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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Dressing Station at Imvros

Dressing Station at Imvros

At 5 p.m., a small group, Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg and Major Fisher and some orderlies, established an MDS, on a previous order of Colonel Bull, in a church half a mile north of the embarkation control post at Imvros. As more of the road parties of 5 and 6 Field Ambulances and 7 General Hospital arrived they were added to the staff, and members of 2/2 Australian Field Ambulance who were located nearby gave assistance during the night.

As Corporal P. Curtis says:

We had gone about half a mile from the village when we came upon what seemed to be a stone church with a red cross painted on the roof, nestling in a sharp bend in the road. The roof was almost level with the road.

An officer was standing near the entrance, and as we were still wearing arm brassards, he told us to go in and help with the wounded. We had seen no other dressing stations on our way across the island or any wounded either, although we might easily have missed them in the darkness.

The stone floor of the church was covered with wounded on blankets and ambulance stretchers ranged all round the walls and down the centre. The altar, in an alcove at one end, was covered with shell and field dressings and a little food—cocoa, tinned milk, sugar and biscuits. There were quite a number of medical officers and personnel there and we set to work bandaging, applying splints and making the patients as comfortable as possible. Some were walking cases but many appeared to be more severely wounded and could not be moved.

Later in the night we were split into sections, each working for two hours and then changing over and sleeping outside.

In the morning we had our first wash and shave for several days—there were two or three razors to go round with a few extra blades. It worked wonders with our morale. The weather too was a help, fine, sunny days and cool nights.

This dressing station afforded a good example of what could be done by improvisation. The medical equipment which had previously been gathered together was in a truck that had since completely disappeared. This loss of equipment was very serious, for when the MDS opened there were only two surgical haversacks, an assortment page 191 of mixed dressings, and a German medical kit containing a few items which were suitable for use. The staff of 5 and 6 Field Ambulances had, however, by a careful search in vehicles and houses over a wide area, gathered together within a few hours a variety of medical equipment, bedding, lamps, timber, and other material, which fulfilled immediate needs beyond expectations. A problem that had always been of some concern, owing to frequent moves, was insufficiency of rations, but a supply, which included a box of tea and cigarettes, was obtained from abandoned vehicles on the road. An assortment of carpenter's tools was also found in the village and with these splints and splinting were made. It was found that arm rests of pews, the type peculiar to Greek churches, made excellent crutches. The MDS was very soon overwhelmed with patients, both walking wounded and many others of a more serious nature. At the outset all were given attention and food, but such was the concentration of men about the medical area that it was decided to open a walking wounded collecting post in a valley opposite the site of the MDS, and early next morning, 29 May, the CO 2/2 Australian Field Ambulance, Lieutenant-Colonel D. M. Salter, took over command of this post. Throughout 29 May the intake of fresh casualties was not great, although many walking wounded seemed to be wandering aimlessly about, a result of their experiences over the previous few days.

For those on foot the march across the island was a test of endurance even for the fitter members of the ambulance staffs, apart from the sick and wounded. They set off in small sections at intervals, and each man carried two tins of meat and vegetables. In the cool of the first evening, and while the road was still good, the pace was steady and most parties had made good progress by morning, when they halted and hid in obedience to orders that they were not to show themselves during daylight. On the second evening the going was harder as the road gave way to a rough track, only wide enough for one vehicle, which wound up into the hills in the interior of the island. During that night the groups began to break up as they grew tired and became mixed with other troops on the road. By daylight they were all dog-tired and a bit bewildered as to their whereabouts and destination. They kept on till forced by enemy aircraft to take cover. The surrounding country was extremely rough and rocky, mostly covered in scrub, but with small clumps of trees growing here and there.

Lying dispersed among the olive trees on the roadside during the day while the Luftwaffe raged continuously overhead, the troops moved on by night in a weary march through damaged villages and across the mountain pass, three thousand feet high, which barred page 192 the way to the south. Ten miles of winding hill road led to the pass and then the road turned down again into the Askifou basin. Food and water were both scarce, sleep was difficult during the day because of air activity, and everyone suffered from hunger, thirst, and fatigue.