New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
The Work of the Regimental Medical Officers
The Work of the Regimental Medical Officers
Each RMO utilised his attached ambulance car to collect accessible cases on the battlefield. Evacuation back to the ADS was carried out by cars sent forward from the ADS. The minefields through which the advance had been made rendered the collection of wounded very difficult. Stretcher-bearing was particularly irksome and dangerous, as it was necessary to pick up the casualties away from the main tracks, especially in the region of the minefields, and carry them to the ambulances moving on the tracks.
The New Zealand Division evolved a particular system of evacuation through minefields. Casualties at the start line were collected by an ambulance stationed there. All men were instructed before the battle that if they became casualties they must make their way to one of the definite brigade axes. There were two axes for 6 Brigade in its attack on Miteiriya Ridge. Stretcher-bearers were to collect to these tracks also. As soon as the first gap was signalled as being open, a convoy of ambulance cars was sent to clear the RAP which had been established just through the first minefield. The tracks were page 384 then patrolled by ambulance cars up to the second minefield; when the latter was cleared a similar drill was carried out. Walking wounded were instructed to walk back to the first gap, from which signs led to the ADS. Provosts were specially instructed to direct them. A red light was shown at the ADS as soon as it was safe to do so. Provosts on the lights marking the gaps were instructed to guide returning ambulance cars by turning their lights to show both ways as soon as operations permitted. Before this, if they heard an ambulance car approaching, they could guide it by voice or by reversing their light for a brief moment.
Ambulance cars were instructed not to leave the lit routes because of scattered mines, and men between the routes had to be brought to them by hand carriage. Ambulances had to proceed forward to the RAPs at all costs and not turn back with wounded picked up on route. If available, a 3-ton truck marked ‘walking wounded’ patrolled the routes.
The ADS commander had to avoid committing so many ambulance cars forward that he could not evacuate to the MDS. This minefield drill became the standard practice in the British Army.
All the medical officers attached to the British armoured units with our Division became casualties during the battle and our own RMOs took over their work. The type of work carried out by the RMO is illustrated by the citations upon which Captain Rutherford gained an immediate bar to his MC and Captain McCarthy1 an immediate MC.
After the attack on the night of 23–24 October and on the three succeeding days, says Rutherford's citation, 26 Battalion was in position on the forward slope of Miteiriya Ridge which was exposed to small arms, mortar, and shell fire. Captain Rutherford, 26 Battalion's RMO, was personally responsible for the evacuation of all wounded from the position. He covered the whole of the area in a bantam many times both by day and by night through both marked and unmarked minefields, attending and evacuating wounded. On one occasion he drove through a marked minefield to evacuate some wounded tank personnel and wounded German prisoners, and he was directed through the marked gap by the prisoners on the return journey.
In the evening (of the 23rd) after dusk troops began to form up.… The RAP truck was to go to the start line 20 min. after the Bn started, and to move up to the Bn with the remaining transport when the minefield was cleared.
Our troops moved forward about 2115 and crossed the start line at 2130. I took my place at the start line at 2150 hrs and received any walking wounded and directed them on.… We were in slit trenches or working in the ambulance which had duly arrived. Flying over our heads was a continual sweep of 25-pounder shells making a deafening roar.
Our transport came about 0100 hrs and we went up the track as directed.… I met some orderlies with wounded, filled the truck with two lying cases, and went further forward to collect two more near a front minefield. Machine gun fire and tracer bullets went past.
I ordered more ambulances. In the meantime there were more wounded up front, so I went off and got two Bren gun carriers and took these up to the same place and collected four more lying cases. I felt much safer in a Bren carrier with low-firing MG fire.… Four American ambulances came up so I sent one away full, left one with me half-full, and sent two up to Sam Rutherford (26 Bn). They did not contact him but came back full.
I was then given a guide and he led me in, but first I picked up some 25 wounded, and sent the walking wounded back and told them to get on the American ambulance. I eventually arrived at 24 Bn, filled up the ambulance and sent it back with the guide to collect my 3-tonner, which got lost but eventually arrived, and later an ambulance returned and I got cases away.