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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Move to Syria

Move to Syria

In February it was decided that the New Zealand Division should move north to Syria and there man and complete the defences of the Djedeide fortress, a part of the defensive system of Syria and Palestine which had been prepared in case the Germans should break through the Caucasus or cut through Turkey. The line which the New Zealand Division was to hold across the plains of Al Bekaa, from the slopes of the Lebanons across the valley to the far slopes of the Anti-Lebanons, denied to the enemy the use of all major arteries of communication from the north to southern Syria. The Australians manned a similar fortress on the Mediterranean slopes of the Lebanons, while British and French units guarded the far slopes of the Anti-Lebanons and the Damascus-Beirut road.

At the direction of GOC 2 NZEF, the DDMS 2 NZEF (Brigadier page 315 MacCormick) and ADMS NZ Division (Colonel Kenrick), in company with the GOC himself and other senior officers, made a reconnaissance trip to Palestine and Syria between 14 and 20 February page 316 1942. After inspecting possible hospital sites at Jerusalem, Nathanya, Kfar Vitkin, Nazareth, Haifa, Sidon, Beirut, and Zahle, the DDMS recommended to the GOC that 1 CCS should be located at Zahle, while 2 General Hospital and 1 Convalescent Depot should be situated at Kfar Vitkin, on the coast approximately half-way between Haifa and Tel Aviv. When a request for material for constructional work on the coastal site was vetoed by GHQ MEF owing to shortage of supplies, it was decided to locate 2 General Hospital in Nazareth.

map of military hospitals in Syria

Medical Units and Lines of Evacuation, Syria, March 1942 – April 1943

Subsequently Colonel Kenrick, in company with the AA & QMG, made an inspection of the divisional area between Ras Baalbek to the north and Baalbek valley. This valley was a highly malarious area and, as the previous winter had been wet, it appeared that anti-malaria measures would have to be carried out by all units from 15 March onwards. The Bekaa valley, although itself 2500 to 3000 feet above sea level, was marshy in places. The climate in Syria was cold in the winter and humid in summer. Among the endemic diseases were malaria, sandfly fever, and venereal disease, and ADMS NZ Division early issued special instructions in regard to these.

The New Zealand Division began its move to Syria on 23 February, when advance parties from 4 Infantry Brigade left for the Djedeide area. The main body of 4 Brigade, including 4 Field Ambulance, left Kabrit for Syria by road and rail on 1 March and the days following, and 6 Brigade with 6 Field Ambulance set out on 10 March. Both 4 and 6 Field Ambulances received additional transport in the last days of February which assisted in the move, although most of the members of the units and their equipment were transported by train to Haifa, and thence by trucks. In Syria the Division came under command of Ninth Army.