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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy


page 151

THE New Zealand troops who were evacuated from Greece were taken to the island of Crete, except 6 Infantry Brigade which proceeded to Egypt. From the afternoon of Anzac Day, 25 April 1941, until the arrival on 1 May of the last-planned evacuation, convoys from Greece moved into the harbour at Suda Bay. The ships which embarked the troops from the various harbours in southern Greece on the night of 24–25 April joined up in one convoy which arrived at Suda Bay on the afternoon of 25 April. Among the nine ships of this convoy were the destroyers HMAS Voyager and HMS Calcutta and the troop-carrier Glengyle, all of which had New Zealand medical units on board, including ADMS NZ Division and his staff, 5 Field Ambulance, 6 Field Ambulance, 4 Field Hygiene Section, and also the matron and fifty-one sisters from 1 General Hospital. None of the units was up to full strength, but in subsequent days some groups left behind in Greece rejoined their parent units, while small parties from 4 Field Ambulance and 1 General Hospital also found their way to Crete, some in Greek caiques and rowing boats.

Upon disembarkation the British, Australian, and New Zealand nursing sisters, totalling 150, were taken to 7 General Hospital while the troops marched to a transit camp near Perivolia, a distance of 6 miles inland from the port of Suda. Along the road leading to this camp was a refreshment centre operated by the Welch Regiment, part of the garrison of Crete. From this improvised canteen free issues were made of tea, biscuits, chocolate, oranges, and cigarettes, which were a godsend to the weary and hungry troops. It was the morning of 26 April before all of the many parties had arrived at the transit camp.

At Perivolia camp there were unit mustering sites, 5 and 6 Field Ambulances being located in one medical concentration area where, with a scanty supply of medical stores, treatment and dressings were given to the slightly injured among the nearby New Zealand troops. The 4th Field Hygiene Section was also quartered in the area and later moved out with 5 Field Ambulance.

When our troops landed on Crete the spring weather was warm but the nights were cold and dewy, and those without blankets on page 152 the first night awoke not a little damp and stiff next morning for any further march to dispersal areas. Of the Cretan rivers only the Platanias carried any volume of water, and New Zealand units enjoyed its refreshingly cool waters after a dusty march from Suda Bay. In Canea the produce market was but scantily supplied for the needs of a greatly increased local population swollen by refugees from the mainland, and soon after the arrival of the troops eating-houses were more or less restricted to civilians as supplies were short.