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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The ADS with 4 Brigade

The ADS with 4 Brigade

B Company 4 Field Ambulance, with Major Harrison as OC, came under the command of 4 Brigade Group on 18 November. The unit arrived at Menastir on 22 November, following the cutting of the Tobruk - Bardia road by 4 Infantry Brigade that morning, and set up an ADS to receive the first battle casualties; the majority of these were Germans. The position of the MDS was not known, so the ADS was cleared by sending two trucks of patients to Headquarters New Zealand Division to be redirected from there. Next day the ADS was cleared by three ambulance cars and the unit moved to set up at the Gambut aerodrome, following its capture by 4 Brigade.

On 24 November the unit proceeded 12 miles with 4 Infantry Brigade to Zaafran, where the ADS was established, and worked all night. It was not known whether the MDS had moved or was in the same locality; the company had carried its patients for two days. Three ambulance cars, however, arrived from 6 MDS the next day and the ADS was cleared to the MDS, then situated about 4 miles to the south. Supplies, especially of water, were becoming critically low. About eighty battle casualties were admitted during 26 November and the evacuation of the patients to 6 MDS worked smoothly.

On 29 November the company moved west about 2 miles to where the brigade group formed a compact defensive formation. The ADS was within 100 yards of some guns, but it was impossible to select a better site. The evacuation of patients to Tobruk had been arranged and the ADS was cleared, while water rations had come to hand.

There was heavy shelling all day on 29 and 30 November, with the enemy ranging on the battery adjacent to the ADS. Several of page 265 the wounded in the ADS received fresh wounds, and casualties among the staff were nine wounded and one killed. Lance-Corporal Munro1 went steadily about his duties as a medical orderly with complete disregard for personal safety and was later awarded the Military Medal. In the evening of 30 November the ADS was moved to a more sheltered locality. The convoy which had taken patients to Tobruk returned with 300 blankets and 100 stretchers which were urgently needed, and a further convoy of patients was sent to Tobruk that night.

There was heavy machine-gun fire and shellfire to the south of the ADS at 7 a.m. on 1 December. A tank battle was in progress and British tanks manoeuvred among the ADS vehicles. At midday the remnants of the badly mauled 6 Brigade withdrew through 4 Brigade and the enemy was in full view on the escarpment, south-west of the ADS. Patients were collected from Captains Sutherland and Levien,2 RMOs of 6 Brigade, and at 6 p.m. 4 ADS held 120 patients.

On 29 November Captain Carswell, RMO 19 Battalion, assisted at 4 ADS when part of its staff became casualties. On 27 and 28 November at Ed Duda, where the link-up had been made with the Tobruk Force, 19 Battalion came under heavy shellfire from three sides and Captain Carswell's actions earned him the MC. There was no sheltered position for an RAP and the tending of casualties entailed moving about from slit trench to slit trench. Despite the shells bursting around the area, Carswell showed no hesitation in attending to the wounded. His medical section had previously been depleted and this threw extra work on him. At the same time constant calls for assistance were coming from neighbouring British units, 4 and 44 Battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment. To answer these calls meant walking over shell-swept ground for some distance, but Captain Carswell promptly went to the assistance of these wounded. Most of the RMOs had to work under shellfire in this campaign, and Captain W. L. M. Gilmour was killed when 20 Battalion was overrun by enemy tanks.

Experiences in the fighting at Belhamed were described by Captain Dempsey, RMO of 18 Battalion, in these words:

The Belhamed attack was our first real encounter with the Germans. We had to go forward on foot with Battalion Headquarters, so we could carry only first aid gear and stretchers. The RAP truck was to follow up later, also an ambulance car. We had arranged before the attack that the wounded were page 266 to be marked by their rifle and bayonet stuck into the ground beside them. We later found this a useful mark to find the wounded in the darkness.

There were many casualties, both our own unit and German.

Most of the casualties were from small arms fire, and most of these were sustained almost at the unit objective. I formed the RAP in a slight depression near Bn HQ, and while the unit was digging in we started our search for the wounded. The cries of these men kept on for most of the night. We had great difficulty at times in finding our way back to the RAP. It was a very cold night, and the blankets were hopelessly inadequate. We packed the wounded together like sardines, and made each three men share one or two blankets. A few died during the night because of the cold. In the morning the RAP truck and ambulance car reached us and we got the wounded evacuated in relays.

The next five or six days were very unpleasant. There was constant mortaring the whole of each day. The casualties were evacuated in the evenings. Nothing except first aid and morphine was given to the wounded. The RAP truck hit a mine and was a write-off.

Just before the big enemy attack on 1 December our unit shifted farther along the escarpment. Here we had a fine RAP—a cave in the hillside which was full of Italian and German wounded. A few yards away was the remains of an Italian hospital, so we had all the equipment we needed and were able to attend adequately to the wounded—British, Polish and New Zealanders. We had no trouble in the evacuation of wounded from here into Tobruk.

The 4th ADS was supplied with eighteen trucks for the transport of its 120 patients during 4 Infantry Brigade's withdrawal to Egypt on the night of 1–2 December. Across the frontier the patients were transferred to 14 CCS at Minqar el Zannan, and B Company 4 Field Ambulance then continued east and reached Baggush on 5 December. During the operations in Cyrenaica this ADS admitted 360 New Zealand casualties, 48 British, and 40 enemy, a total of 448.

1 Capt C. Munro, MM; Taihape; born Taihape, 26 Sep 1914; clerk; 4 Fd Amb Oct 1939–Aug 1945 (RSM); Registrar 6 Gen Hosp, Japan, 1946–47.

2 Maj G. H. Levien, m.i.d.; Hamilton; born Auckland, 14 Jun 1917; house surgeon, Auckland Hospital; RMO 21 Bn, Aug 1941–Dec 1942; medical officer 5 Fd Amb Aug 1943–Dec 1944; OC Maadi Camp Hosp Dec 1944–Jul 1945.