3rd June 1943
Sad news arrived this day, that Bill and John’s brother Alf had been tragically killed. There was a train involved. Signalman A.J Green 2 NZ Div. SIGS, 2 NZ Expeditionary Force No 16517 is buried in the military desert cemetery in Cairo, plot A14.
By 9th September John was discharged from hospital and was now sent to recuperate on Ischia. During his time there he met an Italian girl named Filomena Monti. They fell in love on this island paradise. It seems John spent nearly 6 months based at the 2 NZ Convalescence Hospital there.
Fay in Sorento.
John and Feni perhaps spent the long hot summer days on the beach, swimming in the mineral and thermal waters at Casamicciola. On one occasion they took a ferry boat to Sorrento, maybe stopping at Capri to explore the island and coast. The evenings may have been spent eating the fresh seafood delicacies & fruit, drinking the local white wine the island was renowned for, and enjoying the Neapolitan music famed in the small bars and clubs.
He had to leave on 11th October 1943 to rejoin 6 NZ Field Ambulance at the NZ reception Depot on 15th October, back in the Middle East.
How did the New Zealand troops come to set up on Ischia? An entry in one of the senior commanders diaries exlains, “We explored south of Anzio but, for 200 miles, could find nothing suitable. We eventually arrived at the end of a peninsula about 10 miles west of Naples and were about to return to the battalion in despair when I noticed an Italian about to set off in a small boat tied up at a wharf below us. I sent Osmond down to ask where he was going and he said to an island called Ischia about five miles out so we asked if we could go with him. “Yes, yes,” he said, obviously keen to co-operate. So off we went, leaving the driver in charge of the Jeep.
The boatman told us Ischia was a holiday resort with many cheap, empty pensions available and we would be very welcome. The Germans had commandeered all the accommodation when they were in occupation of the island. I said we were prepared to pay and he assured us we would have no problems. We were the first Allied troops to visit the island as the Americans and the British had all flocked to Capri and overlooked Ischia, which was not so famous.
We immediately fell in love with the island and its people and arranged to rent enough accommodation for 100 troops per week for the next four weeks, planning to put the whole battalion through a company at a time. The locals were short of food so I said we would bring our own rations, which they could cook for us. They then fell in love with us too and gave each contingent a rousing reception. We decided to keep our arrangements secret, as we wanted Ischia to ourselves, so the first company to go there did not know their destination. They were told they were going on leave but did not know where and were skeptical of the outcome. Osmond acted as liaison officer and seemed to have a good rapport with the locals and our boys had such a wonderful time it was difficult to round them up to bring them home. Skepticism had turned to delight.
John received an early Christmas present on 10th December 1943. He qualified for the Award of the Africa Star, 6 Division Defence Platoon. By 25th January 1944 he again qualified for the Award of the 8th Army Clasp.
7th January 1944
Now fighting in Italy – middle of winter and have had some heavy falls of snow –several feet a day. We are warmly equipped but get very wet. Relieved every few days from the line and billeted in farm houses… Ted got malaria.” Bill
Still not fully fighting fit, on 1st April 1944, John was admitted to 23rd NZ Field Ambulance (FAP – for all purposes) Regiment. This meant an official transfer from C Company Infantry Corps to NZ medical Corps.
2nd April 1944
23rd NZ Field Ambulance. MEF.
Transfer just came through to the med corps. Still in base and start training tomorrow. (moved in yesterday – Saturday). Beginning to get hot here now, but a few cool days. John.”
16th April 1944
“Got a camera and went out to the cemetery to take photos of Alf’s grave. Cemetery is in the desert on the outskirts of Cairo. Still in base training depot. Bill back with battalion, after two weeks on the front line, at Casino. Out for a spell having picture shows each night. I hope it wont be long before I get over to Italy. John.”
‘Bill hadn’t met up with Ted but they were writing to each other.
29th April 1944
“Getting hot and flies are persistent. Get up to Cairo for some training. Have a friend who trains with me at the gym. John.”
On 5th April it was confirmed that he would join the NZMC in Italy, something he had been looking forward to greatly. He boarded ship and embarked from Alexandria that day, bound for Italy, by hospital ship.
He must have been incredibly excited to finally serve the effort in Italy, however I think there may have been another reason by the name of Filomena or Feni as she was affectionately called. Between June and November 1944 John was basd at 2 NZ Genreal Hospital at Casserta, near Naples. This would have allowed Feni to visit him and he to easily go on leave to the island when he returned form Advanced base in the field.
After completing a syllabus of 3 weeks intensive training, medical units were dispatched to Advanced Base. John was attached to 23rd NZ Field Ambulance (Admin) (an extension of 2 NZ General Hospital at Maardi camp) and marched out to 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force, 1 camp hospital at San Basilio, between Taranto and Bari, on 2nd June 1944. Fifty beds and other equiptment had been sent from 23 FA at Maardi.
From Advanced base Hospital they were posted to divisional and other units as required. John was quickly marched out to ABH on 10th June FAP and attached to 2 NZ General Hospital at Casserta, Naples, Italy, remaining on (xii) list (Grade C).
With the transfer of three base hospitals and the Convalescent Depot to Italy in addition to the field medical units and casualty clearing station, the medical layout of 2 NZEF was similar to that adopted in Egypt and North Africa. The New Zealand units formed a complete chain, thus enabling most of the sick and wounded New Zealand soldiers to receive continuous treatment within their own units. Patients evacuated from 1 CCS (casualty clearing station) and from field ambulances by motor ambulance were then transported within the first 1 ½ – 2 hours to 2 NZGH. Because of this their recovery rate was high.
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. Stretcher-bearers were to collect to tracks. 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 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.
Captain McCarthy was RMO to 25 Battalion in this attack. On 24 October his RAP was under heavy shellfire all day and, although he was at all times liable to become a casualty himself, he carried on with his work under great difficulties, never ceasing to attend to wounded whenever they were brought in. Throughout the night of 24–25 October McCarthy attended to wounded from a neighboring British unit as well as to wounded of his own battalion. He carried on all night without sleep, and then continued the next day in the same manner. On the night of 26–27 October Captain McCarthy’s battalion carried out another attack and he continued with his good work—at all times giving unceasing attention, not only to members of his own battalion, but to those of neighboring units.
An extract from the diary of Captain Borrie,1 RMO 24 Battalion, gives an indication of the battle atmosphere for the RAP activities:
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 and crossed the start line. I took my place at the start line 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 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 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.
Functioning of Medical Units
As an example for the attack in October 1942, A Company 5 Field Ambulance under Major Dempsey was located just off a track and behind a slight escarpment but in front of the artillery. A Company 6 Field Ambulance, moved up another track and was likewise in front of the artillery. The ADS companies reached these sites just before the barrage opened and dug in and sandbagged the dressing posts. Sixth Field Ambulance was able to make use of slit trenches and dugouts already in the area. The first casualties were admitted to 5 ADS at 10.30 p.m. while the first at 6 ADS were admitted at midnight.
Although not many casualties had been expected to arrive until dawn, a steadily increasing number poured in during the night. At 1 a.m. on 24 October ambulances began evacuating cases from 5 ADS to 5 MDS 6 miles away—some 5 miles being along a road. The evacuation from 6 ADS to 5 MDS did not start until first light, it being impossible to do so beforehand as densely packed armour was moving behind the ADS until that time.
The task of the forward ambulances working between the ADS and the RAPs was most difficult. The desert tracks were ill-defined and difficult to follow, and were congested with armour, particularly on the narrow tracks leading through the minefields. These latter tracks had, however, been lighted and marked by the engineers and could readily be picked out. The method of sending one ambulance forward with each RMO was welcomed both by the RMOs and the ADS. Communication between the RAPs and ADS was much easier, facilitating a call for more ambulance cars if necessary.
6 NZ Field Ambulance Reception Tent, 1942
The task of the ambulance car drivers is illustrated by the citation giving Driver Henderson1 the DCM. This soldier was the driver of an ambulance car during the night 23–24 October 1942 and during the subsequent operations. He drove his car up the brigade routes under heavy fire and collected wounded in the early stages of the attack; and his was one of the first vehicles through the gap in the minefields. During the first and subsequent nights he passed many times up and down these tracks, where mines were destroying many vehicles, and his vehicle was often the only one moving in the forward areas and under heavy fire. He used his knowledge thus gained to guide up other ambulance cars and was thus instrumental in saving many lives.
The American Field Service drivers with our units also shared the risks. Evan Thomas, writing of the American Field Service at the Battle of Alamein, said:
Three of my sections were attached to 5 and 6 New Zealand Field Ambulances (one at 5 ADS, one at 6 ADS and one at 5 MDS).… On the night the battle started (the 23rd) I was asked to deliver a case of fresh blood to 6 ADS.… It wasn’t until 1.30 that our Field Service cars were called on to start working, and then five cars were ordered to 24 Bn RAP. I decided to go along as a spare driver. We drove westward on a dusty track crowded with tanks and Bren carriers getting ready to move out and cover the infantry positions at dawn. It was touchy work by-passing the concentrations of armor, since it was, of course, necessary to leave the proper path of the track at times and take a chance of running into a slit trench or perhaps a stray mine. However, we found the 24 Bn RAP truck without mishap and loaded three of our cars quickly. I was about to settle down and wait for more casualties to fill the two remaining cars, when a very excited padre came rushing up and told me that 25 Bn was a few hundred yards to the west and needed ambulances in the worst way.… It took us two hours to find 25 Bn, and by the time we got there, it was a good three miles west of where it should have been according to our informant. We had to work our way through and around tanks, across the British minefields, across what had been no man’s land, and across the German minefields, before we reached our destination. We had to wait for an hour, in company with a great number of tanks, on the east side of the German minefield, while the engineers cleared a lane. When we did get there we found that neither the battalion doctor nor his RAP truck had put in an appearance. The battalion had just taken its second objective, but the wounded were still scattered all over.1 I found a young captain who said they really hadn’t had time to collect their wounded and suggested we do that.… I had a good chance to find out just what a nasty job a stretcher-bearer had. At one time Brook Cuddy and I accompanied two New Zealanders out in front of the infantry positions and had the unpleasant experience of finding ourselves sitting among a group of mangled bodies while an enemy machine-gun sprayed a stream of tracer in our direction.… We drove back to the ADS just as dawn was breaking. Once again we had to fight our way past the tanks and through the narrow minefield lanes.
Extra transport had been allotted to the dressing stations for the attack, for example, five AFS cars were attached to 5 ADS, but in the sudden rush still more transport was needed. Four extra cars were sent forward to 6 ADS on the morning of 24 October. Each RMO in 5 Brigade took an ambulance forward with him and 5 ADS had a further four ambulances in reserve to work forward. Arrangements had been made for 3-ton trucks to patrol the axis through the minefields and collect walking wounded. These did not function as they were not allowed up until after dawn. Their place was taken by an ambulance car, which ran continuously from 1 a.m. until midday on 24 October. One ambulance was lost in a minefield and the other two ambulances were used to evacuate from whatever RAP was holding the most cases. Reports from RMOs indicated that, although there were times when many more ambulances could have been filled, they were able to evacuate steadily and were never holding large numbers for long. Three-ton trucks were used in evacuations from ADS to MDS. The trucks could accommodate in reasonable comfort a large number of walking wounded, who formed over half the cases, thus relieving the strain on the ambulances.
Liri Valley to Arce
The Division moved down the Liri Valley to Arce. Here, in peaceful surroundings, the Division rested and trained. For the New Zealanders, in the summer warmth of the green Italian countryside, it was a pleasant note on which to fall back for the first real rest of the campaign. There was leave to Naples and, of particular interest, to the beautiful island of Ischia, off the Bay of Naples and north of Capri.
The island of Ischia holiday scheme was made possible by Lieutenant Commander McLennan, RN, who had visited New Zealand some years previously and had a special interest in New Zealanders. Four hotels were requisitioned, and for a nominal sum a brief but welcome holiday could be enjoyed on this ‘island of wines’. Leave camps were freely utilised. Some were organised by divisional units, some by hospitals, and some by the YMCA. 2 NZ General Hospital, now based at Casserta, had established the one island on Ischia in the Bay of Naples and also rented some houses on the Sorrento peninsula at Positano. These camps did much to improve the health and preserve the morale of the troops.
Ischia offered every delight to the tired soldier—‘hot mineral baths, girls and grog’, one man remembers. Here the regiment had a place where parties of thirty men could go and relax for four days, but unfortunately only a few had the chance of going there before orders from Higher Up stopped all general holiday leave to Ischia.
And then there was Rome.
Throughout 2 NZ Division Rome was the Topic of the Month. Ever since the Italian campaign opened the Allied commanders had sent out the call ‘On to Rome!’, dangling the Eternal City as a kind of bait in front of their armies. But after all this anticipation, the reality was anticlimax. Until 19 June Rome was not officially open to Kiwis at all, and then, when at last leave to Rome began, it was doled out like some rare precious drug. Eighteenth Regiment, with 650 men, had a quota of 24—one truckload—every second day; though if more wangled their way in and dodged Authority’s eye, it was nobody’s business but their own. The drivers on the ammunition trip, too, would have wasted a unique opportunity if they had not made time, off the record, to go into Rome. But to see such a city in a day! Any good Italian would lift his hands in horror at the suggestion. All you could do was to rush madly round from the Pantheon to St. Peter’s and back to the Forum and the Coliseum, perhaps out for a few minutes to Mussolini’s massive sports stadium, till in the evening, your head swimming, you caught the truck home to be besieged by those who had not been there yet, all eager to hear every little detail. A day in Rome was much more exhausting than a day’s work in camp.
In spare hours there was the usual baseball and cricket, while other enthusiasts spent hours at deck tennis, which was just beginning to spread like an epidemic through the Division. The Kiwi Concert Party came round with its usual good show, and a British ENSA party with one that was not half as good. For the first time the Education and Rehabilitation Service began to be spoken of, and some keen men wrote away for trade training courses and buried their noses in ‘swot’ with an enthusiasm that often petered out before long. The athletes went into training for a 4 Brigade sports meeting, a gala occasion which, by the worst of bad luck, was literally washed out by an early afternoon downpour.
These sudden storms, characteristic of the Italian spring, seemed to abound in summer too, for in late June there was a succession of them. One in particular was a sight to remember, a violent thunderstorm with great tongues of forked lightning and hailstones the size of marbles. Of this the war diary says:
Many of the tents got flooded out and men were to be seen in all sorts of garbs digging drains in an endeavour to stem the flood.
Evidently the lovely weather of the first half of June had lulled them into a dangerous sense of security.
With all this sport and leave and recreation of so many kinds, it does not sound as if there was much time left for work. But that is not so. From 10 June onwards there was quite a solid training programme, route-marching and drill, weapon training and range work. There was a school to train the newer members of tank crews in the basic skills that had been drummed into the older hands at Maadi. There was an NCOs’ school in drill and discipline which caused a few curls of the lip—drill does not make a fighting unit, said the sceptics, and as for discipline, well, the Kiwi discipline may be free and easy, but it is there when needed.
Day leave to Rome on a percentage basis was available every five days, overnight leave not being permitted. Picnics to Lake Albano, 13 miles south-east of Rome, where there were saline springs and mud baths, three days’ leave at the Isle of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples (by courtesy of the Royal Navy), and visits to various other places of interest were also arranged.
Leave arrangements were made by the hospitals from July so that members of their staffs could go on leave to the Isle of Ischia, and the sisters and WAACs could spend two days in Rome.
The sector in the Apennines held by 2 NZ Division was extremely wide and mountainous and the evacuation of patients presented many problems. Stretcher-bearers from the field ambulances were attached to the RAPs, which were up to 800 yards from the road, and a car post with additional stretcher-bearer teams was established in dugouts well forward on the road. The car post was linked by telephone with all RAPs. When a bearer party left an RAP, the car post was advised by phone, and a bearer party from the car post met the others halfway. For evacuation to the ADS, two stretcher-carrying jeeps were attached to the car post. Evacuations were carried out only at night except in extreme emergency, for most of the road was in full view of the enemy and traffic was consistently shelled. Even at night German spandaus would put bursts over when they heard the jeeps going down.
Breakthrough towards Rome
During the first week of May Allied preparations for an all-out attack on the Gustav line neared completion. The Adriatic front was lightly held by 5 British Corps and the Apennines by 10 British Corps, which included 2 NZ Division. On the mountainous approaches to Monastery Hill and Cassino there was 2 Polish Corps, while 13 British Corps faced Cassino town and the Liri valley. When the attack began on 11 May, 6 Brigade was holding the Terelle sector. The Division’s artillery went into action supporting the Poles in their attack on the Monastery. Little else was expected of 2 NZ Division until the enemy began to withdraw, when the Division would follow up, but on the night of 13–14 May there was an unexpected call for New Zealand armour to support 4 British Division in the Liri valley.
After a hurried night move from the rest area to the vicinity of Cassino. 2 NZ Division on 29 May, by which time New Zealand troops had cleared the mountain strongholds of Terelle and Belmonte and also the town of Atina. As fast as cratered roads were made fit for traffic and bridges were built, the New Zealanders pursued the enemy. Maori infantry and armour entered Sora on 31 May after clearing the hilltop village of Brocco.
From Sora a main highway, Route 82, ran in a northerly direction to Balsorano and Avezzano, closely following the banks of the upper Liri River and swinging away from the route to Rome. The New Zealanders pursued the enemy along this valley with battalions on each side of the river. Though exceedingly beautiful, the valley was narrow and flanked by high hills which, near Balsorano, formed an escarpment that could have been made a formidable defensive position. There the enemy held up the advance.
On the coastal sector Allied forces had cleared the approaches to Rome, and on 4 June the capital city fell. Then, two days later, came the event for which the fighting in Italy had been but a prelude—the invasion of France. Its success was to set the seal on the fate of Germany.
On 2nd June 1944 John ceases to be attached (CTBA) to 23rd NZ field ambulance (admin) and marched out to advanced base 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force. On 10th June he was FAP at advanced base camp hospital marching out of FAP 2 NZ General Hospital and remained on X(ii) list, 17th June 1944 (grade C).