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Medical Units of 2 NZEF in Middle East and Italy

4 Field Ambulance Dressing Stations

4 Field Ambulance Dressing Stations

In the hilly country in which 4 Brigade had taken up defensive positions, a site for an advanced dressing station was chosen on the road a few miles north of the village of Paleonellene, and B page 74 Company, 4 Field Ambulance, with its three officers and 60 men, was sent there on 23 March. About six miles forward of the village were the small hamlets of Mikre Melia, Paleostane, Radani, and Ryakia along the front occupied by 18 and 20 Battalions, with 19 Battalion in reserve. It was realised that, in the event of a German attack, the evacuation of casualties from this area would prove most difficult. The country was ruggedly mountainous, and there was also a danger of the rapidly drying undergrowth being fired by incendiaries. More rough country lay on the left flank, but on the right, from Paleostane eastwards to the sea, the terrain dropped down to a narrow coastal plain.

The ADS was set up on the reverse slope of a ridge. Its several departments were housed in dugouts burrowed into the hillside and concealed under canvas and cut scrub. Access was by a lateral road on each side of the ridge. Vehicles were parked under cover some distance away. A bearer collecting post was sited about a mile from the dressing station, at a fork of the road leading to the positions of 18 and 20 Battalions, since from this point it was impossible for ambulance cars to go forward to either flank of the brigade area. It required little imagination to gauge the future usefulness of the Neil Robertson (Curtis cane) stretchers with which each company was equipped. The Neil Robertson stretcher could be raised or lowered with its burden either horizontally or vertically, with no danger of the patient becoming dislodged from his mummy-like strappings.

Thirteen miles of rough road, falling from an altitude of about 1000 feet to almost sea level, separated the ADS from the MDS which HQ Company, 4 Field Ambulance, established about a mile and a half north of the village of Kalokouri, on the road back through the Olympus Pass, some two and a half miles west of Katerine. The ambulance men's first task was to dig in. The MDS was pleasantly situated in a dense wood, a natural screen which, supplemented by camouflage nets and canvas, gave the dressing station most effective cover. It is interesting to note that at this stage no one considered it other than the correct thing to camouflage a medical unit, which normally relies on the conspicuous display of the Red Cross for its protection. German respect for the Red Cross was not properly appreciated until the campaign developed.

HQ 2 NZ Division and the office of the ADMS (Col Kenrick) page 75 were set up in Kalokouri, and 4 Field Hygiene Section, which had travelled north at the same time as 4 Field Ambulance, occupied an area near 4 MDS. From the moment of opening, the MDS admitted cases from 4 and 6 Infantry Brigades and other divisional units. Patients were sent back by rail from Katerine to Athens.

By 28 March 4 MDS was able to accommodate 120 patients if necessary. Already the experience gained in the Western Desert was proving of inestimable value. The departments co-operated efficiently in the admission, treatment, accommodation, and evacuation of the sick and injured. Each section was able to establish itself and begin working with the least possible delay, as a self-contained unit if necessary. Not only was rapid setting up possible, but the layout ensured that in the event of a hurried move, the whole dressing station could be dismantled and under way in four hours. To accommodate patients, canvas tarpaulins were adapted for screening around each of the 30-cwt trucks, and the areas under canvas were dug in so that the patients could lie below the level of the ground, thus ensuring a degree of safety from bombing and shelling.