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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Courage of the Wounded

Courage of the Wounded

When the evacuation of Crete was ordered it became apparent to those concerned that the Navy would not be able to embark the stretcher cases held in hospitals, even if these patients could have been transported some 40 miles to the south coast.

page 196

It was agreed that these cases would have to be left with a proper proportion of medical personnel to look after them, while walking wounded only would be evacuated. On the news of this difficult decision filtering down to all ranks, many severely wounded made efforts to be classified as “walking wounded” in order to escape becoming prisoners of war. Men with severe injuries displayed almost unbelievable fortitude in marching a distance of 35 to 40 miles over rough and stony roads at night in order to reach Sfakia. Men with foot wounds covered long distances on crutches; some, shot in the chest, chose to proceed as walking wounded rather than be left. In one case a man, whose arm had been amputated only a few days before, got up and walked over the stony goat tracks to the embarkation beach, at times falling in the dark on his injured stump. In blankets, in slung greatcoats, on a door which had come from no one knows where, and on improvised stretchers, many men in varying states of incapacity were assisted over the last part of the march. They had managed the steep scramble from the caves but could not complete the last stretch unaided. At least three blanket carries were made over the whole route from the most southerly group of caves. There was little grousing and no lack of determination.

In the words of the DDMS British Forces on Crete, Colonel Kenrick, “it can truly be said that the wounded at Gallipoli and in the mud at Passchendaele suffered no greater horrors than those of the Imperial Forces in Crete. And just as a donkey was used at Gallipoli for carrying wounded, so a donkey was used in Crete to convey wounded down the final stony, precipitous slope to the beach.”1

1 Colonel Kenrick had served as an infantry officer at Passchendaele.