Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
PROVIDING ADSs for 5 and 6 Brigades, A Company, 5 Field Ambulance, and A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, passed through the gap on the evening and night of 4 November. During the morning HQ and B Companies of 6 Field Ambulance had moved up from their reserve position into the gap, ready to move forward in their role of mobile MDS for the Division. Around them was an amazing concentration of guns and transport, tanks and armoured cars. Guns were barking close by. After dark the unit moved out into the open desert in a night lit with flares and tracer.
Throughout the night the column moved westward from Alamein, churning slowly through the soft sand. Along the skyline to the rear the flickering and rumbling of the battle continued, and to the north and west there was intermittent bombing and artillery fire. At daylight A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, moved on in desert formation behind 6 Brigade and travelled north-west until noon. Twenty patients, mostly casualties from encounters en route, were treated and evacuated to the MDS. The 5 Brigade ADS also admitted some wounded.1
Because of the heavy going, the original object of reaching Fuka in time to cut off the retreat of a section of the enemy was defeated. In thirteen laborious hours only 35 miles had been covered. Time and again vehicles had stuck, and the men had piled out and heaved and manhandled them through the soft sand, often axle-deep. While there was no bombing in the vicinity of the field ambulance, men were occasionally sent scurrying by German fighter-bombers that came roaring down over the column, while Bren guns and Bofors jabbered and coughed in deafening chorus.
Many prisoners were passed during the day. Some were walking, and others, more fortunate, were crowded into trucks. Late in the afternoon the cook's truck and water cart, which had been missing, rejoined the company much to everyone's relief, and conversation, page 240 which had been gloomily dwelling on the prospect of a diet of dry rations, switched to speculation on the fate of the Division moving on ahead, miles inside enemy territory.
HQ and B Companies, 6 Field Ambulance, drew up close behind A Company when the column halted for the night. The men were exhausted and bedded down without digging in. Huddled in their blankets, they lay around the trucks, and the only sounds to be heard were the calls of desert night birds and the tread of the sentries.
In the early hours of the 6th the weather was fine; the troops were stirred into life by reveille, played on a spandau. Congratulating themselves on having passed the night without incident, the men were startled by a burst of machine-gun fire and a stream of tracer from a group of vehicles moving off to the left. This fire was followed by anti-tank shells which ricochetted from rocks and went screaming overhead. The New Zealanders retaliated, and the situation showed every indication of developing into a really hot skirmish. However, the fire died away as suddenly as it had started. Direct hits had been scored on the German vehicles, killing and wounding some of the occupants. In this skirmish 100 Germans and 500 Italians were captured. Ambulance cars of A Company went out to investigate and returned with the wounded, who were treated and evacuated. One young, slightly wounded German, standing amid the mangled remains of his comrades, seemed grimly amused at the affair. He explained that they had slept alongside the New Zealanders all night, assuming them to be a German force.
HQ Company, in the meantime, was partially set up and began to receive patients at nine o'clock. During the morning 126 cases, some requiring blood transfusions, were treated and evacuated in ambulance cars.
1 While this account of the initial stages of the advance describes more particularly the events affecting 6 Fd Amb, the story can be taken as applying in substance to 5 ADS also.