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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

First Repatriation of NZMC Prisoners of War

First Repatriation of NZMC Prisoners of War

On 11 April 1942 the first of the NZMC prisoners of war were repatriated from Italy. The group included the commanding officers of the three New Zealand field ambulances captured in Libya in November 1941—Lieutenant-Colonels J. M. Twhigg, A. A. Tennent, and N. C. Speight—Major T. G. de Clive Lowe, who was captured at the same time, and nineteen NZMC other ranks. In addition, there were two regimental medical orderlies, one NZDC other rank, and three New Zealand invalids.

They had come from Camp 75 near Bari, Italy, and had been transferred from an Italian naval hospital ship to HS Llandovery Castle at Smyrna on 8 April, along with protected personnel from British, Australian, and South African forces. They disembarked at page 310 Alexandria on 11 April and went that day by hospital train to Cairo, where they were welcomed back by DDMS 2 NZEF.

There was some doubt as to the recognised policy regarding the re-employment in 2 NZEF in the Middle East of the exchanged prisoner-of-war protected personnel and an opinion was obtained from DJAG 2 NZEF. It was agreed that the appropriate parts of the Hague Convention permitted the re-employment of medical personnel as distinct from combatant troops, but it was not customary to employ them on the same front. A definite instruction was issued by the War Office that the British personnel involved in the exchange were to be returned to the United Kingdom, and a similar course was later adopted with the New Zealanders, some of whom served in the Pacific after their return to New Zealand.1

1In May 1943 Army HQ New Zealand pointed out that protected personnel could quite rightly be re-employed on the same front, and suggested that this might be necessary because of manpower shortage.