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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Medical Units during the Withdrawal

Medical Units during the Withdrawal

By 25 May the front line was only a few miles away from the medical units, which continued to receive casualties. During the day casualties from the air offensive were only moderate, but towards evening both 5 and 6 Field Ambulances began to receive a steady stream of heavy casualties from the fighting for Galatas. By evening, also, mortar bombs were falling within a few hundred yards of 5 MDS and machine guns were spraying the vicinity of the buildings with bullets. An endeavour was made to collect trucks which had been abandoned and five vehicles were obtained, one of them being set on fire by a passing aircraft. This was taken to be an objection to the numbers of vehicles collected together, or more likely as a hint to move farther back. Preparations for a move were continuing when Colonel Bull arrived at 7 p.m. with instructions for both 5 and 6 Field Ambulances and 7 General Hospital to go page 184 to the region of Nerokourou, south-east of Canea and some 7 miles away, where a site had already been prepared for the reception of casualties. It was reached by sunken lanes and rough roads across the outskirts of Canea.

The evacuation was planned so that all equipment and the stretcher cases in the dressing station would be moved by transport, which necessitated three trips in the vehicles available, but the situation was further complicated by the necessity of detailing one truck to collect more wounded from forward areas. Delay also occurred because the prepared site at Nerokourou could not be found in the darkness. Patients and equipment were offloaded at a church, and when dawn broke this was found to be exactly opposite the area where the tents had been pitched. Although the tents had been pitched under olive trees and were widely dispersed, they had received the attention of enemy aircraft the previous day and some had been destroyed by fire. This was largely attributable to bad concealment by the Cypriot pioneer company when preparing the site.

The three marching parties, comprising the more lightly wounded walking cases and most of the staffs of 5 Field Ambulance and 7 General Hospital, halted within 500 yards of the church, but the tentage by the roadside was not found till dawn though one party, unable fully to resist sleep at the halt, were within a hundred yards of it in the darkness. Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg and Captain Palmer and four or five others began to move stores to the selected site whilst awaiting the return of the transport. More tents were erected, Red Crosses displayed, and after hasty consultations the church was utilised as an operating theatre. The hamlet was deserted. Casualties soon came in, and those awaiting attention had, it seemed, the utmost faith in the Red Cross: none of the waiting casualties showed a steel helmet nor did they permit others to do so without protest.

At first many were reluctant to remain in the tents while aircraft dived above them, but after the third dive without incident confidence in enemy respect for the Red Cross was restored. There were no attacks on the MDS. Within the church, by late afternoon, twenty-seven operations with anaesthetic had been performed.