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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The ADS with 5 Brigade

The ADS with 5 Brigade

The ADS for 5 Infantry Brigade was formed by B Company 5 Field Ambulance with Captain Edmundson1 as OC. Arrangements were made with the brigade for the attachment of two stretcher squads and one light section to each battalion. The ADS opened at 7 a.m. on 22 November near Sidi Azeiz and thereafter received numerous battle casualties of both New Zealand and enemy troops as the attack on Capuzzo, Sollum, and Musaid developed. Accommodation was grossly overtaxed and there was insufficient equipment. Evacuation of many seriously wounded men was held up because the position of the MDS was then unknown. Welcome help

1 Col F. B. Edmundson, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Napier, 22 Jan 1910; medical practitioner; medical officer LRDG, Apr 1940–Oct 1941; 5 Fd Amb Oct 1941–Feb 1943; 1 Gen Hosp Mar–Jun 1943; 6 Fd Amb Jun 1943–Apr 1944; CO 4 Fd Amb Apr–Dec 1944; CO 6 Fd Amb Jun–Oct 1945; DDMS 2 NZEF Oct 1945–Feb 1946.

page 267 was received from a British medical unit, 14 British Field Ambulance, which supplied blankets, stretchers, and other medical supplies. The admission of casualties continued throughout the night and early hours of the morning, and at the first opportunity a reconnaissance successfully located 4 MDS. It was then possible to divert most of the steady stream of casualties there. The unit's car post at Fort Capuzzo evacuated its cases direct to the MDS. On 22 November 21 Battalion with its bearer section became attached to 6 Brigade and proceeded to Point 175, and thereafter was out of contact with the ADS. At 6 p.m. on 23 November the ADS moved out to the Sidi Azeiz crossroads, where by 7 a.m. the next day a new ADS was established in 5 Brigade Group Headquarters area. Patients continued to arrive and their evacuation was always uncertain. On 25 November, when the MDS of 4 Field Ambulance had closed on account of reported enemy movements to the south, the evacuation route became too dangerous and patients were held until a safe route could be found. At dawn on 26 November battles between enemy and British forces took place in the vicinity of the ADS and both German and New Zealand casualties were admitted. Throughout the day massed enemy transport and armoured fighting vehicles were observed on all sides of the camp moving eastward into Bardia. From the violent fighting additional casualties were admitted.

About 7.10 a.m. on the 27th Sidi Azeiz was attacked by a German force with about forty tanks. The area came under heavy machinegun and shell fire and our anti-tank guns, machine guns, and field guns went into action. Within an hour and a half of the bursting of the first shell all our guns, after a most gallant fight, had been silenced and the tanks had overrun the area. Fifth Brigade Headquarters and other units of the headquarters group, including the ADS, surrendered to the Germans.

The German troops systematically looted all the vehicles of the ADS and commandeered medical and other equipment which was not in actual use. The unit's transport was taken over and driven away. The ASC drivers were marched away as prisoners of war, along with the other troops, in the direction of Bardia. The medical personnel had to identify themselves by producing their Red Cross identity cards and, after this was done, no attempt was made to interrogate them or in any way obstruct the carrying on of their work. Brigadier Hargest, 5 Brigade's commander, who had been taken prisoner, visited the wounded before he was escorted away. A German medical officer, who had made contact with the ADS medical staff, granted every facility for the collection and treatment of casualties, both friend and foe alike.

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The German commander, Colonel Cramer, also personally investigated the treatment of German casualties, which he was satisfied was equal to that accorded to New Zealanders. After the German wounded had received satisfactory treatment they were placed in trucks and other vehicles and evacuated by the Germans.

Two regimental medical officers of units of 5 Brigade, Captains Tyler1 and Adams,2 along with their RAP orderlies, joined the ADS and gave valuable assistance, besides bringing in most welcome supplies and equipment. Throughout that day and the next the ADS was unmolested, despite the passage westward of large enemy mechanised forces. A message was received from a German medical officer to the effect that no accommodation for wounded was available in Bardia, but that if necessary he would endeavour to send supplies of food and water; but sufficient supplies were salvaged from the camp to render this unnecessary.

On the morning of 29 November very few enemy troops remained in the locality. At 6 p.m. on 30 November a Divisional Cavalry patrol arrived at the ADS. The evacuation of patients and medical personnel was speedily organised and the convoy set off for Fort Capuzzo, which was reached at 11 p.m. Here the patients were accommodated in an underground cistern which had been prepared for their arrival.

The patients were transferred later to 19 Indian Field Ambulance MDS at Sidi Omar by an ambulance convoy of 7 MAC, under Lieutenant Bennett, accompanied by Major King with several ambulances of 4 Field Ambulance.

B Company 5 Field Ambulance reopened in the ruins of Fort Capuzzo with a view to serving the remustering elements of 5 Infantry Brigade, comprising 22 Battalion, 23 Battalion, and 28 (Maori) Battalion. The unit salvaged as much equipment as possible from surrounding areas. On 5 December it admitted 67 casualties which were transferred to the MDS at Sidi Omar. Then, on 8 December a mixed New Zealand medical party of personnel of 4, 5 and 6 Field Ambulances, who had been released from captivity and gathered by Major King, arrived at Fort Capuzzo with sufficient equipment to function as an MDS for the reorganised 5 Brigade, which was then preparing for further action in the Gazala area.

When 5 Brigade moved west from Tobruk on 11 December, casualties from actions with the enemy were admitted by the ADS in the vicinity of Acroma, and evacuated smoothly to the newly

1 Maj J. M. Tyler, m.i.d.; Hastings; born Auckland, 16 Sep 1915; medical practitioner; medical officer 5 Fd Regt Mar 1941–Jan 1942; 5 Fd Amb Jan 1942–May 1943; 2 Gen Hosp May 1943–May 1945.

2 Maj A. B. Adams; Auckland; born Wellington, 20 Apr 1914; house surgeon, Wellington Hospital; RMO 27 (MG) Bn Jun 1941–Jun 1943; 2 Gen Hosp Jun 1943–Jul 1944; OC Adv Base Camp Hosp Jul 1944–May 1945.

page 269 established 5 MDS nearby. The ADS moved forward with the brigade and on 14 December was subjected to several dive-bombing attacks, resulting in some casualties to the staff of the unit. Numerous casualties, both New Zealand and German, were admitted between 14 and 16 December, but it was possible to evacuate these to Tobruk without delay. The ADS closed on 17 December and the unit moved back with its brigade through El Adem and Bir Gibni to the railhead, and eventually reached Baggush by rail on 29 December.

During the campaign this ADS admitted a total of 700 patients, including enemy casualties. The entire company transport was captured or destroyed, as well as a considerable amount of equipment.