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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Bombing of 6 MDS

Bombing of 6 MDS

On 23 May the site of 6 Field Ambulance, along with surrounding areas, was subject to severe aerial attacks which lasted practically all day. Two of the members of the unit were killed when two bombs dropped on the site. At this stage the unit was using the concrete culvert under the road as a reception centre and a narrow, deep, and dry riverbed for accommodating patients. The location was in an olive grove, where concealment was almost perfect and Red Crosses were not displayed. The unit, however, was becoming an unseen target in the general attack by enemy planes on roads and troop movements, and during the night a move was made to one of two cottages in a cleared area two or three hundred yards away from the road.

“About midday next day,” said Corporal P. Curtis,1 “… a machine-gun crackled through the camp followed by a bomb which narrowly missed the cottage, and another which landed near the watercourse fatally wounding two members of the unit. Those of us in the theatre were covered by a cascade of mud, bricks and tiles. Almost immediately after we had extricated ourselves from the debris an officer arrived for morphia saying that the two unit members had been caught standing one on either side of the ditch. We buried them after a short service later in the afternoon.

“It so happened that the patient on the table at the time was a German who asked us whether we were displaying any red crosses, and on being told no and why, said that if we did we would be left alone. As it was now obvious that we had been spotted and thus further attacks could be expected, this advice was followed and some ground flags were made from sheeting and red blankets, the area being mapped out with two of them and one on the roof of the cottage. It must be admitted that no further attacks were made on us after that although low flying, presumably for demoralising effects, continued.

“Shortly after this a signal was received saying that no further casualties could be taken by the Naval hospital so that it became imperative to find alternative accommodation and shelter, the nights being too cold in the open for badly shocked cases. Accordingly it was decided to take over the larger cottage for this purpose and it too was marked with the red cross.

“Time seemed to stand still and one day was very like another. The morale of the unit and patients remained high and at no time did the position seem hopeless, at least to those of us in the ranks without official knowledge. A rumour even reached us that the Germans were about to evacuate despite Lord “Haw Haw's” continued gloom about our prospects.

“Gradually the intake of casualties slackened until by Sunday they had practically ceased to come in. This, our first Sunday after the invasion, was particularly memorable for two reasons. In the mid-afternoon twelve of our bombers passed overhead to off-load over Maleme, accompanied by prolonged cheering which could be heard for a considerable distance. These were the first aircraft carrying our insignia that we had seen since the invasion began. Later the same evening orders came through for our withdrawal and evacuation.”

page 182

1 WO I P. H. Curtis; Auckland; born Timaru, 16 Mar 1919; medical student; NCO 6 Fd Amb 1940–41; 1 Mob CCS Oct 1941–May 1945.