Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
Helwan Camp was mainly tented. The few huts in the hospital area were used as orderly room, quartermaster's store, and for cooking and messing, and both hospital wards and appointments and the unit's sleeping quarters were in dug-in EPIP tents. Men could get beer or soft drinks from the Naafi canteen, tea and cakes from the New Zealand YMCA or the large hut run by the Salvation Army, or see a nightly screening of resurrections from Hollywood at a camp cinema. The Salvation Army hut also provided a reading and writing room, a small library, and occasional entertainments. It was neither a particularly active nor a particularly entertaining life for most, but there were at least a few amenities about the camp, the hospital work was new, and Cairo was less than an hour's run away.
The opening of the New Zealand Club in Cairo on 5 February 1941 provided a much-appreciated centre for those on leave. This club, which was to prove such a boon to all New Zealanders, was particularly appreciated by the sisters. Comfortable lounges where page 50 one could relax and drink tea in comparative coolness, or eat ice-cream and fruit salad, were havens indeed. The club was open to all nursing sisters of the Allied forces and was much used by sisters from other countries. At times one could feel quite a stranger in one's own home; but many interesting people were met and lasting friendships made there. The New Zealand Club was a recognised meeting place for all ranks when in Cairo.
Early in 1941, for the first time since its arrival in Egypt, 4 Field Ambulance was released from the responsibility of maintaining a camp hospital. Previous arrangements had been made for leave for members of 2 NZEF in Palestine and Alexandria. Members of the unit were now able to take advantage of these arrangements, and at this and later stages enjoyed a pleasant change from life in the desert. At Alexandria one could appreciate civilian surroundings as contrasted with Army life. There were cinemas and service clubs and good bathing from the beaches towards Sidi Bishr. In Palestine interest lay in the Biblical and historical associations of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, Haifa, Mount Carmel, and in the modern Jewish city of Tel Aviv, peopled by many a refugee from Europe. The contrast in life and outlook of the Arab and the Jew was marked, and the men took much interest in the communal farm settlements of the Jews.
By March the rush of work at the hospitals had slackened to a marked extent. The offensive in Cyrenaica had come to a halt, the Division had left for Greece, and the hospitals were serving troops from 2 NZEF Base only. The easing of work in the wards enabled the staff to relax to some extent, and advantage was taken of the quieter spell to get some of the members of the units away on leave. They, too, made their way to Cairo, Alexandria, and Palestine.