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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

6 Field Ambulance Released and Re-established

6 Field Ambulance Released and Re-established

The released medical group was then conducted to 19 Battalion lines about 6 p.m., and late that night reached 20 Battalion's positions near Canea.

The progress of the small party sent to 7 General Hospital was interfered with by a counter-attack by two tanks of 3 Hussars and a patrol from 18 Battalion, but they were eventually ushered into the RAP tent at 7 General Hospital, where they treated the wounded German. Later, a patrol from 18 Battalion recaptured the hospital area and escorted the ambulance personnel to Headquarters 4 Infantry Brigade.

It was then decided to set up an ADS in a culvert under the main Canea-Maleme road, about a mile and a half nearer Canea than the previous location. The site had been used as an RAP for 18 Battalion. In the afternoon 18 Battalion provided an armed escort for one officer and the two sergeants to return to the MDS to salvage as much medical supplies as possible. They found the area clear of the enemy and returned to the culvert with an assortment of medical supplies. Here the remainder of 6 Field Ambulance reassembled at 11 p.m. on 21 May.

With the coming of dawn they found they were on the seaward side of the coast road about half a mile from the beach. Through the centre of the area, which could almost be termed a valley because of the low hills on either side which swept down to the beach, ran a deep zigzag watercourse, dry and fairly wide. This passed under the road in a large concrete culvert, and over the greater part of the grass-covered area were the inevitable olive trees in their orderly rows. Towards the sea, at the edge of the olive grove, stood a small two-roomed cottage, and about fifty yards nearer Maleme was a larger one on the hillside; both were occupied by Cretan civilians. The culvert was “transformed” into an operating theatre and the watercourse into a ward, using scraps of salvaged canvas for cover, camouflaged with leaves and soil.

A camp stretcher, placed in the centre of the culvert, formed the table with just space enough on either side for the surgeons; there was little head room. A small fish kettle on a primus stove and an enamel plate formed the sterilising unit and was adequate for the few instruments salvaged from 7 General Hospital that were available. Anaesthetics consisted of a small stock of pentothal sodium and some Greek brandy and whisky provided by 18 Battalion. Blood was, of course, not available.

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Incredible as it may seem, successful operations of a major type were performed and the patients transported in a 15-cwt truck to the naval hospital on the other side of Canea. Rations were collected on the return trip. These consisted mainly of bully beef, which the cooks turned into some excellent stews, biscuits, and tea – water being obtained from a nearby well. For the patients there was also some tinned milk and beef-extract broth.