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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

General Medical Plan

General Medical Plan

The general medical plan for the Second Libyan Campaign was based on two lines of evacuation, one for 13 Corps and one for 30 Corps. The Corps' lines converged in the rear at Bir Thalata, 15 miles west of the main medical centre at Minqar el Zannan where were sited 14 British CCS, less the light section, and 1 Mobile Military Hospital.

From the medical centre evacuation was by train from the ambulance railhead about 7 miles away, from a landing ground nearby, and by motor ambulance convoy to the main coastal road and thence back to Matruh and Alexandria, staging posts being arranged on the way. At Garawla, near Matruh, there were two base hospitals on the L of C, where cases could be staged if necessary. One of these hospitals was 2 NZ General Hospital under Colonel Spencer. The next centre was Alexandria, with two British general hospitals in Alexandria itself and two at Buselli close by. A detachment of 3 NZ General Hospital under Lieutenant-Colonel Button was also sited in Alexandria at the Anglo-Swiss hospital.

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Behind Alexandria were a group of hospitals in the Canal Zone and the hospitals in Cairo. No. 1 NZ General Hospital under Colonel Pottinger and 3 NZ General Hospital under Colonel Gower were in the Cairo zone at Helwan and Helmieh respectively.

In the 13 Corps zone arrangements were made to have staging posts at 25-mile intervals ahead of the main medical centre. Twenty miles short of the frontier at Conference Cairn were sited the light section of 14 CCS and the MDS of 14 Field Ambulance, and just west of the frontier was 17 Indian Field Ambulance, to which was attached a British surgical team.

From there the lines of 4 Indian Division and the New Zealand Division branched, the Indian line servicing the frontier at Sidi Omar, and the New Zealand line passing west then north to the region of Sidi Azeiz. Evacuation from the open New Zealand MDS was to be arranged by 7 MAC, which was responsible for the transport of cases to the medical centre. The evacuation of casualties from the Division to the MDS was the responsibility of the divisional units themselves. The Division had available three complete field ambulances and the Mobile Surgical Unit as well as the regimental medical officers.

The divisional plan, as during the retreat in Greece, was to attach a section of a field ambulance to each brigade under brigade command, and to utilise the remainder of the field ambulances as MDSs as occasion demanded. To the main active MDS was to be attached the Mobile Surgical Unit to deal with the major surgery, especially the surgery of the abdomen, head and chest, and amputations. This was the first time this unit had been utilised in action.

The experiences in Greece and Crete had convinced our force that the Germans did respect the Geneva Convention, and all medical units provided themselves with adequate recognition signs for display during the campaign. Large Red Crosses were painted on ambulance cars, and all medical trucks had large signs which could be fixed on the roofs and sides. Medical staff cars flew flags and also had signs for the roof. The signs were shown only when the medical units were established as units and not associated with combatant personnel. When the brigades travelled in desert formation all signs were taken down or covered over. This was done in order to observe the Convention strictly, and also to avoid giving information of a strategic move to the enemy. Some of the British ambulance cars still retained the small Red Cross markings which were not discernible more than a few yards away. A convoy of these cars was shot up by our own aircraft in mistake for German armoured vehicles.