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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

8. The Geneva Convention

8. The Geneva Convention

At the outset of the campaign there was a very general opinion that the German Army would not respect the Red Cross if displayed by our medical units. It is difficult to trace the origin of this belief, but it undoubtedly existed and led to unnecessary difficulties in the forward medical units. Partly because of this, the forward ADSs and MDSs were placed in positions chosen for their obscurity and camouflage value and the possibility of sinking the tent floors below ground level. There were no large Red Crosses displayed on the roofs of ambulances. As a result medical units were subjected to bombing and machine-gunning from the air. As the short campaign proceeded it was learnt that the Germans did respect the Red Cross.

Fifth Field Ambulance stated that on 15 April the enemy appeared to recognise the Red Cross, and that the MDS was untouched, but the ADS—purposely not marked because of the proximity to combatant units—was bombed and machine-gunned. The hospital at Kamena Voula was not molested. This so impressed the commanding officer that he left a supply of medical equipment, with a note to the German airmen thanking them for respecting the Red Cross. Fourth Field Ambulance did not make use of the Red Cross, but dug in its dressing stations efficiently. Sixth Field Ambulance did not use the Red Cross until south of Thermopylae. No. 1 General Hospital did not display the Red Cross except on the page 147 unit flag. The unit was bombed and machine-gunned. No protection was possible to such a unit except the Geneva Convention.

There can be no doubt that the Germans did respect the Red Cross if it was adequately displayed, and that was the most important lesson learned from the campaign.