Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
Withdrawal of 1 General Hospital
Withdrawal of 1 General Hospital
Orders received by 1 General Hospital at Pharsala late on the night of 14 April from ADMS 81 Base Sub-Area, Larissa, led to patients being loaded on a train at Dermele in the early hours of the 15th, and then unloaded again when the arrangements of RTO Dermele were countermanded by superior officers at Larissa and Athens. Further instructions were received early on 15 April from the CO and ADMS, 81 Base Sub-Area, that sisters, staff, and patients were to be evacuated immediately. Everything was to be left standing, though valuable instruments and drugs were to be taken, if possible. Enemy planes had been active over the hospital area during the night. A bomb was dropped not far from the sisters' quarters, and in the early morning a plane came over and machine-gunned the camp without doing any damage.
The sisters were sent off by road in transport provided by NZ Mobile Dental Unit, under Maj MacKenzie,12 which had been attached to the hospital. They took light luggage only, and eight Australian sisters who had been sent back for safety two days before accompanied them. This convoy arrived in Athens about half past seven that evening, and the sisters were accommodated in hotels. Later they were transferred to houses at Kephissia.
The work of clearing the 428 patients began again at 6.55 a.m. on 15 April. Transport was limited to three 3-ton trucks and three ambulances, and as the weather was fine, it was decided that the 112 convalescent patients and the men of the unit should march to the station at Dermele, six miles away. All patients were at the station by 11.10 a.m., but the promised hospital train from Lamia did not turn up. A train from Larissa, full of refugees, arrived an hour late, but box waggons had not been reserved on it for the hospital as promised. Arrangements were then made to use waggons on the siding for the patients, and mattresses were brought from page 94 the hospital for the lying cases. Ultimately, some of the staff and convalescent patients marshalled the waggons, and a train was made up. Notwithstanding lack of support by the Greek railway authorities, and, in fact, in face of strong opposition from them, the train was joined up to the Larissa train. All valuable drugs and instruments, the sisters' heavy baggage, and a waggon load of rations were placed on the train. Great difficulty was experienced in arranging for the hospital personnel to travel on the train to tend the sick and wounded. Ultimately the train left for Athens at 7 p.m.
During the day a rear party at the hospital packed some valuable equipment from laboratory, X-ray department and operating theatre, and medical stores on a truck, finding also that men dressed in Greek Air Force uniform and local inhabitants had made extensive thefts from the unoccupied tents. The rear party left at 3.45 p.m. by road. Col McKillop, Maj Hunter, and Capt King left by road at 7.30 p.m. after the train had departed.
On the train Lt-Col Boyd was in charge. At one stage, when the Greek driver took shelter during an air raid and refused to carry on, he found it necessary to get a New Zealander and an Australian to drive the train. Later, a guard was placed over the Greek on the footplate of the engine to keep the train moving. At 4 p.m. on 16 April the train arrived at Rouf siding, Athens, and the patients and staff were taken to 26 General Hospital, ⅖ Australian General Hospital, and NZ Base Depot at Voulas.
A convalescent hospital was established at Voulas Camp on 17 April. Instructions received on the morning of 19 April directed that 30 nursing orderlies be sent to 26 General Hospital, that four officers (Captains Slater13 and Kirk,14 Lieutenants Foreman15 and J. Borrie16) and 50 men be kept at the convalescent hospital, that two page 95 officers (Captains Sayers and King) be detached to go with the New Zealand sisters on a hospital ship which was expected to leave in a few hours, and that all others of the male staff embark at Coal Quay, Piraeus, at 3 p.m. that day.
Col McKillop, 13 officers, and 69 men embarked on MV Rawnsley at the coal wharf at Piraeus by half past three on the afternoon of 19 April. The vessel left her moorings at 7.30 and proceeded down the bay. After the ship had cruised around all night it was realised that its convoy had departed. At 7 a.m. next day, while waiting for instructions, the ship was bombed and machine-gunned, two officers and six men of British units being wounded. One officer died before the casualties were transferred to the hospital ship Aba, the ship on which the New Zealand sisters had expected to travel. Further air raids were experienced after the Rawnsley sailed at 11 a.m. for Alexandria.
14 Lt-Col G. R. Kirk, OBE, m.i.d.; born Gisborne, 17 Jun 1907; Physician, Dunedin; RMO 20 Bn Sep 1939-Jan 1941; Physician 1 Gen Hosp, 3 Gen Hosp, 1 Mob CCS Jan 1941-Sep 1942; in charge medical division 1 Gen Hosp, Sep 1942-Jan 1945.