New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
THE administrative units of 2 NZEF were primarily concerned with the organisation for the efficient functioning of 2 NZ Division. When the Division moved to Italy and it became apparent that it was committed to a long campaign, the separating expanse of the Mediterranean Sea made administration from Egypt difficult. Not the least important difficulty was the delay in reaching decisions, in spite of the use of the air service for mails and for liaison visits by senior officers. On 22 November, at a conference in Maadi Camp, the decision was made for HQ 2 NZEF and additional units to move to Italy about the middle of January 1944.
The medical units concerned were DMS Office, the Consultants, Principal Matron, 2 General Hospital, Detachment 1 Convalescent Depot, Medical Stores Depot, and detachments of Base Hygiene Section and 23 Field Ambulance (1 Camp Hospital). The last was to form a camp hospital at Advanced Base. At this time both 3 General Hospital and the main body of 1 Convalescent Depot had gone to Italy.
After the transfer of all these units to Italy only 1 General Hospital, 23 Field Ambulance, Base Hygiene Section, and 1, 2 and 3 Rest Homes remained in Egypt. It was not long before 1 General Hospital was subdivided into two, with the larger section proceeding to Italy and the smaller section remaining at Helwan as 5 General Hospital. The general base medical administration in Egypt then became the charge of the Senior Medical Officer, Maadi Camp, Lieutenant-Colonel Kronfeld, who was also OC 23 Field Ambulance and was responsible to DMS 2 NZEF.
Of the units involved in the transfer from Egypt to Italy at the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, the first to cross the Mediterranean was 2 General Hospital, the main body of whose staff sailed from Port Said on 3 January 1944. There were difficulties about shipping arrangements and the staff had to be split into two parties, while the equipment was loaded on yet another ship. It was planned page 568 by DMS 2 NZEF to locate the unit in the seminary buildings at Molfetta, a seaside town about 16 miles north along the Adriatic coast from Bari, to relieve the strain on 3 General Hospital. The switch of the New Zealand Division to the Fifth Army front at Cassino, and the inability to obtain possession of Molfetta, led to a sudden change of plans and, as was stated in the previous chapter, the hospital was established at Caserta, near Naples.
To establish a camp hospital at Advanced Base at San Basilio, between Taranto and Bari, fifty beds and other equipment were sent to Italy from 23 Field Ambulance at Maadi. The staff for the new unit, mostly posted from the staff of the parent unit, went to Italy early in January. The staff remaining at Maadi was able to cope with the fewer patients admitted.
The other units arrived at Taranto on 25 January 1944 and went to Advanced Base at San Basilio, except Detachment 1 Convalescent Depot, which rejoined its parent unit at Casamassima after a separation of ten months, and the Principal Matron, who stayed temporarily at 3 General Hospital. On 2 February HQ 2 NZEF, including DMS Office, the Consultants, and Principal Matron's Office, moved from Advanced Base to San Spirito on the Adriatic coast, some 6 miles north of Bari, and all were quartered in buildings. They remained in this location until September when they moved 300 miles up the coast to Senigallia, north of Ancona, at the time when the Division was switched back to the Adriatic coast after the capture of Florence. Arrangements were also finalised for the transfer of 1 Convalescent Depot from Casamassima to San Spirito. This latter move, however, did not take effect until 25 March.
Meanwhile, on 25 February Allied Force Headquarters made the request to DMS 2 NZEF that 1 General Hospital be brought to Italy in view of the coming malaria and dysentery season, when it was anticipated that every hospital bed that could be made available in Italy would be required. After discussion it was agreed that a 600-bed hospital should be despatched, but that a section sufficient to run a 300-bed hospital be left at Helwan to service troops still in Maadi Base Camp. The retention of a base general hospital was essential, especially as reinforcements were still being landed in Egypt from New Zealand. Preliminary orders for the move of 1 General Hospital were given on 28 February, but the move did not take place until the beginning of April, when the unit (with 101 VDTC attached) was transferred from Alexandria to Taranto by hospital ship. The unit then moved into the seminary buildings at Molfetta, which had finally been made available by the Vatican after a good deal of negotiation at the highest levels. (Shortly afterwards 101 VDTC was attached to 3 General Hospital.) When page 569 established the hospital provided a measure of relief for 3 General Hospital which had been holding over 1000 patients.