADS, also in reserve, moved on 6 February to the vicinity of Mignano.

The San Vittore area was well within enemy artillery range and, as troops concentrated in the forward areas, shelling casualties were inevitable, while mines produced further injuries. The first New Zealand casualties were admitted to 4 MDS on 6 February and the operating theatre was in use during the night. The cases were evacuated direct to 2 General Hospital at Caserta, some 35 miles away, until 8 February, when 1 NZ Mobile CCS opened at Presenzano, some 9 miles distant to the east of Route 6. Thenceforth in the Cassino operations, all New Zealand battle casualties were evacuated from 4 MDS to 1 Mobile CCS, all sickness cases to 5 MDS, which opened near Mignano on 8 February, and all cases from 4 Indian Division to 2 Indian CCS, which was adjacent to 1 Mobile CCS. The CCS was set up on a flat, low-lying area of ground which became very wet after rain. With the help of the engineers a semi-circular metal track was formed to lead from the road, through the CCS area, and back to the road again. Ambulance cars came in at one end and departed at the other. Departments of the CCS were set up in order along the track—the reception tent, resuscitation ward, and X-ray, three operating theatres (for 1 General Hospital surgical team, 8 British FSU, and the CCS itself), wards formed by hospital extending tents, and the evacuation tent. Conveniently arranged about this group were the other departments—medical stores and dispensary, ordnance stores, cookhouses, and mobile lighting sets. This well-ordered layout enabled the work to be carried out expeditiously and efficiently.