New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
On 17 March 4 Field Ambulance joined in the move of 4 Infantry Brigade to Katerini. By 21 March the unit had established an MDS page 106 at a site 1 ½ miles to the north of the village of Kalokhori, which was 2 ½ miles west of Katerini on the road leading back through the Olympus Pass. The tents were erected under fairly dense deciduous trees, not yet covered with spring foliage, and further screened by camouflaged canvas and netting, the Red Cross not being used at that time. Tarpaulins were erected around the 30-cwt trucks and excavations were made to ensure that all the patients were below ground level. The experience gained in the Western Desert proved most valuable in setting up and taking down the tents and tarpaulins. (It was found that the whole MDS could be packed and on the road in under four hours.) The MDS could accommodate up to 120 patients.
An extensive reconnaissance in the hilly country in the forward areas was undertaken by Colonel Kenrick and Lieutenant-Colonel Graves, and an ADS was sited 6 miles north of Palionellini behind the front held by 18 and 20 Battalions. Evacuation of casualties from the area would have proved very difficult owing to the broken nature of the country. Stretcher-bearers would have had an arduous carry and the Neil Robertson stretchers, of which 4 Field Ambulance had purchased four for each company, would have proved useful. The ADS was set up in dugouts, with a collecting post a mile further forward. The distance from the ADS to the MDS was 13 miles over a rough road, falling from an altitude of 1000 feet to almost sea level. A Company was sent to the Servia area on 21 March to provide an ADS for 1 British Armoured Brigade in the vicinity of Veroia, but was recalled to the MDS on the 26th and held in reserve.
From the moment of opening the MDS sick men were admitted from 4 and 6 Infantry Brigades and other divisional units, and evacuated by rail from Katerini to 26 British General Hospital in Athens, as the CCSs at Elasson and Larisa and 1 NZ General Hospital at Pharsala had not yet opened.
Sixth Field Ambulance, under Lieutenant-Colonel Bull, moved north in the wake of other divisional units on 26 and 27 March and established an MDS near Kato Melia, some 6 miles west of 4 MDS at the foot of the Olympus Pass, and two ADSs near Sfendhami and Koukos on the coastal side of 4 ADS. The MDS and one ADS were well dug in and camouflaged, the other ADS being set up in a stone building behind a hill. Evacuation was again a problem and stretcher-bearers would have been required in the rugged country. Accompanying 5 Brigade, 5 Field Ambulance under Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg moved forward on 1 April and set up an MDS at Dholikhi, on an exposed slope alongside the road leading down from Olympus Pass, to serve 5 Brigade and all units south of the pass.
A survey of the areas of 23 Battalion and 28 (Maori) Battalion page 107 showed that, again, the bringing out of wounded would be a difficult task, entailing arduous work for stretcher-bearing parties. From the Maori Battalion a long trek down a valley and over a ridge would have entailed a 7-mile carry for wounded, and mules or donkeys would have been necessary. An ADS was set up just south of Ay Dhimitrios in the pass itself.
Thus, by the first week of April the plan for the New Zealand field medical units had taken shape, and 1 General Hospital under Colonel McKillop was also open at Pharsala for the reception of patients. A surgical team, comprising a surgeon, Major Christie,1 an anaesthetist, and an orderly, and equipped with extra surgical instruments, was sent forward from 1 General Hospital on 1 April to be attached to one of the MDSs. On 5 April, following the arrival in Greece of 6 Australian Division, the New Zealand Division came under command of 1 Australian Corps, with the senior Australian officer, Colonel Johnston, as DDMS Corps. (By 12 April the name was changed to Anzac Corps, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Blamey.)
In an order of 2 April setting out the divisional medical arrangements, the ADMS NZ Division emphasised that all field ambulances should retain mobility. Therefore, not more than twenty-five cases were to be kept at any one MDS. These were to be cases expected to recover within four days. At the commencement of hostilities the ambulances would be cleared of all sick preparatory to receiving wounded. All other cases, including venereal disease patients, were evacuated daily by rail from Katerini to 1 General Hospital at Pharsala (rail station, Demerli). Before 1 General Hospital opened, the field ambulances had retained infectious cases such as measles and venereal disease and minor medical and surgical cases. From 4 April ambulance cars of 1 Australian MAC were available for the evacuation of special cases (such as infectious cases) by road to 2/3 Australian CCS at Elasson, and their services would be more widely used at the commencement of hostilities. These arrangements fitted into the general medical plan which must be considered in some detail.