Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy
Embarkation at Porto Rafti
Embarkation at Porto Rafti
In its withdrawal from the Thermopylae line, 5 Infantry Brigade Group, with 5 and 6 Field Ambulances and 4 Field Hygiene Section under its command, reached Athens at daylight on 24 April after a hectic night journey over congested roads. On the outskirts of the city, the men of 5 Field Ambulance heard the wail of air- page 101 raid sirens for the first time since leaving England. However, the unit cleared Athens without undue delay and dispersed among olive trees along the road to Raphena, there to spend the daylight hours under cover with the rest of the brigade group.
Sixth Field Ambulance was less fortunate. Confusion reigned when the field ambulance convoy reached the central square in Athens, a traffic jam resulting in trucks being scattered in all directions. Soon the sky was filled with circling enemy aircraft. Most members of the unit spent the day hiding in olive groves and barley fields at various points on the roadside beyond the city; others, in the general confusion, reached Hymettus.
An extraordinary game of hide-and-seek was in progress. To give the enemy no inkling that localities near the beaches at Porto Rafti, Raphena, and Marathon were dispersal areas, the strictest measures of concealment from air observation were maintained. While in hiding the men busied themselves with a further paring down of equipment. Men were limited to a pack or haversack; officers were allowed an extra valise or small case. This meant the dumping of much personal gear. A small quantity of light medical equipment was retained by 5 Field Ambulance, the rest being despatched to 26 General Hospital at Kephissia. Three motor ambulance convoy cars, which had done excellent service during their association with the New Zealand medical unit, were also sent to the British hospital.
The same dark, moonless night that covered the withdrawal of 6 Brigade from Thermopylae also covered the final march of 5 Brigade, and a number of non-combatant units, to the beaches for evacuation. 6 Field Ambulance had first to assemble its scattered parties from their various hideouts. Members of both 5 and 6 Field Ambulances then travelled in unit vehicles to within a mile or two of the beaches at Porto Rafti. There the men debussed and, after wrecking the vehicles, marched in silent groups to the beach. The embarkation, facilitated by a perfectly calm sea, was carried out with quiet efficiency. Motor landing craft ferried the men to waiting naval vessels. The Royal Navy that night took into its care nearly 5000 New Zealanders, in addition to many British, Australian, Cypriot, and Palestinian troops. Once the troops were on board they were given food and hot cocoa, and everything possible was done for their comfort.page 102
Fifth Field Ambulance embarked on the Glengyle with the main body of 6 Field Ambulance. The remainder of the latter unit went with its commanding officer on board the destroyer HMS Calcutta, which, with another destroyer, HMS Perth, formed a naval escort. Men of 4 Field Hygiene Section, HQ 2 NZ Division, and Col Kenrick and his staff were also included in the Calcutta's load of 35 officers and 700 men. By 3 a.m. on 25 April as many men as possible had been embarked, and the convoy put to sea. Later, the convoy was joined by ships pulling out from other beaches. Among them was HMAS Voyager with the New Zealand sisters on board.