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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Operations of Medical Units

Operations of Medical Units

In the initial stages of the enemy attack both 4 and 6 ADSs were in an area subjected to a degree of shelling and bombing, but fortunately neither unit received damage. The offensive by 2 NZ Division involved cutting three gaps through minefields. Ambulance-car posts were established at minefield gaps and, as usual, an ambulance car was posted with each RMO. Casualties arrived at the ADSs in a steady stream throughout the night of 3–4 September. They were given treatment and held in the ADSs. Additional ambulance cars and 3-ton trucks had been sent up from 4 MDS to cope with the evacuation of patients, but it was not possible to send any wounded back before daylight as it was a dark night and the route out from the ADSs was by narrow, rough tracks through minefields.

Evacuation proceeded smoothly in the morning and by 1.30 p.m. on 4 September the majority of the night's casualties had been passed on by the ADSs. By this time approximately 400 patients had been handled. Casualties continued to come in throughout the day, and by midnight on 4–5 September 4 MDS had handled 560 cases. A surgical team from 6 Field Ambulance was called upon and, together with the 1 NZ CCS team and surgeons from 4 Field Ambulance, four operating tables were utilised. On subsequent days bombing and shelling continued but casualties were much lighter.

During the night of 3–4 September at Deir el Angar Captain Rutherford,1 who was RMO to 26 Battalion, displayed outstanding courage. His battalion had advanced to new positions and was subjected to continuous artillery, mortar, anti-tank and machine-gun fire, but Captain Rutherford and his sergeant personally visited all the exposed positions on foot. He set up his RAP and throughout the night and through all of the following day attended to the wounded, not only from his own unit and attached troops, but from the whole of a neighbouring formation whose medical supplies and ambulances had been blown up. With a very limited staff, Captain page 357 Rutherford attended to over 200 cases. For his work in this action he was awarded the Military Cross.

From 1 to 11 September, the date on which the Division was withdrawn from the line, 4 MDS treated 744 battle casualties and 615 sick, of whom 234 and 289 respectively were New Zealanders.

The New Zealand Division was withdrawn from the line by stages from 8 to 11 September, being relieved by 1 Royal Greek Brigade and two brigades of 44 Division. The MDS was maintained by 4 Field Ambulance until 132 Field Ambulance set up nearby. Thereupon 4 Field Ambulance moved to Bir Hasein, near El Hammam, and opened another MDS which was taken over by 5 Field Ambulance when that unit arrived from Maadi on 12 September. On 13 September 4 Field Ambulance returned to Maadi Camp to rejoin 4 Infantry Brigade, which was training for conversion to an armoured brigade.

plans of field hospital

5 NZ Field Ambulance Medical Inspection Room (3 IPP tents) for sick and accidental injuries

For the medical inspection room in Italy either three IPP tents or two adjacent rooms in a building were used, with an examination section separate from the treatment section. The treatment section (or room) was divided into medical and surgical departments. The distribution of the orderlies was as follows: 1 NCO (supervisor); 1 clerk (A & D); 1 medical orderly (medical treatments); 1 instrument orderly (sterilisation of instruments and dressings); 2 surgical orderlies (to do all dressings).

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From 17 to 19 September 5 and 6 Brigades, with 5 and 6 Field Ambulances under command, moved to a training area south of Burg el Arab, where each field ambulance set up an ADS and an MDS. On 29 September 1 NZ CCS opened at Kilo 120 on the Cairo-Alexandria road, and thereafter New Zealand patients were evacuated to this unit for onward transmission to 1 General Hospital, Helwan.

1 Capt A. M. Rutherford, MC and bar; Lower Hutt, born Dunedin, 27 Mar 1915; medical practitioner; RMO 26 Bn Oct 1941–Mar 1943; wounded 22 Mar 1943.