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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Italy—Uncertainty before VJ Day

Italy—Uncertainty before VJ Day

When, in May 1945, the GOC 2 NZEF indicated that in due course 2 NZEF would probably be withdrawn from Italy to Egypt, it was arranged that 2 General Hospital should transfer from its location at Caserta to Helwan in Egypt to provide ample base hospital facilities. The hospital unit arrived in Egypt on 5 July and took over control at Helwan on 11 July, absorbing 5 General Hospital and forming a 900-bed hospital, with Colonel H. D. Robertson as CO and Miss V. M. Hodges as Matron.

In July there was still no firm decision as to the constitution of the new force for the Pacific, but on the assumption that 2 NZEF as a body would proceed to Egypt, it was arranged that 1 Convalescent Depot also should close and pack at Senigallia preparatory to moving to a chosen site at Agami, 8 miles west of Alexandria. Then, at the end of July, information was received that the Division might bypass Egypt after all, so the move of 1 Convalescent Depot was cancelled. The unit was closed and packed, and this hastened the decision for its disbandment, which was effected in August.

Then on 15 August came the welcome news that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. Discussions concerning the future sphere of service for the Division and the composition of the force were happily brought to a sudden end. Provision for an occupational force for Japan, approximating only to brigade strength, did not occasion the same concern, although a complete medical service had to be provided but on a much smaller scale. Final decisions on the question of J Force were not made for some weeks, however, pending the announcement of policy by the New Zealand Government.

The reduced strength of 2 NZEF and the absence of battle casualties and a low incidence of sickness resulted in the equipped bed state of hospitals in Italy not being fully required, and in August 1 General Hospital and 3 General Hospital were both reduced from 900 to 600 beds. When 1 Convalescent Depot was disbanded, the unit's detachment at San Spirito was re-formed with an establishment of 300 beds. At this stage 1 General Hospital at Senigallia was evacuating to 3 General Hospital by ambulance train along the Adriatic coast, the railway line having at last been reconstructed.