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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

ADS with 6 Brigade

ADS with 6 Brigade

Sixth Brigade was bivouacked along both sides of the Santa Teresa-Statte track, on rolling, rocky country that was lightly wooded with olive trees. A Company, 6 Field Ambulance, operated the ADS in an area adjoining that of the brigade band, on a narrow strip between the track and a dry riverbed to the east, where the ground fell away in precipitous scrub-covered cliffs. At the time the band was practising ‘The Bohemian Girl’, and the familiar airs often floated over the company lines.

The evacuation section operated the only working centre, holding patients in a shelter borrowed from HQ. The rest of the company covered the surrounding countryside in daily, two-hour route marches, and constructed a metalled road to and from the shelter. Like HQ, A Company was handicapped by lack of equipment, though limited supplies were drawn from 70 British General Hospital and 7 Advanced Depot Medical Stores.

Excellent rations and a plentiful supply of grapes and almonds no doubt contributed to the good health of the whole company at this time. Wine, too, was plentiful, which gladdened the hearts of those who were not teetotallers, though it may not have improved their health. An innovation that caused almost unanimous satisfaction was the weekly issue of reputable brands of cigarettes in airtight tins of fifty in place of the lung-searing ‘Vs’. The sole dissenter was a somewhat individualistic combination of orderly, company clerk, and stretcher-bearer, who stoutly asserted that he had always enjoyed smoking ‘Vs’ and wished that he could still get them.

The medical units at Santa Teresa found it a pleasant farming district. The olive trees were laden with fruit, and all around the peasants were manuring the ground, carrying the manure to the fields in carts drawn by powerful but docile white oxen with enormous, spreading horns. The oxen and the peasant families were housed in a low, whitewashed stone building adjoining the count's residence. Grape, nut, pomegranate and wine vendors stood about the fringes of the company area. The wine was dark and rather sour, and a little of it went a long way. It was not intended to be drunk in large quantities; and those who quaffed it as they were in the habit of quaffing beer found themselves miserably raiding the bismuth-and-soda bottle next day.

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Some of the men used to cross the gully to where the Italian soldiers sat around a bonfire and passed the evenings singing songs and arias from grand opera. It was good entertainment for the New Zealanders, whose experience of spontaneous mass singing had been confined to carousals and the wailing of Egyptian labour gangs.

The days were spent on duty in the medical centres and cookhouse, in metalling the more important areas, or on route marches. In the splendid autumn weather the route marches were a source of pleasure, being more in the nature of leisurely rambles; and the company tramped for miles over the undulating countryside, passing through olive groves, vineyards, and fields of crops, and scrambling over the ancient stone walls that the Italians use as fences.

A wall newspaper was started in one unit on 17 October, the contributions being hung on a board nailed to a tree. In the unit were men of all manner of views, beliefs, and opinions, many adhering to them to an extreme degree; but a sound editorial committee managed to keep things under control.