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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Activities of 5 Field Ambulance

Activities of 5 Field Ambulance

During July and August 5 Field Ambulance undertook a series of field exercises in conjunction with 5 Infantry Brigade in its preparation for an operational role in the event of invasion. Particular emphasis was laid on the importance of maintaining contact between the advanced dressing station and the main dressing station. The unit also handled sickness and accident cases occurring in the New Zealand units. After two months in England the first vehicles were obtained. Towards the end of August 5 Field Ambulance accompanied 5 Brigade to Kent. Headquarters Company took over page 88 stables in the Sittingbourne Road outside Maidstone, while A Company was at Broughton Monchelsea and B Company at Sittingbourne. It was while the unit was in this area that the first air raid occurred and the ambulance took casualties, mostly civilians, to the Maidstone hospital. Fifth Field Ambulance continued to function through the various enemy air attacks during its stay in that area.

September was the month of the Luftwaffe's mass raids on London, planned to smash the way for an attempt at airborne and seaborne invasion. During the first week the New Zealand troops in reserve, by now a well-trained and mobile force, although not yet by any means fully equipped, were moved nearer the coast to occupy what were virtually battle positions covering the Folkestone-Dover area. After a period spent in bivouacs in the woods, units moved into billets in farmhouses, stables, and barns in the surrounding villages. Later in the month the threat of invasion lessened as the weather over the English Channel became worse. To avoid the strain of stand-to at dawn and dusk each day a relaxation of the manning of defences was ordered; troops were granted leave, sports were organised, and parties travelled by bus sightseeing.

It had originally been intended that the Second Echelon should have been relieved of its operational role on 13 September, pending its embarkation for the Middle East, but these orders were cancelled three days before and the New Zealanders stayed in bivouacs covering Dover. There was still the menace of invasion, and it was afterwards learned that Mr Churchill postponed the departure of the New Zealanders for some weeks, at the same time keeping three ships ready for an emergency dash through the Mediterranean.

The postponement was not intended to be longer than would permit of the brigade leaving for the Middle East towards the end of October. Because of the urgent need in the Middle East for reinforcements of armour, artillery, and anti-aircraft units, the departure of the Second Echelon for Egypt had again to be delayed. The New Zealand force retained its operational role under command of 12 Corps and was largely concentrated in the Maidstone-Ashford area of Kent.

Under arrangements with DDMS 12 Corps, all New Zealand patients were held in special hospitals so that they would not be too scattered. Fifth Field Ambulance was responsible for the evacuation of casualties from the New Zealand force's area and for the care of all but serious cases.

Two ADSs and an MDS were established to treat these less serious cases. Besides taking patients back to the CCS or to hospital, the unit returned patients from hospital or, when required, transferred them to the Convalescent Home.

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During September and October 186 patients suffering from various injuries, many of them due to football, were admitted to 5 Field Ambulance. A common cause of admission was respiratory disorders, for which during the two months 104 patients were treated, including 79 with only minor influenzal infections. The total number of cases evacuated by the ambulance beyond unit RAPs was 617. Most of the patients evacuated beyond 5 Field Ambulance were admitted to British military hospitals in the area. Infectious and venereal cases were sent to special hospitals and convalescents to Warbrook Convalescent Home and to Camp Reception Hospital, Farnborough, which had been reopened on 14 October by a detachment from 5 Field Ambulance pending the return of the New Zealand force to the Aldershot Command.

Colonel MacCormick had returned to the Middle East, under instructions from the GOC, with the medical group on 4 August, leaving Colonel McKillop as senior medical officer to be consulted on all matters of policy and major administration. Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg,1 CO 5 Field Ambulance, was responsible for tactical arrangements within the brigade group, and Major Robertson was DADMS at Force Headquarters. With the departure of Colonel McKillop, Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg was appointed acting ADMS NZ Division (UK) on 9 October.

The New Zealand force returned to Aldershot Command on 4 November and was accommodated in billets and quarters in various areas. To provide adequate treatment within the force for minor sickness it was decided to set up two further reception stations to be staffed by companies of 5 Field Ambulance. These were opened by the MDS at Inglewood, Runfold, and by the ADS at Heathcote, Camberley. Serious cases were evacuated either to Cambridge Hospital or 18 General Hospital, Pinewood.

A total of 67 cases was admitted to hospital in November, while 1706 were treated as out-patients by 5 Field Ambulance. In December 113 cases were admitted to hospital and 819 treated as out-patients. During these months the force was engaged in routine training and later in preparations for embarkation.

The three camp reception hospitals staffed by 5 Field Ambulance were closed on 27 December 1940 as the date of embarkation drew near, and a sick bay of ten beds was established at Base Camp, Moor Park, which had been formed on 17 December to accommodate unfit personnel awaiting return to New Zealand. These numbered 41 at the end of November. Up to 23 December, 222 officers and men

1 Brig J. M. Twhigg, DSO, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Dunedin, 13 Sep 1900; physician; CO 5 Fd Amb May 1940–Dec 1941; p.w. Dec 1941; repatriated Apr 1942; ADMS 3 NZ Div Aug 1942–Apr 1943; DDMS 2 NZEF (IP) Apr 1943–Aug 1944; ADMS 2 NZEF UK) Oct 1944–Feb 1946.

page 90 had appeared before invaliding medical boards, 126 for preenlistment disabilities, and 96 for post-enlistment disabilities.

On the night of 1–2 January 1941 units of the New Zealand formation in England began to leave Aldershot Command for points of embarkation to join the remainder of the New Zealand Division in the Middle East. B Company 5 Field Ambulance, under the command of Captain Palmer,1 embarked on the Athlone Castle on 3 January at Liverpool, while Headquarters and A Companies, under Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg, embarked on the Duchess of Bedford at Newport, Wales, on 4 January. Captain T. G. de Clive Lowe2 remained behind in charge of NZ Base Camp, while Major Robertson retained charge of Warbrook Convalescent Home and became DADMS (UK). Lieutenant Manchester3 and Lieutenant Hutter4 continued their courses of instruction in maxillo-facial surgery and a medical officer was appointed to the Forestry Group, New Zealand Engineers, which remained in the United Kingdom.

On 12 January the convoy proceeded to sea from Belfast Loch in the early morning, heading west in a zigzag course and then south. All ranks slept in their clothes in the danger zone and wore steel helmets and lifebelts while on deck. By 17 January permission was given for the removal of clothes at night. The hospital accommodation on the ships was taxed by the numbers of influenza patients, and nursing orderlies from the field ambulance companies were attached to their respective ship's hospital for duty. When influenza abated there was a mild epidemic of measles on board the Duchess of Bedford.

The voyage to Egypt was uneventful, although the double crossing of the Equator entailed conditions of temporary discomfort, especially for sleeping. The convoy completed its journey through the Red Sea and reached Port Tewfik on 3 March.

1 Maj G. B. Palmer, m.i.d., Silver Cross (Gk); Seacliff; born England, 6 Feb 1909; medical practitioner; medical officer 5 Fd Amb Nov 1939–Aug 1941; DADMS 210 British Military Mission Nov 1941–May 1943; 2 i/c 1 Conv Depot May 1943–Oct 1944; OC Det 1 Conv Depot Oct 1944–Mar 1945.

2 Maj T. G. de Clive Lowe; Auckland; born NZ 17 Sep 1900; surgeon; medical officer 5 Fd Amb Dec 1939–Dec 1940; Aug–Nov 1941; p.w. 28 Nov 1941; repatriated Apr 1942.

3 Lt-Col W. M. Manchester; Auckland; born Waimate, 31 Oct 1913; medical practitioner; RMO 22 Bn 1940; seconded for plastic surgical training in UK, Nov 1940; 1 Gen Hosp 1942–43; asst surgeon, Plastic Surgical Unit, Burwood, 1944; OC Plastic Unit, Burwood, 1944–47.

4 Lt-Col F. L. Hutter; Wellington; born Auckland, 6 Feb 1910; surgeon; 5 Fd Amb Jun–Dec 1940; surgeon 1 Gen Hosp Sep 1941–Nov 1941; 6 Fd Amb 1941–44; surgeon in 1, 2, and 3 Gen Hosps 1944–45.