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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

British Offensive

British Offensive

On 9 December British and Indian troops and elements of 6 Australian Division commenced operations against the Italian forward positions with marked success. Adjacent British ambulance units moved forward to establish ADSs to deal with the wounded, leaving 4 Field Ambulance stationary as an MDS to continue its function of the previous three months. No New Zealand combatant units took part in the offensive. The diversion of the Second Echelon (5 Infantry Brigade Group) to the United Kingdom had delayed the formation of a complete New Zealand division in the Middle East. The New Zealand Government had expressed a wish that our troops should not be employed until the Division was assembled, except in an emergency, which did not arise.

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However, 4 NZ Reserve MT Company (to which Lieutenant Lomas,1 NZMC, was attached as RMO) transported troops of 5 Brigade of 4 Indian Division to the region of the Tummar outposts from 5 to 9 December 1940. On the night of 8 December Lieutenant Lomas was transferred by Brigade Headquarters to the ADS of 5 Indian Brigade (B Company 14 Indian Field Ambulance).

On 9 December, immediately following the capture of Tummar West by two battalions of the brigade, the ADS set up at a central site to treat casualties. A slight interruption occurred when this area was shelled and machine-gunned during an enemy counter-attack from Tummar East, but the attack was repulsed by tanks which put ten enemy tanks out of action.

The ADS staff consisted of two Indian captains, an Indian second-lieutenant (assistant surgeon), and Lieutenant Lomas. The two captains did the work of organising the reception of casualties and providing blankets, medical comforts, etc., for the wounded, whilst Lomas and the assistant surgeon attended to the wounded. They worked steadily for twelve hours until 2.30 a.m. on 10 December and commenced work again at dawn, continuing throughout that day. The MDS and MAC did not arrive until evening.

Every type of injury passed through the surgeons' hands in this period. Several limb amputations were necessary; there were about five cases of fractured skulls with herniation of the brain, and many with chest and abdominal wounds. The casualties were British, Indian, Italian, and Libyan. Casualties from 11 and 16 Brigades also arrived at 5 Brigade ADS, as they had trouble in finding their own ADSs. For his part in the action Lieutenant Lomas was awarded the Military Cross—the first award to the New Zealand Medical Corps in the war.

The main attack on Sidi Barrani was then begun and the Italian forces were driven into general retreat, leaving behind thousands of prisoners, including casualties, and much equipment. The Italians were driven out of Egypt when Sollum fell on 16 December. Then followed the clearing of Bardia and Derna and the push on to Benghazi.

Fourth Field Ambulance was called upon to deal with only a few bomb casualties beyond the usual sickness cases. During December 202 New Zealand, 97 British, and 9 Australian cases were evacuated. In the last week of December the unit ceased to function as a reception and evacuation centre, and prepared for the move by road to the divisional base camp recently established at Helwan.

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1 Maj A. L. Lomas, MC, m.i.d.; Hamilton; born Wanganui, 30 Jun 1916; medical practitioner; RMO ASC Jan 1940–Jun 1941; OC Maadi Camp Hosp Jun 1942–Apr 1943; DADMS 2 NZ Div Aug 1943–Apr 1944.