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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Attack Towards the Senio River

Attack Towards the Senio River

On the night of 19 December at nine o'clock, 6 Infantry Brigade and 43 Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade launched an attack under a heavy barrage and threw the enemy back to the line of the Senio River. Much ground was taken after heavy fighting and over 200 prisoners were captured.

The wounded included some twenty men of 25 Battalion who came from a platoon which was caught on the start line by the enemy's fire and by some ‘shorts’ fired by the artillery. Seven of them were painfully burned by a phosphorus bomb set off by a shell splinter. They found refuge in a building occupied by Tactical Headquarters 26 Battalion, taking the bodies of two dead with them. Some German wounded were also brought to this building from the forward areas. First aid was administered pending the arrival of ambulance jeeps and RAP staff to take them back to the ADS. Enemy shelling and mortaring was fairly severe and, after abating for a time, became heavy towards dawn, making the task of stretcher-bearers and ambulance drivers all the more dangerous as they moved to and from the company sectors.

Acting as ADS to 6 Brigade, the reorganised A Company of 6 Field Ambulance, now under Major Hall,1 had its first real test of strenuous action. On 20 December it received over one hundred battle casualties in ten hours. It was reported at the time that the reorganisation appeared to have strengthened the company and increased its efficiency.

There was a rush period for 4 MDS on 20 December. Between midnight and eight o'clock in the morning 102 battle casualties were admitted. These were all cleared by midday and took from thirty to forty-five minutes to reach the CCS. The total admissions for the day were 142 battle casualties and 26 sick. No chest or abdominal wounds had surgical treatment at the MDS, but where necessary page 625 these cases received resuscitation before being evacuated to the CCS. The chief types of cases treated in the theatre were those requiring urgent operation for reasons such as haemorrhage or smaller wounds, and those, such as incomplete traumatic amputations, which could not conveniently be evacuated in that condition.

On succeeding days there was a steady flow of admissions, the highest totals being reached on Christmas Eve with 40 battle casualties and 30 sickness cases. A shell hit one of the MDS buildings on 24 December causing twelve casualties in the street, but no MDS personnel were wounded.

At dawn on 24 December A Company 26 Battalion made an attack on the eastern stopbank of the Senio as a preparation for a general advance on to the stopbank, which was 15 feet high and gave the enemy observation of the battalion areas. Although the artillery fired over 2000 shells into the target area within a short time, its fire was not sufficient to drive the Germans from their deep defences and fierce fighting took place at close quarters. The company gained possession of part of the stopbank, only to be forced off it again with a number of casualties. On the morning of 25 December stretcher-bearers returned to the foot of the stop-bank, where several wounded had been left, and found that German stretcher-bearers had already bound up the New Zealanders' wounds and moved them to a safer place, although the area had been under fire from both sides. A short truce was declared when the two parties met. Cigarettes were exchanged and, after some discussion, the enemy offered every facility for the removal of the wounded to 26 Battalion's lines.

The month's admissions to 4 MDS reached the totals of 343 sick and 371 battle casualties. It was felt that casualties had definitely benefited by the MDS being located well forward in good buildings, especially as the number of serious multiple wounds appeared to have been higher than usual.

The end of 1944 found the Division along the line of the Senio River in a holding role, which resulted in a diminution of casualties and a respite for the surgical staffs of medical units.

1 Maj G. F. Hall, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Dunedin, 19 Jan 1914; house surgeon, Dunedin Hospital; medical officer Maadi Camp Feb–Apr 1942, Dec 1942–Jun 1943; 4 Fd Amb Jun–Dec 1943; RMO 5 Fd Regt Dec 1943–Nov 1944; 6 Fd Amb Dec 1944–Oct 1945.