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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Evacuation of 1 General Hospital

Evacuation of 1 General Hospital

On the 13th and 14th the 2/3 CCS and 24 CCS cleared patients to 1 NZ General Hospital, but the trains were sent on to Athens with the cases. On the 14th at 10.30 p.m. 1 NZ General Hospital received a signal from ADMS 81 Base Sub-Area to evacuate patients and staff forthwith and to make its own train arrangements. At this time the hospital held 428 patients, 102 being fit for discharge, such patients now being required to go to the Reinforcement Camp at Athens. There were only thirty stretcher cases in the total. The RTO at Demerli was contacted at once and a relief train with refugees from Yugoslavia was found at Demerli; the RTO arranged to reserve it for the patients, who were immediately and with great difficulty transported the 7 miles to the station. However, the RTO then stated that his orders had been countermanded by his superior officer at Larisa, who, in turn, had had orders from Athens. Further information was given by the RTO that a hospital train was being sent from Lamia to arrive at midday next day to take the patients. The train then left and the patients were transported back to the hospital.

Another order enlarging and confirming the instructions telephoned the previous evening, delivered by DADMS 81 Sub-Area and clearly instructing the unit to evacuate all patients and staff page 118 and to take valuable medical stores, was received after the train had left. The tents were to be left standing, and all ordnance equipment, with beds and bedding, left behind. The dental unit with its trucks was to leave by road, and it was suggested that the sisters should go with it.

Next day the patients and staff went again to Demerli station, but the train from Lamia did not arrive. However, there were some trucks at the railway siding and, at the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel Boyd, the patients and staff manhandled the trucks to link them together into a train, which still lacked an engine. In the afternoon a train arrived from Larisa laden with Greek refugees in trucks, some British walking wounded and some wounded in ambulance carriages, besides a British bakery unit. The engine was driven by a New Zealander, Corporal. Morrison,1 who had no previous engine-driving experience. Earlier that same day, at noon, the train had been standing at Larisa station when it was dive-bombed by German aircraft. The Greek engine-drivers had decamped, and the RTO at Larisa had obtained the voluntary services of Corporal Morrison to drive the train south.

When this train reached Demerli Corporal Morrison reported to the RTO, with whom was Colonel Boyd, who insisted that all the 1 General Hospital patients who were lying in trucks on the siding should join this south-bound train. Morrison, who was assisted by an Australian, Sapper C. J. Horan, as stoker, and Driver Dendy, RASC, as pointsman, then added the trucks on the siding to the train on the main line and drove off south with all the patients and staff of 1 General Hospital on board. At the bottom of one of the passes to the south an old Greek engine-driver helped to clean the firebox and refuel and stayed on the engine as it ascended the pass. About half-way up he collapsed, but by means of sign language he told the volunteer crew where to use sand on the gradients. When the train reached Thebes the RTO there found a Greek engine-driver and fireman, but told Morrison and his assistants to stay on the engine. Athens was safely reached twenty-four hours after leaving Demerli.

On arrival at Athens by the unit car, Colonel McKillop reported to Brigadier Large, who had no knowledge of the evacuation of the hospital.

The nursing sisters, including Australian sisters from their CCS, had proceeded with the Mobile Dental Unit by road to Athens on the morning of 15 April. A rear party packed up valuable equipment from the operating theatre, X-ray department, laboratory, and stores and took it by truck to Athens.

page 119

1 Cpl B. A. Morrison, BEM; Timaru; born NZ 28 Apr 1918; motor mechanic; p.w. Apr 1941.