Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
WHEN 4 Field Ambulance and 4 Field Hygiene Section disembarked on 13 February 1940, the train journey from Port Tewfik through Geneifa, Fayid, Ismailia, El Qassasin, and Tel el Kebir to Maadi, a distance of about 90 miles, took about six hours. The New Zealand troops were not impressed by Egyptian troop trains and they were to find by bitter experience that the standard did not improve. The dusty carriages had wooden seats and bare floors, and these the engine drew in frenzied dashes, with the whistle shrieking incessantly, and then halted at isolated stations as if exhausted. At their destination, Wadi Digla siding, the men were glad to leave the train, and then they marched with light kits to quarters under canvas in Maadi Camp.
Maadi Camp, stretching out in the desert about eight miles from Cairo, was built on a plateau overlooking the Nile Valley. It was something of a disillusionment. No one had quite expected a base camp (to all intents and purposes) out in the unfriendly desert, or had realised that the desert was such a colourless and depressing waste of sand. Romantic pictures of golden, rolling sandhills were soon dispelled by hard reality, and although, later, men were to come to look on Maadi Camp as representing comfort and civilisation, at first encounter the prospect of living under what then seemed such cheerless conditions was far from encouraging. The only feature to break the monotony of the surroundings was a lined and eroded escarpment beyond the camp boundaries to the south and east, while westwards in the hazy distance were the age-old Pyramids. There was not a tree, a bush, or any splash of living green in the camp to relieve the drab monotony of desert.
The camp was a haphazard assembly of large square tents (EPIP1 they were called), smaller reddish-brown tents, and huts of wood or stone. More huts were being built, ‘Wogs’ working at them slowly to a monotonous chant by one of their number, while camel trains carrying building materials strode leisurely through the camp. The huts were used mainly for offices, cookhouses, mess-rooms or stores, and the men's sleeping quarters were all in tents. Erecting the tents was a major task as the rocky plateau was page 25 covered with only a few inches of sand. Camouflaged to blend with the sand, the tents spread over the desert for a considerable area, later to grow to several square miles. Later on, the building of NAAFIs, YMCA, and Lowry Hut added comfortable amenities.
The First Echelon arrived in Egypt at the end of the northern winter. New Zealanders in Maadi Camp found the days not unduly hot, but the nights were extremely cold. Men were early advised to keep an overcoat handy on going to bed for use as an extra blanket in the early hours of the morning, and this precaution was found to be almost a necessity. Shaving in cold water at reveille, often before sunrise, was a painful business for many who had been used to the luxury of hot water on the voyage to Egypt.
The unseasoned troops found living conditions somewhat unpleasant during the frequent ‘khamseens’—hot winds laden with the dust of the desert.
1 English Pattern Indian Patent.