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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

5 Field Ambulance

5 Field Ambulance

When 4 Infantry Brigade group began to leave the Servia area on 17 April, 5 Field Ambulance arranged for an ambulance car post to be maintained at the former location of the ADS on the Servia Pass road, while B Company under Captain Palmer formed an ADS at the site which the MDS vacated at the foot of the pass. The remainder of the unit moved off in the afternoon to the vicinity of Molos, south-east of Lamia. The car post closed on the evening of 17 April and, with the ADS, withdrew early next morning.

The weather was overcast, with heavy rain and low clouds on the 17th, making it difficult for the German planes to take off, besides obscuring the moving traffic on the roads from the view page 121 of the pilots. The field ambulance took advantage of the conditions to travel by day as well as night. The leading company, A Company under Major Fisher, proceeded south by the axis laid down for the New Zealand troops—via Larisa and Volos and thence by the coast road to Lamia. The road east to Volos proved practically impassable, not because of enemy action but because of its bad state of repair (trucks often had to be manhandled through deep mud), and subsequent convoys were diverted down the main road south from Larisa to Pharsala, the axis of the Australian troops. With the amount of traffic on the main road there was marked congestion. The main body of 5 Field Ambulance used the main road and staged at the site of 1 General Hospital at Pharsala. Collection of wounded was made difficult by the fact that the attached MAC cars were not available as they were in the forward area. One car was intercepted on the road and attached to the 5 Field Ambulance convoy for the retreat. Lack of room on the available transport prevented 5 Field Ambulance from lifting much of 1 General Hospital's abandoned stores.

Difficulties of evacuation were manifest at this stage. On 16 April 2/3 Australian CCS had retired to the Thermopylae line. The CO 5 Field Ambulance, Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg, found on 17 April that 24 CCS at Larisa had also closed the previous day, and the only medical unit then accessible on the route of withdrawal was 2/1 Australian Field Ambulance, which had established an MDS 30 miles south of Larisa. The ADMS NZ Division, Colonel Kenrick, concerned at the position, which entailed a journey of 120 miles for ambulance cars, tried to arrange for a train to take wounded from Larisa to Athens. He was unsuccessful, as the RTO had left Larisa two days before.

On 17 April, at the hospital site at Pharsala vacated by 1 General Hospital two days previously, Colonel Kenrick, in conference with the ADMS 6 Australian Division, arranged for 2/1 Australian Field Ambulance to restock from dressings and other abandoned medical stores and act as a staging post for New Zealand wounded at the foot of the pass north of Lamia. This arrangement was most necessary because of the great difficulty ambulance cars were experiencing in returning along roads densely packed with traffic and extensively damaged by bombing.

Lieutenant Moody1 was in charge of a car post which retired with the rearguard of 4 Brigade, and which collected and treated casualties sustained by aerial bombing, ground strafing, and motor accidents. As the party crossed bridges, sappers were at the roadside ready to blow them. They passed the Elevtherokhorion crossroads,

1 Capt R. F. Moody, MBE, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 15 Oct 1915; medical practitioner; medical officer 5 Fd Amb Dec 1939-May 1941; p.w. 26 May 1941.

page 122 where the road from Mount Olympus joined that from Servia, about five minutes before two German tanks unexpectedly appeared and engaged the rearguard of Bren carriers. Later, they were halted at the bridge over the Pinios River at Larisa while thirty dive-bombers attacked the bridge. After passing Larisa the car post was kept very busy. There were many casualties in the long column of slowly moving and congested vehicles ahead. One of the medical staff, Private Grimshaw,1 on an abandoned motor cycle he had repaired, patrolled up and down the slowly moving vehicles spotting casualties which were then collected in ambulance cars. The post had only two ambulance cars at the start, but Moody got five other cars to join him and formed them into a separate little convoy by the time they reached Pharsala. As a medical convoy they were not attacked from the air, although when interspersed singly among other vehicles they had been subject to attacks. At Pharsala the convoy collected a large number of seriously wounded men, as the village had been bombed and the main road temporarily blocked. These were taken to 2/1 Australian Field Ambulance, which had set up a full MDS between Dhomokos and Lamia, and the convoy continued on to reach Molos after a journey of nineteen hours, during which it had collected and treated sixty-five casualties.

1 Pte T. Grimshaw; born Kaitangata, 9 Sep 1914; labourer; died, Dunedin, 7 Mar 1951.