20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 4 — The Campaign in Greece
The Campaign in Greece
Preparations for departure and last-minute issues of weapons and equipment—mosquito cream, anti-gas ointment, tommy guns—made busy the last days of February and the first three days of March. It rained most of the time, endless working parties were required to load platoon trucks or help in the battalion store, men were hard to find and tempers sometimes frayed. There were scores of rumours and much speculation about the battalion's destination, covering all possible battlefronts from the Far East to the Dodecanese Islands; parades for this and parades for that; a final session in the gas chamber to test respirators; a final session in Cairo and some farewell parties in the Naafi. On 3 March Major Burrows left Helwan with the transport for Amiriya, a bleak and dusty desert transit camp about 12 miles from Alexandria. Floods there delayed the departure of the rail party until the following morning, when, ‘loaded up to the eyebrows’, the troops clambered aboard 26 Battalion's transport and were taken in three flights to the Helwan railway siding and entrained, wearing topees, in drizzling rain. Several very disappointed officers and NCOs were left behind at 33 Infantry Training Depot to help train the recently arrived sections of the 4th Reinforcements.
The battalion detrained at Ikingi Maryut about half past six and was met by Major Burrows and company guides. As a climax to an uncomfortable day the men marched about two miles carrying all their gear. Some of the recent reinforcements who had not had the hardening training of the First Echelon men found this a severe ordeal.
The troops were housed in hastily erected tents. Although dust-storms made the following six days very unpleasant, company training was carried out. No leave was granted. The Naafi sold out of beer and Australians had burnt down the camp cinema. Rations were light and the nights were cold. No one was sorry to leave Amiriya.
The transport party was first to go. At Alexandria it was page 39 divided into two sections, the first leaving on 8 March under Captain Garriock1 in the Thurland Castle and the Cingalese Prince; the last section—comprising eleven of the heavier lorries—did not get away until the 13th when it left in the City of Norwich.
There were only twenty-one New Zealanders in the Thurland Castle, the rest of the passengers belonging to an English armoured unit with Daimler scout cars. Dry rations were provided, the men cooking with primuses and receiving only tea from the ship. The troops lived, cooked, and slept on the deck, so the fine weather was welcome, particularly as the transport was only a tramp steamer, with no canvas covers or shelter of any kind. In the Cingalese Prince was another English armoured unit with infantry tanks. Men slept anywhere, chiefly on the top deck, and rations were similar to those provided in the other ship. Drivers took turn on ack-ack picket, manning the two Bren guns which were the ship's sole protection.
Three days later the convoy arrived at Piraeus and disembarked without incident. Driving through Athens the men received a tumultuous welcome from the crowds in the streets, who threw flowers and handed up wine. In the midst of this demonstration the convoy was split up and some trucks went miles out of their course before locating the camp at Hymettus, where they were to await the arrival of the infantry. Here a week was spent checking over trucks, sightseeing in Athens, and making first acquaintance with Greek food and wines.
On 11 March the rest of the battalion moved from Amiriya, again on foot with all gear. After a two-hours' wait at Ikingi Maryut they entrained for Alexandria and embarked on the Breconshire. The troops were housed in the holds without unreasonable crowding. Amenities were few and the men slept on steel decks. The ship, a modern cargo vessel, had been built in Hong Kong in 1939 and had been largely reconstructed and equipped as a Navy fuel-carrier. Some of the senior officers shared cabins with the ship's officers. The men were on hard rations during the crossing, receiving from the ship only soup at lunch-time and tea twice a day—at breakfast and at the evening meal.
The convoy—eight ships and two destroyers—sailed at 5 a.m. page 40 on 12 March. On the second day at sea a bad storm caused smaller vessels to seek shelter off Crete and visibility became so poor that the men felt comparatively safe from submarine attack, let alone danger from the air. Surprisingly few were sick.
In the evenings Crown-and-Anchor had its customary followers, while a few men began to learn Greek with help from the Cypriot troops on board. During the first morning at sea the battalion's destination had been announced when the Colonel read a special order of the day from General Freyberg. Unofficial information, of course, had come earlier from the ship's crew. In the best traditions of the sea the sailors were generous in their hospitality, and some men at least have pleasant recollections of a quiet rum in the seclusion of the ship's quarters or a fried egg in the galley.
During the voyage the Chief Officer explained the procedure to be adopted in the event of air attack or the order to abandon ship. The vessel was equipped with armour-plated decks and special bomb-proof hatches; the latter, incidentally, were on a level with the decks on which the men were sleeping and were calculated to deflect the force of an explosion upwards. The troops were not greatly encouraged by this information.
Apart from the storm the voyage was uneventful, and early on the morning of 15 March the convoy moved into Piraeus harbour. The men lined the decks for their first glimpse of Greece and of a landscape that reminded them of New Zealand. Treeclad hills capped with snow rose gradually to rugged mountains from whose heights swept an icy wind.
Disembarkation was rapid and well organised. The troops marched a short distance and embussed in transport. Even before leaving Piraeus the men received an enthusiastic greeting from the wharf labourers and inhabitants in the vicinity of the docks, a marked contrast to that received by several hundred bearded Italian prisoners who simultaneously marched through the streets of Athens to the accompaniment of derisive hissing. At this time the peculiar Greek wave of welcome, palm upwards, was noticed and was at first thought to be a beckoning sign, especially when waved by the younger and prettier of Athens's female population.
The route to the camp at Hymettus ran past the German Embassy in Athens, where the men noticed with great interest page 41 and a certain amount of incredulity the two large swastika flags hanging from the balcony and the jack-booted storm troopers with swastika armbands standing in the doorway. It was hard to realise that as yet Germany and Greece were not at war. The camp was situated on pine-covered grassy slopes in a large park several miles beyond Athens and later proved to be a most difficult place to find in a blackout.
On Sunday, 16 March, a crisp spring morning, the troops were awakened by the air-raid sirens in Athens. At the battalion church parade Padre Spence2 compared the battalion's stormy crossing with Paul's experience of the Mediterranean and the Colonel gave a talk on the history of Greece in which he impressed upon the men that they were not to treat the inhabitants as ‘Wogs’. The same day orders were received that Major MacDuff was to command the reinforcement camp near Athens and Lieutenant Washbourn3 assumed command of A Company.
Leave was granted to 20 per cent of the battalion at a time and most men saw Athens. There they visited the Acropolis, the Palace gardens, and various places of historical interest, or as a relaxation from sightseeing passed the time in one of the many small wineshops which sold mavrodaphne, koniac, and even German beer. In the streets shabby Greek soldiers with the toes cut from their boots to ease the pain of frost-bitten feet provided a truer picture of their country at war than the striking looking Evzones in short kilt, tasselled slippers, and long white stockings.
Routine orders for this period stressed the danger of drinking contaminated water, warned all troops against the presence of fifth columnists, and stated the obligation to salute Greek officers. Great care was to be taken to conceal the camp from the air and a strict blackout was to be observed. Anti-aircraft LMGs were mounted and air-raid sentries posted.
On 17 March preparations were made for the move north to take up a defensive position in the Aliakmon line. It was not a smooth operation. A guide from No. 80 Base Sub-Area page 42 did not turn up till 8.30 a.m. on the 18th, over an hour after the battalion transport had left under Major Burrows for Katerini. Transport for the troops and their baggage had been arranged but word cancelling this was received at 11 a.m. In the end the baggage was loaded on to two ten-tonners found by the Adjutant. A, B, and C Companies marched to Rouf siding, while Headquarters and D Companies were carried in transport obtained from 19 Battalion, the Divisional Supply Column, and other units. During their march through Athens, again past the German Embassy, the troops received a great ovation from the crowds gathered on the roadway. Six officers and eighty other ranks were left behind in an infantry reinforcement depot at Hymettus.
The battalion's officers at this date, including those detached to remain behind as reinforcements, were:
|CO||Lt-Col H. K. Kippenberger|
|Second-in-Command||Maj J. T. Burrows|
|Adjutant||Capt D. B. Cameron|
|Intelligence Officer||Lt T. E. Dawson|
|Padre||Rev. G. A. D. Spence|
|Medical Officer||Lt W. L. M. Gilmour|
|HQ Company:||Capt R. S. Orr (OC)|
|Quartermaster||Capt H. O. Jefcoate|
|Transport Platoon||Capt A. I. Garriock|
|Mortars||Lt G. A. T. Rhodes|
|Carriers||2 Lt S. J. Green|
|Signals||Lt G. A. Murray|
|Anti-Aircraft||Lt F. J. Bain|
|Pioneers||Lt R. L. D. Powrie|
|A Company:||Lt G. W. Washbourn (OC)|
|Lt S. L. Wood|
|Lt P. G. Markham|
|2 Lt J. W. Rolleston|
|Lt H. J. Scoltock|
|B Company:||Capt M. C. Rice (OC)|
|Capt W. Ayto|
|2 Lt F. B. McLaren|
|2 Lt N. J. McPhail|
|Lt V. C. Poole|
|C Company:||Maj C. Wilson (OC)|
|Lt D. J. Fountaine|
|Lt G. A. Brown|
|Lt J. D. Aiken|
|2 Lt C. H. Uphampage 43|
|D Company:||Maj R. D. B. Paterson (OC)|
|Lt M. G. O'Callaghan|
|2 Lt P. V. H. Maxwell|
|2 Lt W. R. Gutzewitz|
|2 Lt A. R. Neilson|
|Reinforcements:||Maj A. P. MacDuff (OC)|
|Capt H. S. D. Yates|
|Lt D. Curtis|
|2 Lt P. K. Rhind|
|Lt F. O'Rorke|
|2 Lt J. G. Heasley|
Second-Lieutenants Upham, Neilson, Green, and Gutzewitz had rejoined the battalion after passing through OCTU.
The Greek train consisted of two or three third-class carriages of ancient pattern, these being reserved for officers, flat cars for the Bren carriers, and steel wagons (Hommes 40, chevaux 8) each containing forty to fifty men. With such crowded conditions it was difficult to find room to lie down, and the lack of room for movement made the cold even more trying. To add to the discomforts of the train journey quite a number of the men suffered from acute diarrhoea, probably as a result of too good an acquaintance with the wine of Athens.
The train left about 4 p.m. and people all along the line gave the troops a rousing farewell; the Greeks were naturally heartened by the knowledge that the long-promised assistance for their own valiant but sorely-tried troops had at last materialised. Until dark the men lined the doors of their box-cars, waving to the hardy peasants at work in their fields.
During the next morning the train passed through rocky gorges in mountainous country, reminding the men of parts of the Christchurch–Arthur's Pass line without, of course, the dense West Coast bush. Near Larisa was an aerodrome on which there were about a dozen Wellington bombers and a few Hurricane fighters. It was not realised that this was about the whole of the Royal Air Force in Greece. After a breakfast of bully stew and tea, served by the RASC at Larisa, the train moved on towards Katerini. A fortnight earlier Larisa had experienced a violent earthquake, and about three days later the destruction had been added to by Italian bombers.
About three o'clock in the afternoon the battalion arrived at page 44 Katerini, detrained, and marched to billets in the town. Battalion Headquarters was located in the school, Headquarters Company was housed in the central barracks, C and D occupied various houses and sheds, while A and B found shelter in the local theatre. The town's children, many in ragged clothes, watched the troops settling in; few went home unrewarded.
Katerini was a typical Balkan town with narrow, crooked streets, whitewashed stone buildings, a central market-place where fresh vegetables could be obtained, many little wineshops, bakers' shops where the troops could buy fresh bread, and little street stalls where thin fillets of steak grilling on skewers over charcoal braziers emitted an appetising smell. A tin of bully beef could buy a number of nips of cognac. Clothes were cheap; food dear. Fraternising with the inhabitants, the troops were told that the Greeks would not defend Salonika but ‘a line of defence nearer us’, presumably the Aliakmon line which ran from the mouth of the Aliakmon River to the Yugoslav frontier at Mount Kaimakchalan. More heartening was the news that Yugoslavia had refused to join the Axis, while the information that the Greeks in Albania had captured Tepelene was the occasion for much celebration.
Next morning the CO left to reconnoitre the position the battalion was to occupy. The New Zealand Division was to take up a defensive position between 19 and 12 Greek Divisions in the Aliakmon line from the sea to Riakia, with 4 Infantry Brigade on the left on the general line of the road from Paliostani to Riakia, the main line of defence being along the ridge between those two villages. Dispositions within the brigade area placed the 20th on the left, with 12 Greek Division on its left flank, some miles away and out of sight and touch; the 18th on the right, with 19 Greek Division on its right flank; and 19 Battalion in reserve. These Greek divisions contained only two or three thousand men each, had little equipment, and only horse- or donkey-drawn transport.
All crossings over the Aliakmon River from the sea to Varvares had been prepared for demolition and were to be blown by 1 Armoured Brigade, which was operating in front of the Allied line and had the role of delaying the enemy advance by fighting and demolitions. There were also four weak Greek divisions along the Greek–Bulgarian frontier. The Toponitsa page 45 River provided an anti-tank obstacle along the brigade front and ditches were cut across the roads.
Twentieth Battalion's area, to quote the CO, was ‘very extensive, blinded by woods of stunted oak, and could be turned by the empty high ground on our left. It was vulnerable to infiltration tactics and I was very thankful that we never had to fight on it.’
In the afternoon the company commanders received their orders from the CO. B, C, D, and HQ Companies were to be disposed on the ridge and in Riakia village, with A Company in reserve in Riakia in a defensive position. The battalion had one battery of 6 Field Regiment in support, three guns of 31 Anti-Tank Battery and one section of 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion under command.page 46
The brigade defensive policy laid down that there was to be no withdrawal without orders from Brigade Headquarters. Main positions were to be prepared for all-round defence and held against full-scale attack. Crossings over the anti-tank obstacle were to be defended by light outposts which would retire slowly in the face of enemy attacks, offering resistance at every suitable position until back in the main line. Patrolling was to be carried out between defended localities at night and, in bad visibility, by day, and constantly between defended localities along the outpost line, which extended along the brigade front from the Toponitsa River to the Krasopoulis. The country north of the outpost line was to be reconnoitred and suitable tracks blazed to facilitate patrol operations when contact with the enemy was likely.
In order that the positions of the defended localities might not be disclosed unnecessarily, anti-aircraft machine guns were not to open fire unless enemy aircraft were obviously making or about to make a direct attack.
The priority of the work was given in the order of fire trenches; anti-tank obstacles; wiring; clearing scrub to provide fields of fire; and clearing scrub to provide lanes for patrolling between defended localities and the outpost line.
The unit transport had reached Katerini from Athens on 20 March and on the 21st the battalion moved to Riakia. It was a rough journey, the lorries bumping over bullock tracks and lurching through three fords. One vehicle overturned but there were no casualties beyond a few cuts and scratches. As compensation for the rough ride the cooks excelled themselves and provided an excellent meal.
Billets were arranged in the village for Battalion Headquarters, HQ, A and C Companies—the rent was 8s. 4d. per room per month—while B and D were given all available tents—there were not many—to bivouac in their company areas. Riakia was a rambling hillside village whose uneven cobbled streets wound through a cluster of stone cottages, poky wineshops, and smelly log corrals. A little apart stood the church and its bell-tower. Through the clear mountain air, as the men bedded down for the night, came the musical sound of goat bells as the herds were driven homewards.
During the ensuing seventeen days the battalion assiduously page 47 dug itself in and the village and most platoon positions were surrounded by a single-apron barbed-wire fence. The CO regularly inspected the work and with company commanders carried out reconnaissances of the area forward of the battalion's defences with the intention of going forward to engage the enemy should he come up the valley in front of the position. As a precaution, also, the CO tried to discover a way of retirement over the trackless foothills to the rear should the 20th have to get out. The greatest difficulty seemed to be the lack of a suitable route for the transport.
As a change from navvying the platoons, in turn, were granted a half-holiday. Usually the troops arranged picnics down a nearby valley at a pleasant spot beside a stream where small fish were caught and fried in mess tins. Already the first signs of spring had begun to appear. Oak trees were budding, while clusters of crocuses, primroses, and violets in the hedgerows reminded the men of spring at home. Near at hand was an old stone flour-mill at which the men daily watched the peasants arrive leading donkeys carrying heavy sacks of corn; the farmers waited while it was ground, and then, in time-honoured custom, paid the miller in kind.
After the initial strangeness had been overcome the troops billeted in houses soon became on friendly terms with their hosts and mastered the rudiments of the Greek language. To entertain the inhabitants a concert was arranged one evening in the churchyard by Padre Spence, who was assisted by Jack Ledgerwood4 of the YMCA. The Greeks were obviously interested, but the highlight of the entertainment was the rendering by local performers of the Greek version of ‘The Woodpecker's Song’ satirising Mussolini.
A few days after the battalion's arrival in the area the inhabitants began to tag on at the rear of the sick parade. The RMO, Captain Gilmour,5 gave them the same skilful treatment as he gave the troops. The first patient was a very frightened boy who had been badly scalded. He had literally to be dragged in by a parent on the first day. In three days he came by himself.page 48
Friendly relations were still further improved by a distribution of chocolate to the local school children. The Padre had acquired sixty cakes, which obviously would not go very far amongst so many troops. At first some difficulty was experienced in arranging to assemble the children, partly because of the language difficulty—no one in the battalion spoke Greek and none of the villagers seemed to know English—and partly because the children were at that time on holiday. However, the second-in-command, Major Burrows, and the local school-mistress both had some knowledge of French, and arrangements were accordingly made to bring the children back to school.
It was rather a pathetic little ceremony. The children first sang several of their school songs and then sat in open-eyed wonder as the Colonel, the 2 i/c, and the Padre distributed the chocolate. Seldom, if ever, had such luxury been seen in Riakia, but not one child opened the wrapping. Clutching their gifts tightly in grubby fists, they ran off to take the unopened cake home.
The Greeks, though poor, were extremely hospitable and did not hesitate to give the troops fresh bread, even at sacrifice to themselves. Everywhere the absence of men on military service was noticeable. The work on the farms was done by the women who, besides packing supplies for the Greek forces on the frontier, provided most of the labour for work on the roads.
Through battalion wireless sets and also through addresses by the CO at church parades, the men were kept well informed of the general situation with its alternating hopes and fears about the position in Yugoslavia; and it was no surprise when, on 6 April, word was received that Germany had declared war on Greece and Yugoslavia and was already attacking. The day before, the New Zealand Division had become part of 1 Australian Corps with 6 Australian Division and other British troops under General Blamey's command.
Rain and Greek summer time commenced on 7 April, and on the same day it was officially announced that the 2 NZEF was in Greece. Next day rain hindered work on the battalion's positions and about 7.30 p.m. the men were told to pack and be ready to move. The Yugoslavs' efforts had proved little obstacle to the German drive south.page 49
A report on the New Zealand Division's movements in Greece contains a summary of the events of the first days of the German attack. It reads:
At the same time other German forces advanced into Southern Yugoslavia by three separate routes.
Within two days these tps rapidly overcame all resistance and cut off communication with Greece.
On the third day [8 April] this fast German mechanised force turned south and started to move towards Florina.
South of Florina there is a natural gap about 12 miles wide between the two mountain ranges that form a natural mountain barrier across Northern Greece. This gap is the only place really suitable for the passage of fast tanks and armd vehicles.
Once the Germans obtained possession of this gap and further down a crossing over the Aliakmon River, mechanised vehicles could pour into Central Greece behind the posns of the Allied forces.
The speed of the German advance was so swift and the threat to the Florina gap so serious that the whole of the Allied front had to be reformed immediately.
The 4 Inf Bde together with att tps was moved at a few hours notice back over the Katerine Pass and up to Servia to meet this threat from the north….
It was a trying journey under miserable conditions. Rain fell, with intermittent snow, and the drivers were severely tested by the narrow roads. The unit transport left Riakia at 8.30 a.m., joining the column at the assembly area. A small rearguard was left in the village to destroy stores that could not be brought away. According to Private Blunden6 of A Company, later an escaped prisoner of war in this area, this was a most unfortunate measure. In the ensuing months escaped prisoners were frequently fed on bully beef salvaged at this time by the Greeks. Impressions of the trip are quoted from two battalion diarists.
Private Glue of D Company writes:
8 April—About 7.30 p.m. we were told to pack and be ready to move. Waited around and tried to snatch a bit of sleep (no luck) under a tent fly until 1 a.m. Breakfast, then away at 2 o'clock— page 50 marched for two hours over hilly road with pack and overcoat. Lay round on the road for another hour and a half waiting for a guide. Slept a bit and woke up very cold.
9 April—…. On the way again from 5.40 till 8 a.m.—must have gone between 10–11 miles. Fairly hard going—everybody a bit tired. Stopped for three hours in a clearing. [Major Paterson] said we had to shave, which wasn't well received. Felt a lot better afterwards though. Another half-mile then into transport—20 in one truck is cramped for long journeys. More than the usual waiting about and stops—several because of blocked petrol feed. Most of the convoy passed us and it was 8 p.m. and raining like hell when we arrived. Dinner wasn't ready until after 10 o'clock and it was still raining hard so went to bed. Blankets, overcoat, feet, everything wet….
10 April—Most miserable night I've ever spent. Slept for a few hours then lay in wet blankets until morning—shivered so much I nearly rattled to bits. Was thoroughly fed up with the army. Bitter wind off the snow. Poor breakfast, but what a hunger. Dried some of the blankets in the wind, then away again at 10.30. Marched about a mile into a village [Lava] where we sleep in a straw barn….
9 April—Moved at 8.30 a.m. (supposed to move at 6.30) worst convoy ever been in—a lot of stops—carriers broke down or ran out of petrol. Lost convoy, camped in Greek police station. Shifted about sixty-four miles through a very pretty pass (Olympus) in mountains. Some roads were clay tracks through scrub, others good but steep and plenty of bends. Slept out in open—very wet and cold.
10 April—Rejoined convoy in morning. Some lorries had capsized. More rain. Dug in allotted area.
The destination had originally been given as Kato Filippaioi but on arrival there the convoy was directed by the Brigade Intelligence Officer to go another 22 miles to near a village called Lava. Next morning, 10 April, companies began to prepare defensive positions. Fourth Brigade's task was to occupy a defensive position on the general line Kastania–Servia–Prosilion to prevent enemy penetration from north and east; the position was to be held at all costs, with no question of withdrawal. Eighteenth and 19th Battalions were forward, holding positions south of Servia town, while the 20th, plus page 51 two Australian machine-gun platoons and a troop of anti-tank guns, was in reserve astride the road back through the pass. D Company occupied positions in Lava village, on the high ground right of the road. A and C Companies, the latter in reserve, occupied flattish ground in the centre, while B Company spread over a spur to the left of the road.
A description of the area is quoted from the brigade report on its operations in Greece:
…. The country was mountainous, and very steep, Kastania being 3000 ft above sea level or 2100 ft above the valley of the Aliakmon River which lay 4 miles to the north of Servia. Servia itself was at the 1500 ft level with very steep slopes rising to Kastania to the SE….
West of Servia a narrow precipitous rocky ridge 2600 ft high and almost unscaleable on the northern side, extended for 4500 yards page 52 towards Proselion. This ridge was separated from Servia by a narrow precipitous gorge at its eastern end, and at its western end from a similar but higher ridge North of Proselion by a pass about 500 yds wide, through which ran the main road from Servia in a SE direction to Elasson, and a minor road SW to Mikrovalton.
The line of forward defended localities presented a complete tank obstacle except along these roads and at their junction, while a difficult route led via Point 675 to Polirrakhon. Four anti-tank ditches existed in the vicinity of Prosilion, three to the north on either side of the road, and one to the south.
As reserve battalion the 20th was required to cover with machine-gun fire the gorge immediately west of Servia and to maintain one company (B) on Point 1019, with routes reconnoitred to Point 1096 in readiness to meet enemy movement over high ground to the left of the battalion.
The brigade report describes the position:
The Servia–Elasson rd from Proselion to the SE passed through a valley flanked by hills 4000 ft high for a distance of 8 miles, the valley narrowing from 2500 yds wide opposite Lava to a mere slit in its southern end. The road was well graded but exceedingly tortuous and steep in places, the width being just sufficient for two-way traffic. Owing to precipitous sides vehicles could be got off the rd at very few places and then only with difficulty. The valley generally was devoid of scrub or trees…. Enemy observation except over fwd slopes was nil, apart from very long range view through the two gaps near Servia and Proselion.
Good Friday, 11 April, dawned fine but cold and rain followed with heavy fog. Next day snow fell again so that the digging of weapon pits continued under difficulties, but with greater zest when word was received that the enemy might be expected the following day. One section of D Company had to dig its posts in a cemetery and gained a very full knowledge of Greek burial customs. German bombing was observed down the gorge in front and Greeks in Lava took to sleeping in caves in the hill above the village. Old men with rifles patrolled the village.
On 12 April the name of 1 Australian Corps was changed to that of Anzac Corps. Large numbers of refugees began to stream back through the area and No. 15 Platoon C Company, under Lieutenant Upham, was sent to establish a check post behind 19 Battalion at the crossroads, one of which led north page 53 from Servia Pass to Servia. The platoon's orders were to stop unauthorised persons, refugees, and fifth columnists from streaming back and blocking the roads. The British and Greek troops holding the gap near Florina had been forced out of position. Remnants of an Australian brigade came back in good order in transport, but many Greeks struggled back on foot. A party of Yugoslavs, including some very senior officers, came back with four brand-new 88-millimetre Skoda ack-ack guns drawn by caterpillar tractors. This battery was later located near Battalion Headquarters but was very short of ammunition. During the next two days it engaged enemy planes until it ran out of ammunition, and on the afternoon of 14 April—‘without by your leave or ask you’, according to 6 Field Regiment's commander—pulled out for an unknown destination and was never heard of again.
The Greek interpreter with Upham's check post was of very little use as most of the Greek soldiers coming through spoke only Turkish; and he was also very jittery. Enemy aircraft accurately bombed the road junction and machine-gunned some vehicles. It was later believed that a large number of fifth columnists, including Germans and Bulgarians in Greek uniform, passed through. The small section of Greek military police with the platoon shot out of hand some men and youths who they said were Bulgarians and German spies.
German artillery advanced right up to the river and began exchanging shots with our 25-pounders located near Brigade Headquarters at the top of the hill. Quite a number of Australians who had been cut off at Kozani infiltrated through the advancing Germans, crossed the Aliakmon, and rejoined our forces.
Greek soldiers presented a pathetic appearance as they straggled along the grassy sides of the road carrying their boots in one hand and rifle in the other. Almost every man had kept his rifle with him. It was believed that rifles were about the only arms their division possessed. The Greeks said there was a general order for every man in the Greek Army to go home as best he could. Numbers of Greek horsed transport also passed; some of the horses had been hit by shrapnel.
About this time a welcome addition to the battalion transport was a black Ford V8 car found abandoned on the side page 54 of the road and taken over by one of the drivers, Private ‘Barney’ Homann.8 It was used by Major Burrows.
On Easter Sunday the war reached 20 Battalion. About 6.30 p.m. enemy aircraft dive-bombed 15 Platoon at the crossroads and three men, Lance-Corporal McKegney,9 and Privates Casford10 and Laird,11 were wounded. The ack-ack platoon replied spiritedly with Bren fire.
On 14 April work on the defences continued. Enemy ‘spotters’ flew over several times to inspect the work and in the afternoon a flight of four yellow-nosed fighters machine-gunned platoon and gun positions. During the day the battalion, less one company, was ordered to move to a defensive position on the left of 19 Battalion. The purpose of the move was to link up with the right flank of 19 Australian Brigade across the river. The right battalion of this brigade was the attached 26 NZ Battalion which had passed through 4 Brigade's area the previous afternoon.
During a reconnaissance of the new area the CO, Adjutant, and company commanders were machine-gunned by enemy aircraft. That night the battalion, less C Company left in reserve, moved out at short notice. The convoy was machine-gunned before the start and heavily shelled at ‘Hellfire Corner’ in the Servia Pass, though without casualties. Much credit for the move must go to the unit drivers. There were vehicle collisions and traffic blocks, but someone always straightened things out and the convoy kept going. In this connection it is fitting to record the efforts of Corporal Frank Scott,12 transport NCO, who not only cleared traffic blocks and organised a transport group for movement after his own vehicle had been immobilised, but returned next day with a driver and, in spite of heavy shellfire and air attack, recovered and repaired his vehicle.page 55
During a break in the convoy a D Company truck became the leader of a small section. Apparently the driver did not hear the shouted direction to turn left at the corner of Servia Pass and went straight on until the vehicles were stopped by some Australian engineers who were laying booby traps. Getting the trucks turned around was quite a job and the D Company cooks' truck got stuck. The crashing of gears and the noise appalled the Aussies, who were working in strict silence.
Cold, tired, and dirty, the troops moved into their new positions on the left of 19 Battalion on a high, steep ridge overlooking the village of Rimnion. A Company was on the right, B in the centre, and D on the left on forward slopes. One troop of 31 Anti-Tank Battery and two platoons of Australian machine-gunners were under command, and artillery support was provided by ? Australian Field Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Strutt. Boundaries were clearly defined and, as the battalion's front was beyond the range of the field artillery covering the brigade front, the CRA arranged for 7 Medium Battery to provide fire on approaches to the battalion area.
The digging of the defences on 15 April was interrupted by periodic bombing and machine-gunning by enemy aircraft in spectacular dive attacks which were ‘impressive without always being effective’. The battalion suffered one casualty, Private Pat Kelly13 being killed, but the anti-tank troop had three killed and two wounded. The enemy had complete command of the air, none of our aircraft being sighted. Air sentries were posted and in between the raids work went steadily on.
During the day enemy transport could be seen advancing, and at 2 p.m. enemy infantry attempting to cross the river were shelled and dispersed by the artillery. At one stage the battalion mortars fired without effect on what were believed to be troops crossing the river but which proved later to be refugees. It was obvious that the enemy was rapidly closing up on the brigade front and there were reports of an attack in 19 Battalion's area. Members of B Company observed activity on a landing field to the north-east and their OC called for artillery fire. No action was taken but the field was later bombed by a small force of Blenheims.page 56
Next morning D Company patrols were unable to make contact with 26 Battalion on the left flank. Far below parties of infantry could be seen crossing the river, apparently in retreat. Brigade had no information. Major Burrows went out to ascertain the position and finally met an officer who had returned to look for some missing men. Nineteenth Australian Brigade and 26 Battalion had withdrawn south during the night and had not notified 20 Battalion. D Company was withdrawn from its now-exposed position and occupied Hill 808 to cover the left flank.
Shortly afterwards orders were received from Brigade to destroy all unnecessary gear and be prepared to move back that night to the previous position near Lava. The order to move arrived at nightfall. While bringing it the despatch rider took the wrong turning in the Servia Pass and rode right up to within reach of German patrols before being turned around by Australian engineers. With the complete plans for the withdrawal in his satchel, he would have been a valuable prize. These were hazardous times for those responsible for communications, but they stuck to their job through shelling and air activity. While carrying a message from the battalion to Brigade Headquarters on 15 April, Private Hopkins14 of Headquarters Company was severely wounded in the head. Though in much pain, he rode a further three miles in the darkness and delivered his message.
Throughout the period at Servia members of the signal platoon maintained battalion communications most effectively. For three days and nights Privates Spilman15 and Scott16 repaired lines between Brigade Headquarters and 18 Battalion under shellfire and during air raids. Both men were awarded the Military Medal.
At 8 p.m. the move back to the Lava area began. Transport moved by the narrow, winding road, cut out of a steep cliff and with its corners cambered the wrong way. The night was pitch dark, no lights were used, and a man had to walk by the page 57 running board of each vehicle where the driver could just see him. Towels were hung from the rear of trucks as marks for the drivers following. One 30-cwt truck went through a culvert and had to be abandoned, while a 15-cwt water cart, a Bren carrier, and two motor-cycles went over the bank and had to be left behind. At Prosilion an Australian 25-pounder blocked the corner and Major Burrows ordered it to be pushed over to allow the column to proceed. During this move, and also the one on 14 April, the provost detachment proved its efficiency. Private ‘Pop’ Lynch17 was mentioned in despatches for his fine work in policing bad corners and for directing the convoy under heavy shellfire at ‘Hellfire Corner’.
In some places there were shell or bomb craters in the road. One Headquarters Company truck became stuck in one of these and had a bad lean to one side. The vehicle following was a huge British lorry towing a field gun. There was no hope of passing, and in the rain and the dark the driver backed this difficult combination along the tortuous road to a place where the truck following him (and driven by the battalion LAD sergeant) could pass. The sergeant, Tom Drummond,18 soon organised things and pulled out the stranded truck. During this ‘schemozzle’ a British officer in charge of the big lorry and gun caused something of a sensation by asking with typical sangfroid and in a most distinctive voice, ‘Oh, Meadows, hand down my attache case and orange drink.’
The rifle companies experienced their toughest march to date. They were led by guides from the intelligence section who had partly reconnoitred a route across country in daylight, but it proved difficult to follow at night. Rain fell most of the time and the march across the hills to avoid ‘Hellfire Corner’ took over eight hours, the men wading through creeks and scrambling up slippery banks. Most of them arrived in the old area exhausted but there were no stragglers. In A Company big Tom Dalton19 showed considerable determination and kept up in spite of a badly injured ankle.page 58
As Battalion Headquarters had been shelled rather heavily it was shifted into Lava. While in the village the Colonel, MO, and Adjutant had a narrow escape when a shell came through the roof of their building and exploded weakly in the next room, slightly wounding a pig. The CO, while shaving, received a scratch on the face from a splinter of wood. About this time the troops saw the unusual spectacle of a flight of Blenheim bombers going northwards through the pass while German planes passed them going south. Although within a few hundred yards of each other, neither group took any notice of the other.
About 11 a.m. the CO was summoned to Brigade to receive instructions regarding the withdrawal. The left flank of the Allied line was again in danger of being encircled owing to the German drive south and west from the gap at Florina, so that it became necessary to withdraw to a shorter line—known as the Thermopylae line—which it was hoped to hold from coast to coast. Fourth Brigade Group would pull out that night, 17–18 April. Twentieth Battalion would take over the rearguard, Colonel Kippenberger was to control the demolitions which the sappers were preparing on the road, and everybody was to be out of the pass by 3 a.m.
During the afternoon the battalion transport was moved to the assembly area south of Point 1142. B Echelon moved under the command of Major Burrows and passed through Larisa and Lamia to Molos. On the way progress was slow because of traffic jams which, however, were capably sorted out by Australian military police. The convoy was subjected to frequent bombing and aircraft spotters travelled on the roofs of all vehicles. No casualties were reported, although at sudden halts when the troops dived for ditches one or two who had gone too far afield were left behind but arrived later. After passing Lamia the troops saw it badly damaged in an air raid. On arrival at Molos the vehicles were dispersed and camouflaged.
The withdrawal of the brigade and attached troops began at 8 p.m. D Company went into position about Lava to check out 18 Battalion, while B Company set up a post astride the main road to check out the 19th. C Company, being the freshest, and one platoon of A Company were detailed to provide flank guards and posted along the spurs on the east of page 59 the road back through the pass. A Company, back in its old position, was to cover B and D Companies. It was to keep in close contact with D Company and was not to retire until D Company did so. All three companies were then to retire to the transport assembly position south of Point 1142. C Company would retire on the order of the CO, who had established on the road a Main Control Post consisting of a detachment of four Bren carriers, an RAP truck, an attached WT truck, the IO, the Intelligence Sergeant and the Provost Sergeant. This party joined Lieutenant Kelsall20 of 6 Field Company and a demolition party of sappers at the first demolition site at 7 p.m.
During the day conditions had been wet and misty with poor visibility, enabling the artillery to withdraw in daylight. Towards 3 p.m., however, visibility suddenly improved and vehicle movement was almost certainly seen by the enemy, both from the ground and also from a reconnaissance aircraft. During the afternoon Lava village was quite heavily shelled, the track from the village to the main road receiving particular attention. Many of the shells were duds. The enemy had apparently guessed that a withdrawal was to take place. Throughout the whole night harassing fire was maintained on the village, on the track leading to the main road, and along the road itself. About midnight a very heavy concentration was put down on Lava village and on A Company's area, but there was no sign of an attack.
Nineteenth Battalion began to come through the forward control posts about 9 p.m. and the whole battalion was through in good order before midnight. Prior to this a section of Bren carriers, under Second-Lieutenant Green,21 had been sent up to hold B Company's position astride the road with instructions for the company to withdraw as soon as 19 Battalion was through. B Company came through in good order soon after midnight.
Owing to the difficulties of communication it was not known by which route 18 Battalion would retire, but it was expected that some companies would come through Lava and that the rest would withdraw along the high ground above the village.page 60
The first of the 18th appeared about 2 a.m., but by 4 a.m. only two companies had passed through and these did not know the whereabouts of their battalion headquarters and the other two companies, or their line of withdrawal. Eighteenth Battalion's CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Gray,22 arrived about this time and reported that two of his companies were still on the hill route but that he did not know where they were. It was decided to withdraw the remaining two 20 Battalion companies, A and D, which were still forward, and orders were sent to that effect. Actually Major Paterson, commanding D Company, had discovered that no more of 18 Battalion were to come through his position and was already withdrawing with his company and A Company. He passed through shortly after Colonel Gray and went on to the assembly point. Lieutenant Green's carrier section was then called in and posted on the road some 300 yards to the north of the culvert which was to be blown. For some time small parties of the 18th continued to appear in the riverbed below the road and Colonel Kippenberger directed Captain Lyon23 of that battalion to collect transport and bring it up to carry the exhausted stragglers to the assembly point. This was done.
There was a risk that enemy infantry following up the withdrawal might outflank the rear party and cut off its retreat, and a still further danger that demolition parties farther south, which were not under the control of Lieutenant Kelsall, might blow their charges too soon. Deciding to wait for the other 18th companies, Colonel Kippenberger sent the IO, Lieutenant Teddy Dawson,24 down the road as far as Elasson to ensure that no charges were blown until the rear party had passed through. The RAP and wireless trucks were also sent off with the Provost Sergeant.
About 5 a.m. the other two 18 Battalion companies arrived in the creek bed below the first demolition, and when they reached the road they were sent on to the assembly area in Captain Lyon's transport. Their late arrival through exhaus- page 61 tion delayed the blowing of the first charge till 5.40 a.m., while further stragglers caused the second demolition to be held till 6.20 a.m. Finally, the rear party moved down the pass, the last of the charges being blown at 8 a.m. C Company, guarding the flank behind the rear party, had left a runner by the side of the road. He was sent back with a message to withdraw and the company arrived in notably good order and passed through the rearguard.
From then on the rear party was harassed by enemy aircraft which halted the column three times. Near the Elevtherokhorion crossroads, where the road from Mount Olympus joined that from Servia, the air attack was supplemented by fire from two German medium tanks sitting in the middle of the Olympus road. Carrier action was attempted with sappers acting as infantry, supported by fire from a two-pounder gun from 34 Anti-Tank Battery. The arrival of another enemy tank and the approach of many trucks of lorried infantry, ‘all sitting upright like tin soldiers', made the odds too great. ‘I counted seven, more in the distance, and rightly or wrongly decided that the odds were too heavy and we must run,’ wrote Colonel Kippenberger. The rear party had already had several men killed. The head of Kelsall's party reached the crossroads safely, but the trucks farther back in the convoy were cut off and about forty sappers were captured.
The seven survivors ran across ploughed ground on which the carriers had stuck and climbed to shelter behind a steep bank. Led by the Colonel, they made a wide detour across country in an attempt to join up with the rearguard at Elasson. At various stages when the little party emerged from cover it was fired on by artillery from either side in turn and once by both sides simultaneously. Two men semaphored with handkerchiefs to Australian gunners, ‘We are NZedders escaping’, whereupon fire from that quarter ceased. When in view of their own guns the party moved in a solid clump, all waving their jackets furiously and trying to look as little like soldiers as possible. Under German eyes the group adopted a more soldierly formation, extending to forty paces apart and moving in bounds from cover to cover. About 4 p.m. the party, almost exhausted from its ten-mile cross-country tramp after two sleepless nights, passed through the forward posts of 25 Battalion, page 62 which was holding the rearguard position south of Elasson, and was picked up by 26 Battalion transport. The party rejoined 20 Battalion near Molos late in the afternoon of 19 April.
The convoy carrying the rifle companies had had quite a fair journey as far as Larisa. However, between this town and Molos the road was badly congested and the column was continually harassed from the air. Transport was bombed and troops running to cover were strafed. There were casualties, though surprisingly few, in vehicles and men.
The RAF—‘Rare as Fairies’ and other more pungent translations of these initials—received bitter criticism from the troops for its failure to protect the convoys from the air, but it could not fairly be asked to take all the blame. Road discipline was bad, unit convoys became broken up, and conflicting orders, ‘by various authorities at various points’, to disperse off the roads or to push on without stopping caused confusion.
The laconic notes of the diarists are better than a lengthy description of the journey. Private Bill Glue writes:
17–18 April—Good quick going at night—the Huns were keeping on our tail with their artillery. Early morning outside Larissa … Hun spotter came over…. Hell of a jam. Hun planes bombed the road and when we dispersed they came down and machine gunned and bombed us. Truck next to ours was set on fire. Was covered with flying earth from a near one—sheltered in the hole it made…. Lost all my gear when our truck moved out in a hurry without half of us. Bombed and strafed at intervals from 2 o'clock until dusk— not dark now until nearly 9 p.m. How slow it was coming. We did fairly well by pushing ahead and not stopping for the raids…. Some steep pinches over the pass…. Joined our own outfit and had a grouse breakfast of porridge and bully stew—first real meal for days. Borrowed the doings to shave off four-day-old beard—hard going. Short of lots of gear but managed to rummage about and make one from the left-overs. Molos.
Trucks set alight and pushed over the bank all along the road. … Some of [our drivers] had been driving continuously for 50 hours….
Wally Kimber of the Bren-carrier platoon writes:
17–18 April—Stand-to duties at brigade headquarters most of the day and then took up Bren gun covering positions around the embussing position and spent the night at this job in the rain. The Germans were shelling the main road below us and the side of a hill we were behind, not doing much harm as most of the shells landed in a stream below.page 63
By 5 a.m. the MT had got away so we went too. Another carrier had gone over the bank in the darkness and had to be abandoned. We were the last to get round the junction of the road [Elevtherokhorion] before the German tanks put in an appearance. After Larisa we got the works good and properly—bombing and strafing until it was too dark for the pilots to see properly in the hilly country. After Larisa we ran into various other units, Tommies, RE,25 Machine Gunners, Royal Artillery, Medical, Australian, and the Armoured Div., all with the same idea—getting out as fast as possible. Once the Jerry air force put in an appearance it was just a mad rush—a lot of the time trucks were two or three abreast and tanks mixed up with them. The bombing of harmless villages was awful but the storks still stuck to their nests.
Camped for the night about 12 p.m.—our third night on end without sleep—worst day ever spent in my life.
During the withdrawal there were many individual actions worth recording. Lieutenant Dawson had been mortally wounded while gallantly engaging enemy aircraft with a Bren gun. Similarly, Lieutenant Poole,26 who between Larisa and Molos was wounded in the knee and was unable to leave his truck during raids, engaged enemy aircraft with a Bren gun from the back of the truck, helped by some of his men of 12 Platoon. Private Strang,27 also of B Company, performed a useful service in an emergency after the driver of his truck disappeared during an air raid near Larisa. Extricating his vehicle from a difficult position, Strang drove for sixteen hours through several more raids and by his coolness and courage set a valuable example.
The trucks continued to straggle in to the little village of Skarfia, two miles east of Molos, throughout the day and night of 19 April, and for the next two days the battalion rested in a beautiful spot, engaged in coastwatching, and was joined by the stragglers, some of whom arrived by road and others by boat across the Gulf of Lamia. At this stage the main task of the New Zealand Division was to defend the Thermopylae Pass.page 64
Fifth Brigade, later joined by 6 Brigade, covered the front, while 4 Brigade was in reserve, two miles east of Molos. Fourth Brigade's duties included coastwatching as far east as Cape Knimis —allotted to 20 Battalion; the taking of a census of boats in readiness for use if required for evacuating troops from the north shore of the gulf, east of Lamia; the provision of carrier patrols and infantry detachments to attack paratroops or boat landings near the south shore.
At 3 p.m. on 20 April C Company under Major Cliff Wilson, with under command one section of 25-pounders, one section of anti-tank guns and three despatch riders, left for Stilis, ten miles east of Lamia, to prevent an enemy advance from the east until dumps in Stilis had been cleared and to secure the line of withdrawal of Lee Force from Dhomokos through Lamia. A detachment of the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry was to be east of Stilis holding a demolition. About 8.30 p.m. Major Wilson reported to Headquarters 4 Brigade that the CRE NZ Division (Lieutenant-Colonel Clifton28) in Stilis had informed him that ‘… there was no Divisional Cavalry east of that village and that he should withdraw about 9.30 p.m. when he [CRE] would have finished his task in Stylos; and that Lee Force had been reduced to a weak battalion.’
In accordance with this message Major Wilson placed a detachment of 25-pounders and two-pounders and some infantry in the vicinity of Lamia to secure his withdrawal, which was accomplished without incident.
While the battalion rested in the Molos area, considerable bombing and strafing of the coast road took place. The enemy bombers had no fighter escorts, apparently confident of their immunity from attack. On one occasion, however, Hurricane fighters were seen to shoot down several enemy aircraft. It was here that the majority of the troops first saw the vapour trails left by high-altitude fighters.
On 21 April the battalion was ordered to take up a defensive position from Karia village to Cape Knimis. A and C Com- page 65 panies were allotted the higher ground round Karia, B Company was on the beach, and D in mobile reserve. The move began at dusk. Next morning A and C Companies had no sooner scaled their precipitous heights and expended considerable energy in hauling up ammunition than orders were received from Brigade that, owing to the capitulation of the Greeks, all British forces were to withdraw from Greece.
The plan was that 4 Infantry Brigade would move in transport during the night 22–23 April to occupy a position south of Thebes, in the vicinity of Kriekouki, to cover the withdrawal of the New Zealand and Australian divisions. No movement was to take place in daylight, and units unable to complete the journey in darkness would lie up on the way until the following night. After orders for the withdrawal were received all surplus gear was destroyed, including blankets, winter underclothing, cooking utensils, gas respirators, and bicycles. After dark the battalion moved to a bivouac area north of Thebes which had been reconnoitred by Major Burrows. Men and vehicles remained hidden in the olive groves during the day, 23 April, successfully avoiding observation by German aircraft. In the haste of the withdrawal Lance-Sergeant Findlay,29 accidentally left behind at Thermopylae, remained at his post for a further twenty-four hours and then returned with 5 Brigade.
After reconnaissance of the defensive position by the CO and company commanders, the battalion moved at 8 p.m. in transport to the summit of Kriekouki Pass, where the troops debussed and took up their positions on the left of the road, with 18 Battalion (less carriers) on the right, and 19 Battalion (less carriers) in reserve. In the 20 Battalion area C Company was allotted the right flank, with B in the centre and A on the left. D Company was in reserve. B Echelon was located south of the crossroads from Villia. The battalion had in support one battery from ? Australian Field Regiment and shared with 19 Battalion the support of three machine-gun platoons, an anti-tank battery, and one ack-ack battery.
Instructions from Brigade ordered the most careful concealment to prevent the enemy from discovering the presence of a large force in the area. Ack-ack fire was forbidden except in the event of serious air attack. There was to be complete wireless page 66 silence. Active patrolling was to be carried out at night. By day the majority of the troops were to be in rear of the forward slopes ready to move at short notice. False flanks of detached posts and snipers were to be used on the high ground on the flanks. The battalion's carriers were to patrol well out on the left flank.
The battalion's forward defended localities were roughly from the main road two miles west along the 600-metre contour to its junction with a track leading round to Villia. The ground was too rocky to permit much digging, which in any case was undesirable owing to lack of camouflage and would have betrayed the defences, but where possible stone sangars were built. With the exception of one hill sparsely covered with bush the area was devoid of cover. Enemy planes passed frequently overhead firing bursts from their machine guns, but so good was the discipline of the men as a result of their experience further north that during these reconnaissance flights each page 67 man remained motionless and planes searched in vain. Water was scarce and the only well was situated some distance from the road. This necessitated long treks, frequently interrupted by enemy aircraft, when the water carriers went smartly to ground.
Fourth Brigade was originally intended to hold the pass for two days, thus enabling other forces to reach their evacuation beaches, and it was then to follow to Theodhora, between Megara and Corinth. By 25 April, however, the complete lack of air cover had made it very difficult to carry out the evacuation by troopships, and the Navy had decided to embark troops on destroyers from the Peloponnese. The brigade was accordingly instructed to hold its position for a further twenty-four hours to allow the revised embarkation programme to be put into effect, and then, on 27 April, to withdraw to the Corinth Canal. Here a further rearguard covering the Peloponnese was to be formed. Thus the position at Kriekouki became known as ‘Twenty-four Hour Pass’.
On 24 April a reconnaissance party under Captain Orr had left for the embarkation beach south of the Corinth Canal. On reaching Megara this party was instructed by the 4 Brigade IO to go to a point one mile north of the Corinth Canal. This point was changed later to an area just south of it. On the night of 25–26 April the party crossed the canal and passed round Corinth, which was blazing fiercely after an air raid. Next morning transport planes flew over very low and paratroops dropped between Orr's party and the canal. Leaving for Argos to link up with 6 Brigade, which was known to be in that area, the party met Major Petrie30 of 18 Battalion and, with about thirty stragglers, decided to form a defensive line across the road, at the same time sending word of the position to the CO 26 Battalion.
Later, Captain Orr was directed by Colonel Stewart,31 GSOI page 68 at Divisional Headquarters, to join Lee Force near Monemvasia and, with other units of this force, take up a position three miles from the beach to cover the withdrawal of 6 Brigade. This was done, and on the night of 28–29 April the party embarked with 26 Battalion on HMS Havock, arriving in Suda Bay in Crete next day. There the party was transferred to HMS Comliebank and returned to Egypt.
Meanwhile, at Kriekouki the rifle companies were engaged on their rearguard action. Between 7 and 10 a.m. on 26 April numerous explosions were heard in Thebes and columns of vehicles could be seen moving into the town and east and west of it. Shortly after 11 a.m. an enemy reconnaissance party of about a hundred vehicles, led by a light tank and some motor-cyclists, was observed approaching Kriekouki from Thebes.
‘This exactly suited me,’ the CO wrote later in Infantry Brigadier, ‘a nice little ambush was ready for any such advanced guard. My idea was that it should be allowed to come up the road right into our position, when we would fall on it with two-pounders, mortars, anti-tank rifles, machine-guns, Bren guns, and rifles, while a party hidden in the village attacked the rear vehicles and put mines on the road. The column would have been very uncomfortable under the circumstances on the winding climb, and I fully expected a satisfactory butchery, but the plan got no trial. The gunners had been warned, but I had had no chance to see the Brigadier and get his approval. So the gunners opened fire under their instructions before the enemy column reached Kriekoukis. It was a pleasing but disappointing sight. The guns had not registered and their shells pitched everywhere but on the road. The Germans in the trucks scattered and there were some signs of panic; but very soon they pulled themselves together, embussed, turned their trucks and scuttled back … out of range. At the end the guns got several hits and eight vehicles were left abandoned.’
Later, C Company's position was shelled by about a dozen guns but the company had no casualties. Our artillery shelled whatever targets presented themselves. In the afternoon enemy page 69 vehicles were observed leaving Thebes by a road running eastwards which led round the right of the brigade area and on to the coast road to Athens.
While this skirmish had been taking place at Kriekouki, the enemy had delivered a successful parachute attack at Corinth. The bridge itself had been destroyed, the defending force dispersed and the enemy troops, reinforced by air, were prepared to hold the isthmus. When word of the destruction of the bridge reached General Freyberg, then in the Peloponnese, he arranged for 4 Brigade to be embarked at Porto Rafti, east of Athens. Instructions to this effect reached Brigadier Puttick at 6.30 p.m. As plans had already been made for the withdrawal, all that was required was that the destination should be changed from Corinth to Porto Rafti.
At 8.30 p.m., acting on instructions from Brigade, the battalion began to withdraw to the embarkation beach south-east of Athens. The Adjutant established a control post at Villia crossroads to check out the brigade and attached troops, while the CO, again in charge of the rear party, supervised the blowing of demolitions in the pass and as far as south of Mazi.
The companies marched about eight miles before embussing. It was an arduous tramp under cold conditions, and the stillness of the night was frequently broken by the explosions of the demolitions carried out by the engineers of 2/8 Australian Field Company, covered by C Company. On their arrival at the transport area rum was issued to some of the troops—the battalion's first ration. Seated in or on the lorries, the men watched other units depart in transport, impatiently awaiting their turn to follow. At last it came and, to waste no time, the leading trucks were told to move as fast as possible. Headlights were permitted and the drive to Athens is remembered by those who made the trip as the wildest they experienced.
The bivouac area about three miles beyond Athens was reached by the rear party about 5.30 a.m. on Sunday, 27 April. Shortly after his arrival the CO was awakened by Lieutenant-Colonel Strutt, who stated that 20 Battalion and his guns were the only British troops left in Greece, and added that he had come to put himself under Colonel Kippenberger's command. ‘This neat little speech woke me up effectively,’ the CO later recalled. ‘We counted up our army, one battalion, seventeen page 70 guns, one machine-gun company, seven anti-tank guns, and some sappers. I pointed out that the force was inadequate to retake Athens and said that we would fall back to the high ground about the beach, lie low or fight as the case required, and hope to embark during the night.’
Leaving orders to move the battalion nearer the beach and having organised the artillery, the CO with the Adjutant left to reconnoitre the beach at Porto Rafti, or ‘Porto Raferty’ as the war diary spells it, some 12 miles away. At the beach there were no signs of any embarkation parties, but on the way back 4 Brigade trucks were found and it was discovered that both Brigade Headquarters and 18 and 19 Battalions were still in the area. Discarding the policy of concealment hitherto in force which prohibited movement by day, the Brigade Commander about 9 a.m. ordered the immediate occupation of a defensive position east of Markopoulon, with 18 and 20 Battalions forward and 19 Battalion in reserve near the beach. All guns were to be ready for an anti-tank role.page 71
At the first alarm the men had been awakened and, after a hasty meal, moved several miles nearer the beach, where they once more dispersed in olive groves. To the ordinary soldier the position was very confused. About an hour after arriving in the dispersal area the drivers were ordered to destroy their transport, but this order was cancelled before it could be put fully into effect. With dramatic suddenness the troops were ordered away to their final defensive positions. Some marched, others moved in lorries, the ‘runners’ towing those with pick holes through their radiators.
Passing through the little village of Markopoulon the men had an unforgettable experience. The cordial reception given to the retreating troops by the inhabitants was touching. They seemed to realise that all possible assistance had been given to their unfortunate little country and bore the departing troops no ill will. Running alongside and carrying rifles as the thirsty troops drank, they pressed on them gifts of wine and water.
While the companies were moving independently to their positions a squadron of fighter-bombers made a sudden appearance and viciously machine-gunned and bombed the village and the marching column. There were numerous civilian casualties. B Company was particularly unfortunate, being caught on transport at the beginning of the raid and suffering some twenty casualties.
On the outskirts of Marcopoulon our route branched off the main road to Porto Rafti and we proceeded about two miles along this dirt road. On the left was a gradually sloping ridge dotted with an occasional tree while on the right was fairly flat ground with some rocky formations. On one flat piece there was a grape orchard. Ahead and further out on the right were some trees.
We halted, and because of the towing the trucks were nose to tail. 12 Platoon under Lieutenant Fergus MacLaren33 had failed to arrive and Captain Rice sent me down the road to look for them. At the same time he called a meeting of platoon commanders. We did not debus as soon as we stopped for the men were dead weary page 72 at this stage and very confused. In another two minutes Captain Rice would have finished his conference and the platoons would have been in their defensive positions.
I was only about a hundred yards down the road when a number of aeroplanes swooped very low over the ridge. The men were still on their trucks awaiting dispersal orders but immediately the attack began they scattered and took what cover they could on both sides of the road. The attack continued for some considerable time, the planes swooping very low up and down the road and strafing the road itself, the trucks and the men. All the vehicles except the OC's 8-cwt were ‘brewed up’ by incendiary bullets, which also set fire to crop in which some of the men were sheltering.
The Porto Rafti road was getting a doing over at the same time and it later transpired that 12 Platoon were on this road, having mistaken the turn off. It was here that Lieutenant Fergus MacLaren was killed. In the main group Captain Ayto34 had been badly shot through both knees and was carried clear of the road to the side of a hill. He later died of wounds. Three of the men killed we buried in the grape vines and evacuated the other killed and wounded to the beach in the ‘pick-up’. It was altogether a very nasty raid.
During this air attack very fine work in attending to the wounded was done by Lance-Corporal Smith,35 one of the medical orderlies, and Private Cousins.36 Lieutenant Rhodes37 assisted the wounded during the raid and organised a group of Australians to help to form a carrying party. Captain Rice, the company commander, also showed great courage in assisting the wounded and in reorganising his company and moving it, with no signs of disorganisation, into the position assigned to it.
In the village the Greeks, as a final unselfish gesture, insisted that the wounded among the troops should be treated before their own casualties. At this stage an old Greek who spoke a little English said, ‘Well, boys, you're going now, but we'll be waiting for you when you come back.’ Quickly came the response, ‘Too b—right, we'll be back’, and it was through no fault of their own that those who gave the pledge were later unable to fulfil it.page 73
From then on the men of 20 Battalion went through what probably felt the longest day in their lives. It seemed as though night would never fall. Their orders were to endeavour to hold their ground stubbornly in the event of attack, but if the front was irretrievably broken the troops south of the road would retire to the high ground south of the beach, Mount Merenda, and hold it as an infantry position until embarkation became possible.
Although dust columns moving south were observed some miles to the west, the enemy was strangely inactive. German motor-cyclists had entered Athens shortly after 8 a.m. and had been ordered to push on to Lavrion, a little port some 12 miles south of Porto Rafti. After the vicious noon attack enemy air activity was confined to occasional visits by one or two planes, although large numbers of fighters and bombers passed seawards south-east over the area and on returning attacked small craft on the beach.
About 4 p.m. Lieutenant John Rolleston38 reported that an enemy force estimated at from sixty to one hundred vehicles, composed of trucks and either light tanks or motor-cycle combinations, was coming up a road and disappearing from view to the left of B Company's front. From other battalion positions enemy transport in groups of three or four was seen emerging from Markopoulon and passing across the front on the main road to Lavrion. The battalion mortars bombarded whatever targets they could find in the village.
We now know from enemy records what was happening in Markopoulon. Apparently the enemy had no knowledge of the presence of 4 Brigade around Porto Rafti other than a report received by the commander of 2 Motor Cycle Battalion on reaching Markopoulon that ‘English troops … were abandoning their vehicles and fleeing on foot towards the coast.’ A motor-cycle company sent out to investigate came under the accurate fire of ‘at least 6 guns, mortars and MGs’ and the battalion commander decided to lay on a Stuka attack. He sent his adjutant back to Athens to make these arrangements and cleared the field east of Markopoulon ready for the bombers; but these preliminaries took time and it became too late for either air or ground attack. Fourth Brigade was allowed to page 74 slip through the enemy's none-too-eager fingers, and next day a fighting patrol found the New Zealanders gone.
For the troops holding the road to Porto Rafti the long day ended without further incident, and at 8.30 p.m. the battalion began to thin out and withdraw by detachments through the line held by 19 Battalion to the evacuation beach. Here the men were sorted into company groups and settled down to wait for the embarkation officer to give the order to move.
The naval embarkation officer ordered packs, greatcoats, and all equipment except rifles and tommy guns to be destroyed. This instruction, intended to facilitate loading, was obeyed as to packs and greatcoats, and many prized possessions were thrown away or destroyed. Counter-orders from the CO reached most platoons and when the men went aboard they took with them all Bren guns and magazines, the signal equipment, less line, and the mortars—most fortunately as it proved.
Just before 2 a.m. the troops moved off to the small landing stage, where the majority embarked in tank landing craft and were taken out to the cruiser Ajax and the destroyer Kingston. Considerable difficulty was experienced in getting one of the landing craft off the beach as it had grounded on a sandbank. After a long and wearisome delay it got under way. The men were hauled up the sides of the ships and guided by the sailors to their quarters, anywhere below decks. Once on board, they received the traditional hospitality of the Navy—gifts of cigarettes and matches, which were much appreciated, and a meal with mugs of piping hot cocoa, after which they settled down for a much-needed sleep.
One of the first reactions after the recent fortnight of continuous strain was the feeling of relief, the impression that all was now well, engendered no doubt by the traditional confidence that British people have in the Royal Navy. The troops' relief at their own escape, however, was tempered with a feeling of deep concern for those they were leaving behind. The high hopes with which they had set out for Greece had not been realised. Every time they had prepared to fight, the general situation had deteriorated and they had been ordered to withdraw. For most of the campaign the battalion had covered the retreat of the brigade without at any time relaxing its standard of discipline; and in military circles it is generally considered page 75 that the role of rearguard in a withdrawal is one of the greatest tests of a unit's discipline and morale.
Thus ended the battalion's part in the Greek campaign. The friendship with the Greek people that was formed on the first day ashore endured to the last, and their farewells, confident that the same troops would one day return, is for many the most touching memory of the war.
* * * * *
To strike back when the enemy attacks and odds are more or less even is a perfectly normal measure. The fight at Kalamata, when little groups of New Zealanders and Australians, armed only with rifles and bayonets, grenades, a few machine guns and the pathetic Boys anti-tank rifles, recaptured the town from the advanced guard of a German panzer division equipped with machine guns, mortars, and two field guns ranks as an infantry action of the highest order.
After the departure of the battalion for Katerini on 18 March, its reinforcements—6 officers and 46 men—moved from Hymettus to the New Zealand Division's reinforcement camp at Voula and helped to provide detachments of fourteen different guards, of about twelve to twenty men each, scattered round Athens, Piraeus, and the docks. Later, two groups of fifty men each were always on call for anti-paratroop work. German aircraft raided the port frequently and one incident is described by Private Doug Patterson39:
While some of us were doing port guard at Piraeus the German air force made a heavy night raid and set seventeen or eighteen ships on fire as well as dropping mines in the harbour. Next day another boat, French I think, while turning in to the wharf struck a mine, blew up, and sank in about twenty minutes. Some of the sailors were floating in the harbour. Jack Coatsworth,40 Captain Yates's41 batman, who had come down to see the result of the raid saw these men and, although the surface of the water was on fire, he dived in and brought two sailors to land. He was a very strong swimmer but how he was not badly burned I do not know.page 76
About 21 April the news was received that the evacuation of Greece was to begin, and next day orders came that the reinforcements were to be organised into a fighting battalion to act as a rearguard when 4 Brigade came through. With practically no equipment and no transport, this was a tall order. Thirty-one different units were represented in the camp, which was under the command of Major MacDuff.
Captain Yates, who organised the battalion into a headquarters company and three rifle companies, says:
23–24 April: Sent men out and found transport for ourselves— picked up trucks in ordnance parks. Found Lewis and Vickers guns in ordnance stores. Got some stores for Engineers such as compressor and explosives. It was just a case of help yourself in the Athens stores. Before this there had been nothing available. Now there was no check and no guards whatsoever.
Returning from a conference in Athens on 25 April, Major MacDuff issued orders for the battalion to move out that night. Leaving at 7.10 p.m., the convoy went through Elevsis, Megara, and Corinth, reaching Argos about dawn. Here it was diverted to Kalamata because of an influx of Australian troops at Navplion and the loss of the transport Ulster Prince outside Navplion harbour.
The convoy was turned back and then sent forward again on a zigzag climb—and bombed. It spent 26 April on the road and in the late afternoon camped in olive groves several miles north of Kalamata. Major MacDuff went to a conference with Brigadier Parrington, an English officer who was responsible for the embarkation plans, and returned with orders to report and be ready on the wharf the following evening, 27- 28 April.
During the evening of 26–27 April approximately 7000 troops, mainly Australian, were taken off in destroyers which ferried them to two transports, making about seven trips to do so. Prospects for the evacuation of the New Zealanders the following evening looked extremely rosy. Kalamata, however, was becoming congested with thousands of survivors of miscellaneous units—Base Details, RASC, signallers, drivers, Lascars, Cypriot and Palestinian pioneers, and some Yugoslavs who claimed to have authority from Mr Anthony Eden for a high priority in embarkation. Brigadier Parrington's instructions page 77 emphasised the importance of getting all fighting troops away, but as the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion was to cover the withdrawal it was to be the last to embark.
On 27 April Captain Yates met some officers of the 4th Hussars who said they had a screen 30 kilometres out from Kalamata which could give ample warning of the enemy's approach. In the early evening the battalion drove to the quayside at Kalamata and orders were given to destroy trucks an prepare for evacuation. Private Jones42 describes what happened:
The night was spent waiting for ships which did not come in so in the early morning we drove out of the town in the ‘destroyed’ trucks. The drivers had either been too keen on catching the boat to carry out the order or else they doubted the wisdom of destroying the vehicles. We drove back to our dispersal area, concealed our trucks, and rested during the day.
Some of the men, however, stayed under cover on the slopes near Kalamata and this breaking up of units no doubt affected their organisation as a fighting force. Enemy aircraft were active in the vicinity of Kalamata but casualties were surprisingly light.
About 4 p.m. on 28 April the battalion drove back through the town to the usual accompaniment of bombing and strafing, the transport moving in small groups at fifteen-minute intervals. Captains Yates and Curtis43 were told to wait till 6 p.m. to pick up stragglers. Captain Yates describes their experiences:
At 5.43 p.m. five German armoured cars appeared. We tried to get away but bursts of machine-gun fire made us change our minds. The flying column which took us sent us back and continued on into Kalamata. The road was thick with Huns and we were handed back from vehicle to vehicle. At the rear of the column was an empty truck which picked us up. A few miles back we came upon the 4th Hussars, four or five officers and about 100 men. They had been captured intact. Later in the night we were piled into trucks and taken into Kalamata to the wharf area.
About 5 p.m. a German reconnaissance group entered the town and cut us off from the quay where embarkation was to take place. At dusk we started to move towards the town and about half a mile from the outskirts Major MacDuff met us and distributed grenades and small-arms ammunition. He was shouting to us to get into it and saying that unless the town was cleared the Navy would be unable to take us off. Nearing the town we encountered fire from a large calibre gun, a heavy mortar, armoured vehicles, and machine guns. Steady progress was made towards the centre of the town. An LMG which had given considerable trouble was cleaned out by means of grenades. At this point I lost my section. The officer was missing and the others seemed to follow suit. However I made contact with Jim Hesson,44 Doug Patterson, and Jack Hinton, all of the page 79 20th Battalion. Jack had just wiped out an MG post at the corner. There were dead Germans lying about. There was some mortar fire about this time. We took over the Jerry LMG and sort of meditated about the position. The closeness of the mortar fire, the heavy gun firing on the beaches, together with the LMGs which were giving covering fire to the heavy weapons were giving us some worry. They just had to be put out of action. After discussing the problem for some minutes we received a rude shock when a very large German stepped out and let fly with a tommy gun, severely wounding Jim Hesson in the arm, and disappeared.
Hinton decided the enemy position must be cleaned out and told me to give him covering fire while he worked his way along the street using doorways for cover as far as possible. I consider any man who was prepared to accept my covering fire should have been awarded the VC for that act alone. We tried to use the Jerry LMG as we had tons of ammunition for it but as it wouldn't function I had to use the bren.
Jack started for his objective some two hundred yards distant keeping to the left, while I endeavoured to keep a line of fire a few feet out from the buildings on the same side of the street. About fifty yards from his objective Hinton struck two blokes in a doorway. He nearly bayoneted them, discovering just in time that they were two of ours, one a Tommy Lieutenant-Colonel and the other Major (‘Two-Pill’) Thomson45 of Palmerston North, at one time RMO to the 4th Field Artillery. Major Thomson was at this stage endeavouring to contact Major MacDuff to inform him of the location of the RAP as he was somewhat afraid our chaps might throw grenades first and ask questions later. The RAP had been set up in the town prior to the German occupation.
Hinton started off again and in a very short time cleaned out the two LMGs and the mortar with grenades. Simultaneously a 3-tonner driven by an Aussie and carrying a load of Kiwis rushed the heavy gun from the south. I cannot say whether Hinton or the chaps on the truck cleaned up the big gun. A few minutes after this episode, which was really the turning point of the whole show, Jack was severely wounded in the stomach.
From here to the quay, a distance of about 200 yards, there was much bitter fighting. Round one corner I met my mate, Doug Patterson.
Private Patterson had come by a different route but had had just as much action. His account and that of Private Jones are quoted practically in full as they give a good picture of the type of fighting that took place. Patterson states:page 80
I came down out of the olive grove to MacDuff's corner where he was giving out grenades and ammunition and shouting to us to get into it. I had my own rifle and ammunition. We went along the street nearest the water front—I remember there were buildings on my right but none on my left. MGs were firing down the streets from the west. About half way between the jetty and the quay one German stepped out of a shop with a tommy gun. He sort of hesitated and was shot.
We moved on till about a block before the quay where we met some Jerries who came out of a building and tried to make over to an armoured car or half-tracked vehicle. We got three of them. After we passed one of them he fired at us from under the car. When I was opposite the first vehicle a truck without a canopy and full of Kiwis whizzed past me. I saw one chap, a Maori I think, with a tommy gun and one chap with a bren gun leaning over the hood. The truck rushed the big gun, the chaps firing as they closed in. I didn't see what the chaps on the truck did next as the Jerries rushing out of the building occupied our attention. After we had finished with the Jerries I saw the chaps milling round the gun. I did not go over to them as at that moment Jones and others came round the corner and I joined up with them. Jones seemed to be enjoying it. I remember him saying that it was the best night he had had since he left New Zealand. He had always been my mate so I went along with him. About five German armoured vehicles were parked in the street. The crews were upstairs and seemed to be firing from the upper storeys. I remember thinking it looked as if they had left their vehicles to go looting. We got some and Jones got those that made for the other armoured vehicles.
Just up from the water front there were some Jerries in a building. They were firing mostly from the ground floor with at least two machine guns. They kept up a continuous fire with them, first one and then the other. I couldn't help thinking what a perfect MG post it was. Some Jerries on the balcony were firing with tommy guns. We took up position on the steps of a jetty. A soldier whom I heard the boys say afterwards was an officer, Australian I thought by the way he spoke, walked across from the steps, stopped, and called on the Jerries to surrender. He yelled, ‘You are surrounded. Will you surrender?’ They replied with fire and he fell in the street. Some of the boys said, ‘He's dead.’ Another said, ‘we'll go out and pull him back.’ Hearing this the officer, who was lying with his head on his arms yelled, ‘I've been hit. I'm all right, but if someone comes I won't be.’
Jones and Patterson nevertheless made a rush across to a telegraph pole in the middle of the street. While the latter lay and sheltered behind the concrete kerb surrounding the pole, Jones stood up and fired with the Bren at the German machine guns page 81 which were firing through the bottom windows. While he was doing this a German on the balcony was shooting at him with a tommy gun. Patterson says:
Bullets were hitting the post and I remember thinking what a rotten shot Jonah was until I saw it was the Jerry on the balcony firing at him. Afterwards I found that flakes of concrete chipped off the post had cut him around the throat and eyes. Jonah kept firing at the LMGs until he was hit in the shoulder and fell across my feet. I looked up and got the Jerry on the balcony. He fell down on to the footpath and those on the ground floor seemed to stop firing. There seemed to be a fire round the corner to the left. Sergeant Charlie West46 told me afterwards that they started a fire with petrol at the back of the building.
After the MGs firing through the windows had stopped the boys came across the road from behind the steps and went up to the windows where someone threw in grenades. I went across firing at where I thought the MGs had been. A few minutes later about sixty Jerries came out through the door in the left hand corner of the building with their hands up. At the same time some other Kiwis came round the corner from the other street. One of the Jerries spoke English and said, ‘You'd better look after us because our main party will be here in an hour.’
After this Patterson took Jones to the RAP. Most of the troops there were Australians and they gave the two Kiwis some brandy. Jones now wanted a Mauser as he could no longer carry his Bren gun and yet still wanted to carry on with his mates. Patterson went back to where he had seen a motor-cycle and side-chair tipped over and fifteen brand-new rifles lying on the road, but when he arrived there were no weapons left. He continues:
In looking round for one I passed some armoured vehicles up a side street where I saw Major MacDuff. I heard him say he thought the Naval Officer had been killed and they were going to try to signal the navy. An officer said we were to go up the Corinth road, turn trucks sideways to block the road, and set them alight. We went up the Corinth road about a mile and parked the trucks across the highway but I don't remember anyone setting them alight.
The men then returned to Kalamata.page 82
About 6 p.m. Lieutenant O'Rourke [O'Rorke]48 and I were called to Brigadier Parrington's conference which took place just off Motor Road in the rear of the dispersal area. We were ordered to carry out a reconnaissance and see that A and B Companies were placed in the positions they were allotted, the former covering the entrance of the Tripolis–Corinth road to the town at the western end, and the latter where the road from Sparta entered Kalamata. The companies were to withdraw at 10 p.m. for embarkation if conditions permitted.
We set out for the centre of the town and met some Greeks running towards us. They told us that the Germans were in the town and at the same time we heard small arms fire. We pushed on to have a look and saw some Germans in the area where A Com pany were supposed to be but saw no sign of A Company. We sent a runner back to advise MacDuff and decided to make our way back to the waterfront to pick up any troops we could find in the dispersal area. Picked up about twenty Australians and New Zealanders and set out towards the waterfront.
As we started towards the quay three or four shells from a fairly heavy gun landed in the area about twenty yards behind us and machine-gun fire came from the direction of the Corinth end of the waterfront road. By this time it was getting fairly dark and there seemed to be utter confusion in the waterfront area and shots were coming from all directions. O'Rourke and I split up at this stage, he taking about ten men and advancing up the road next to the waterfront and I took the remainder and made my way from house to house up the waterfront road. There was somebody giving covering fire from the left hand side of this road but I have no idea who it was.
Some time later a runner came from Lieutenant O'Rorke to say that he was pinned down by fire from the top of a certain house. Lieutenant Rhind broke into an adjoining house and from the roof-top his party could see Germans on the roof of a nearby house. They gave them a burst of tommy-gun fire and the enemy firing ceased. About this stage they met Lieutenant Fay49 of 25 Battalion.
The little party fought its way up the waterfront to the second-last block where it was joined by many more troops. While they were re-forming a truck loaded with New Zealand and Australian troops went up the road towards the German positions.
Enlisting, Christchurch, September 1939
Section post, Burnham
Original officers of 20 Battalion
Back row: Lt D. J. Fountaine, 2 Lts L. S. Leslie, V. C. Poole, and P. G. Markham, Lt C. K. Fleming, 2 Lts G. A. T. Rhodes and J. H. Beale, Lt A. I. Garriock, 2 Lts F. J. Bain, G. A. Brown, J. F. Phillips, M. G. O'Callaghan, and J. D. Aiken. Second row: Capt R. S. Orr, Lt W. Ayto, Rev. H. I. Hopkins, Lt H. J. Scoltock, Capt G. R. Kirk, 2 Lt J. R. Coote, Lts D. B. Cameron, M. C. Fairbrother, and G. W. Washbourn, 2 Lts J. F. Baker and J. H. Kempthorne, Capt H. O. Jefcoate. Front row: Capts M. C. Rice, R. D. B. Paterson, and J. T. Burrows, Majs P. W. G. Spiers and F. E. Dornwell, Lt-Col H. K. Kippenberger, Capt F. L. H. Davis, Maj A. P. MacDuff, Capts B. J. Mathewson, T. H. Mitchell, and C. Wilson. In front: 2 Lts G. A. Murray, T. E. Dawson, and R. L. D. Powrie, Lt J. P. Quilter. (Absent, Lts S. L. Wood and K. G. Manchester)
C Company on route march at Cave, November 1939. From right: WO II J. D. Gibb Capt B. J. Mathewson, and 2 Lt G. A. Brown. Cpl J. D. Hinton, center, front ranl
Farewell parade, Christchurch, January 1940
On the Dunera. L-Cpl N. Sutherland (D Company barber) at work
Arrival at Maadi, February 1940
Wadi Tih, Maadi
River-crossing exercise, Helwan, February 1941
‘They were fired on,’ says Lieutenant Rhind, ‘and I think the driver was wounded because the truck stopped and the troops took cover on both sides of the road. It was dark by this time and the only way we could keep contact was by shouting “Aussie” and “Kiwi” so that we could recognise friend and foe. We advanced a bit further up the road when we were joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Geddes who took control of proceedings from there on. There was an interpreter with him and he was calling on the Germans to surrender. In a few minutes the Germans gave themselves up, about eighty or ninety as far as I could see.
‘The prisoners were sent back to the beach under escort and we proceeded to put the troops into a defensive position. An attempt was made to tip the heavy gun into the sea but it got jammed against a tree. We turned a truck round to face out to sea and with the headlamps signalled to the Navy that the waterfront had been cleared and that we were ready to embark. We also told them that the Naval Officer in charge of the port had been taken prisoner, but received no reply. We used the German trucks as road blocks and organised parties to carry the wounded to the RAP set up by Major Thomson. I remained on the job till 2 a.m. when we were informed that Brigadier Parrington was going to surrender at 5.30 a.m. so decided to make a break for it. About five of us got on to a caique and for about an hour and a half tried to get the engine going but without success. It was getting fairly light by this time so our only hope was to make for the hills in the direction of Kalamiri but before we got far we were rounded up by a German motor cycle patrol.’
Meanwhile, Captain Yates had had the exasperating experience of being in the town but of not being able to assist in the fight. He continues:
We had just debussed on the wharf when the fighting began. The Jerries took us behind some buildings. Wisely we sat down on the road. At 7.45 p.m. the Jerries piled off and moved forward. 20-mm guns were firing and the place was rather unpleasant. The New Zealanders were attacking so the 150 of us were moved from place to place as our own people attacked. The Germans withdrew through the town taking us with them and we were run out with bayonets and tommy guns pointed at us, over the bridge and along the road to above the cutting in the first rise. The Germans had two heavy guns drawn by half-tracked vehicles, several companies of motorised infantry, and some anti-tank guns of small calibre. They must have been well ahead of the main body. Next morning we were amazed to hear the sound of marching men. It was the long column of prisoners of war passing by. Later we joined them in a large field 300 yards past a knoll and were taken into Kalamata again and put into old Greek barracks.page 84
The decision to surrender was made by Brigadier Parrington to save needless waste of life when nothing could be gained. The factors leading up to this decision are outlined in his diary. Describing the situation in Kalamata at 1 a.m. on 29 April, Parrington said that his force had had undisputed possession of the quay since 11 p.m. German prisoners had stated that their unit was the advanced guard of a panzer division which had landed at Patrai. The British force had no rations and had used up nearly all its ammunition. The vast majority of the 10,000 troops in Kalamata were without arms; they had 250 wounded and no medical supplies. The majority of their transport was now destroyed. A naval officer who had come ashore from the destroyer Hero had informed him that orders had been received to rejoin the Fleet forthwith. It was reported that the Italian fleet was at sea, and the naval officer had explained that if it got across the end of Kalamata Bay the squadron would never get out. ‘Intensive [enemy] air action would commence at daybreak,’ Parrington wrote, ‘and no action of ours could prevent the enemy from placing his heavy artillery where they could bring fire to bear on the port … which would effectively prevent any further attempts at embarkation. In these circumstances it seemed to me that no useful military purpose could be served by offering further resistance. I therefore called a conference of senior officers and put the position before them. None had any alternative suggestions to make. I therefore said that I proposed to inform the enemy that no further resistance would be offered after 0530 hrs; that … any officer or man was free to make his own escape if he could, and that present positions would be maintained till 0530 hrs to allow this to be done.’
It is interesting to read the account produced by a German Propagandakompanie of the action at Kalamata, parts of which are quoted here:
We had torn through the Peloponnesus at the double…. Everywhere on the road southward the attacking unit of a panzer division, thrusting with lightning speed, was receiving the surrender of little groups of stranded Tommies…. In Kalamata too it appeared at first that the Britishers meant to surrender…. But in the course of the late afternoon things changed…. [When] the spearhead of the attacking unit reached the port of Kalamata …. things were quiet, so the company commander felt safe in giving the order page 85 to push on down to the water's edge. Still there was no movement. Then rifle fire began to crackle in the harbour; isolated shots at first, so that nobody bothered, but then suddenly it swelled to a hurricane…. On the uneven concrete of the quay street lie two German MGs without cover. Nearby the crews of three PAK50 guns are working as coolly as if on the parade-ground. And now the mass of the Britishers comes on to the attack…. They come out of the side streets, jump from house to house, shoot from the windows, and threaten to overwhelm the handful of Germans by sheer weight of numbers….
The motorized battery…. fires its 15 cm. shells into the enemy over open sights. Twelve gunners work the two guns … [getting] shot after shot away. Eight of them fall…. The fire-power of the company can no longer hold the British out….
Now the Britishers are simply welling up out of every garden and lane. There is hissing and spitting. Ricochets moan over the heads of the German marksmen…. The company commander collects what men he still has…. The runners go through the heaviest fire with which they have ever been tested, but they re-assemble the remnants of the terribly shrunken company. Now there is only a tiny group of low-built houses to defend. The Britishers have long been in the company's rear and have shut them in from all sides. Ammunition is already short.
Only two MGs are still firing…. Hand grenades explode. The Britishers try to break in. They get in within three metres. We cannot shoot until the enemy can be plainly seen through the darkness. … Like cats the Australians jump from walls and windows on to the German marksmen….
Now it is 22 hours [10 p.m.]. The-house-to-house struggle has become in part a wild hand-to-hand struggle….
Then towards 23 hours [11 p.m.] one of the wounded Britishers shouts with his last strength: ‘Fire stopping!’ He shouts it after a German bullet has brought him down at point-blank range. ‘Fire stopping — finished!’ calls the [German] first lieutenant too, in English.
According to this German account, a young officer then felt his way in the darkness to the British lines to parley and gain time but was promptly convinced of the necessity of advising his comrades to surrender. The company, eighty strong, then surrendered. At the beach the German officer prisoners met the British officers.
…. There is conversation. The brain of the captured commander works on mechanically…. He is quite aware that he cannot long remain a prisoner, for up at the entry to Kalamata page 86 are sitting the 450 men of the attacking unit and the battalion commander, waiting with unspeakable impatience for the dawn that will enable him to bring relief to his spearhead company; and behind him is the threatening fist of a whole panzer division, raised and ready to strike. Looking at the British officers … the first lieutenant adopts new tactics. ‘You are completely encircled. My company is only a small advance guard. At dawn the large-scale Stuka attack on Kalamata will proceed as planned.’51
The capture of the naval liaison officer and his signaller in the first rush of the German force through Kalamata had been singularly unfortunate. Out to sea, the Navy could see the fight on shore but there was considerable delay before the ships could learn who had won it. At 8.45 p.m. Brigadier Parrington signalled to the commander of the destroyer Hero that an attack to recapture the quay was already in hand. The Hero's first lieutenant came ashore and later signalled to the senior officer of the naval squadron in HMAS Perth that the beach was suitable for evacuation, but by then the operation had been abandoned and all ships ordered to rejoin the Fleet. A separate group of three destroyers from Suda arrived later and embarked some three or four hundred men, many of them wounded. They sailed about 3 a.m.
Brigadier Parrington then made his decision to surrender. The captured German company commander was informed of the decision and went back to notify his battalion headquarters north of Kalamata. If the Propaganda Company's account is any guide, his report on the action and his part in the surrender negotiations lost nothing in the telling.
Not all the wounded managed to get away in the destroyers' boats from the beach. Private Jones was one of those taken prisoner. He was in one of two truckloads of walking wounded from the RAP who were stopped on the outskirts of the town by Brigadier Parrington and told that boats were waiting for them at the beach.
‘We moved off again,’ says Jones, ‘and eventually arrived at the beach where, to our amazement, we discovered a tremendous crowd of men, later estimated at 10,000. We had expected a few hundred. The Embarkation Officer asked where we had been, saying he had been waiting hours for us. At the beach there was one boat with page 87 some fifty men in it, and according to the E.O. another boat was due back in a few minutes. He was prepared to empty the boat alongside if the wounded wished but as he guaranteed we would go in the next boat we said “Let them go”. Of course the other boat never came.’
Private Patterson managed to get away in a dinghy just before dawn. Most of the dinghies along the waterfront had been riddled by bullets but here and there a good one was found. Patterson and another New Zealander, a Maori who had been wounded about the face, found one floating upside down, righted it, and climbed in. They had no oars and had to paddle with bits of wood, and they took off their boots in case they had to swim for it. ‘We rowed about four miles,’ says Patterson, ‘heading in what we thought was the direction of Crete. We thought the Navy had gone but found two destroyers cruising westwards. The first one nearly ran us down. It signalled and the second one threw over a rope ladder. We climbed up. The destroyer stopped soon after and then sailed for Crete. They said afterwards they had picked up quite a lot of troops that night. From Crete we went to Egypt.’
So died the last fire of Allied resistance in Greece. The Germans counted Kalamata a victory and no doubt it was; but of the many thousands taken there only a small group was equipped to fight. There had been plans for two companies to defend the road entrances to the town, but there seems to have been a hitch somewhere and the brunt of the fighting fell on little assorted groups who hurtled into the fray as they came down from the hills in response to the sound of firing that so irresistibly called them.
Whatever the final result may have been, 20 Battalion is proud of those who fought at Kalamata, and glad that the defiant heroism of Jack Hinton, fittingly rewarded with a Victoria Cross, the reckless courage of men like Alan Jones, and the fighting spirit of quiet chaps like Doug Patterson, Pat Rhind, Jim Hesson, and Bob O'Rorke so ably upheld its honour in the field.
The battalion's casualties in killed and wounded for the whole of this ill-fated campaign had not been heavy. Four officers—Captain Ayto, Lieutenants Dawson, O'Rorke, and page 88 McLaren—and 20 men had been killed or had died of wounds; 2 officers and 43 men had been wounded. As prisoners it had lost 4 officers—Major MacDuff, Captain Yates, Lieutenants Curtis and Rhind, all from its reinforcements—and 76 men, of whom 11 had been wounded. All but three of these prisoners survived the war. Some later escaped, one of these, Corporal Jack Denvir52 of A Company, fighting for two years in Yugoslavia with the partisans, being wounded three times, and rising to command a partisan battalion.
* * * * *
The Greek villages which the battalion knew in 1941 suffered heavily during the German occupation and the civil war that followed the withdrawal of the Germans at the end of 1944. Memories of these villages and of the men who fought in Greece are revived by Sergeant E. S. (‘Fox’) Allison, of the battalion's ‘I’ section, in letters written to Sergeant Basil Borthwick, of Christchurch. Sergeant Allison was taken prisoner at Belhamed on 1 December 1941. He visited the battlefields of North Africa, Greece, and Crete in 1954 and is at present writing a book on his experiences.
Mr Allison's letters have had a wide circulation among former members of the battalion. His permission to publish the extracts which follow this and later chapters is gratefully acknowledged.
On Way to Porto Rafti Near Marcopoli 8 Oct 1954 12.50 pm.
…. At the moment I am in the fields into which we dispersed after leaving Marcopoli—the last village thro' which we passed where people were giving us wine and advice. This is where we were caught in the air-raid in which B. Coy. were badly mauled, Geo. Fowler, Bill Ayto, the Cunningham boys,* Scottie Wheeler, Hunter Buchanan and many others being killed. As far as I can judge this is the very spot our section was in — or at least very close page 89 to it. There were some young olive trees — can pick them now — because altho' they have grown much, they are not so large as the older trees which were quite few — the area being fairly open…. It's odd what sticks in one's memory but I recall, as I lay, face down, alive with fear, two beetles working away in the earth, taking no notice of the blitz — and I agog with fear lest the pilots would spot a white mug tied to my haversack. Just across the dip up on a hill is a tiny church with a stone wall. I think we went up there for water — but I can't recall if the water was from a well or from an over—turned water truck(?). There is no well there now — but it might have been filled in. I remember Jackie Sullivan setting free a poor helpless donkey which had fallen over with its cart — and was abandoned by its master. About midday Tom Jackson and I decided to open a tin of M & V — the contents were bad. — This is really odd Basil — I can hardly believe it myself — there's the drone of an “approaching” plane — I can't see it — I can now, 2 minutes since I wrote “approaching”. It looks like a 3-engine fighter — and here's another — just like old times — but no black crosses or yellow noses on these. Man, it's just almost too much. At Marcopoli an old (Eng. speakg.) fellow said to me “You want to go to Porto Rafti? But why walk — there'll be a bus in one or two hours.” He just didn't understand. He continued, “You know the way?” “No, not clearly — but if you show me where the ammo. truck exploded — then I'll find my way thro' the fields.” “The big truck — oh yes I know the place — do you remember the ditch by the road? Well we found 26 of your boys near there — and some in the ditch.” I recalled to myself that Geo. Fowler and some others had been in it. “What did you do with them?” “We buried them here by that little church. Later I think they took them to Athens.” He was silent some time then burst forth: “The bloody b— Germans — but the Italians were bitches — real bitches they were.” I bought a small slice of cheese and some brown bread, and took the road, as he directed, leading left from Marcopoli. After ten minutes I saw the hills — two in particular … and knew I was on right track. I'm sitting under one of the little trees beside which we flopped. I didn't notice till now — and this is dead true, there's a wreath hanging on this tree — probably from some kids at play, or some festival etc — it's well withered. There's a chill, strong breeze blowing. Away down on a metal road near the bitumen one some lorries go by in clouds of dust — just like those artillery guns dashing by that day. A black raven is circling about 50 yds. away — might be the Jackdaw of Rheims. Somebody has just fired a shot (not at the raven) over in the higher cliffs — and now there goes another. I often see Greeks looking for rabbits — but never see a Greek with a rabbit.
3.30 pm: Just arrived at Porto Rafti: a battered sign in Greek & Eng. tells me so. Porto Rafti means this whole vast bay (really two) and not only the tiny village — all apparently asleep, except for a page 90 woman screaming at a child. I'm eating my bread and cheese — and some tomatoes a man gave me as I went thro' a field. Groups of peasant girls have laden me with grapes as I've gone along — grape harvest is later here than in Crete. 4 pm. This is the beach — and what a flood of memories. Near here I tasted rum for the first time. Here I first heard the word “claustrophobia” from the Maestro himself 8320. As you'll recall Basil the barge was very crowded; the barge would not move for a while and there was some tension. Spicer muttered to me. “This is a b— — so many people give me a queer feeling — ‘claustrophobia’ is the name—” he spoke with a professional air. “Hell, what's that Jack?” I asked. … Yet they were all good men — with all their faults they were all individuals — and most likeable — would like to see them all again….
Kreikouki – Vilya,
10th Nov. 1954.
There's a very cold blast raging here, and the clouds are hanging darkly, but memories are clear and vivid. Am up here alone, looking down from these very rocky heights onto the plain below where the road leads out of Thebes. For some reason the plain is bright with Autumn sunlight — wish there was some up here. Did I say “alone” — well hardly — the place is alive with the shades of good men, and the weather is even a little the same as it was in April ‘41. I'm trying to find a certain well where I remember talking to Uke as we went for water, and I think we ate some ration chocolate. Also quite a way from here I hope to locate a little cottage where Kip and I rested, and where a woman gave us some eggs and bread. It was a long day, that day, because we walked around all the positions and even further. We later met Colonel(?) Rudd of the Engineers and Jerry Skinner, M.P. — they had a car but they did not offer us a lift. As Kip talked to them a Greek soldier with a bandaged leg and bare feet limped out of some bushes — but I don't think the others saw him….
4 pm. Vilya in the sunlight of this Autumn afternoon is as beautiful as can be. Have been unable to find the tiny cottage, which I remember stood alone where we had the eggs and bread. The greatest delay to walking around the hills in Greece is shepherds. They are terribly curious and suspicious; and if they're not that, they are most talkative — and they are always wanting cigarettes — and all think that a stranger must understand Greek.
Some people who were clearing out a house talked to me and when I said that I came from N.Z. the fellow immediately dropped his shovel and said “Are you Dick?” Strangely enough that was one of the first questions asked me in Kreikouki. However I'm not Dick, page 91 but the fellow hustled me inside; and his large and buxom wife soon prepared for me a meal of chips and cold tomatoes, bread and cheese and a jug of wine. Wish Jim Burrows was here with his transport — hell I'm tired and I have to walk all the way back again and night will soon be coming on apace….
17th Nov. 1954.
At 4.30 pm I came to Ryakia. Light was already fading and the long shadows darkening. The village was as silent as a tomb; there was neither sight nor sound of humans. The first place I recognised of course was the church and its bell tower a little way apart, and behind the church the sloping hill of green grass where Kip held Battalion parade, and from where we first heard the news of Germany's attack on Greece — I think Padre Spence announced it. I recall quite a group on that hill watching some billowing piles of smoke in the distance and everbody talking knowingly — “Salonika bombed and burning etc” — and Spicer — the old Maestro — quoting his memorable “How little is known by so many about so much.” The mud increases as the “street” descends into the village. I saw a policeman picking his steps through a quagmire to my right, but I did not speak for I knew a conversation would develop. A rooster crowed, and three little boys playing at mud pies looked up as I passed with something of utter astonishment. Three old women at a doorway took little notice and when I nodded and said “'Spera” (for Kalispera) they returned the greeting and went on knitting.
In the first few minutes I could recognise no other part of the village, but at last I came to a tall picket fence and there was the house — the two-storey one which Kip and his staff occupied. Jackie Sullivan and Johnny Johnston lived there too — and I think your quarters were there. We had a tent at the rear of that house — and many a good night of boisterous fun we had. I noticed that the house appeared a little altered, but tobacco leaves still hung out of an upstairs window. What memories. And there in almost exactly the same location — a long pile of thin logs which I'm sure Speed and Dildo Davy will remember. I recall Bill Millin lying here the night of our big party just a few hours ‘ere we set forth for Lava. The deep silence of the village was most remarkable. Ryakia wore as do all or most Greek villages at this season an air of utter dreariness and depression…. Well I've tried to collect some of the story since our departure. The Germans burned down the village in 1943 — almost the entire village. What little the Germans left and what was reconstructed the Communists utterly destroyed (so page 92 they say) in the Civil War, which apparently was much more dreadful than we imagine — so Ryakia, again newly built, is not quite the same as we knew it, but it looks as though it were erected in the Middle Ages — the people merely built over the ruins in most cases with no thought to improvement or modern conditions. Oddly enough the high picket fence at the rear of Kip's house remains as it was except for minor changes. The old school has gone — and a new one is on the opposite side of the road — the church is still the same, but with an added ugly portion — the bell tower almost in a state of collapse…. The people tell me that the first Germans came to Ryakia on 8th April '41 but this might not be accurate. The Germans did not live in the village, but at Katerine. During the Civil War the villagers fled, and for a long time life see-sawed greatly. The people, especially the children, look cold and pinched and miserable….
Some of the villagers remember a N.Zer called George who had “aspro” hair (white hair) and he was a sergeant or about that mark — the only person I can think of is George Weenink. Gradually the memories of our stay are coming back to them, and today they keep stopping me, and asking in detail about what happened to us from here — and what was the name of so and so with such a mark, or with two stripes, or was a stratio (private soldier) or wore a star on his shoulder — and he slept in such and such a house — I'm afraid I wasn't much help to them. I have some very vivid pictures, however, one in particular of Teddy Dawson going to arrest the local cop because he took a photo of some trenches, etc — and that brings to mind another incident at Lava where Teddy, revolver in hand, was going to ask every fleeing Greek for his pass. Must to bed. Will write more from Servia — if I ever get there.
20.11.54. 1 pm. The Hills at Servia Pass: The Aliakmon twisting below looks much the same, and do you know, Basil I feel that I've not been away from this place which I don't particularly like. There are still slit trenches here — I think that they are in either A or B Coys' areas. A shepherd going by a few minutes ago pointed at them and said without my asking, “English, English Sarenda eina (41)” — but he could be wrong — might be from civil war, yet they appear very old, and I'm writing from the shelter of one now: the cold being almost unbearable esp. when I stop walking. Just across the way is the hill where Melville Rice, Tom Jackson and I watched thro' a telescope the German trucks going into Kozani and coming from there towards the river. We kept reporting this back to Brigade? (I forget where to where exactly) — but the artillery sent over some good shells and the trucks dispersed — only there were not enough shells. There is the low, green, flat-topped hill behind which the German 'planes landed and took off for their attacks against these hills. Tom Jackson will remember it, and so will Speed and Spice. Bertie Thompson, B. Coy cook was killed here, and I think Ritchie Kidd met his death further down the Pass Road. The same shepherd page 93 as mentioned before pointed to a part of a hill, and said “Tri English Kaput.” Everywhere the air is filled with the sound of bells, and this sound brings to my mind somebody telling Tom and I to keep a good eye on the sheep and goats because the Germans were very cunning and would probably be hiding amongst them. This could no doubt be true, but I could not avoid an inward chuckle for I had visions of the Jerries tying themselves to the bellies of the sheep as Ulysses and his lads did when they escaped from the blind Cyclops. Today as in the past I marvel at the toughness of those infantry fellows in the companies lugging ammunition, rifles, Brens, valises, shovels (?) etc., up these slopes which are no mean height. The journey to here from Ryakia has been the devil's own job — and at one stage I thought I would have to give up and meekly return to Katerine….
4.30 pm. LAVA. Home again — The local School and Teacher's House. To write is difficult with a crowd clustering around, and some young bloods from the army demanding my pass and papers, but they are very decent about it. This village, like Ryakia, was destroyed by the Germans in 1943 — but has been rebuilt, and looks just much the same: a collection of barns and ramshackle houses. The weather today is typical of the times when we were here — dull, cold and wet, but I remember we occupied a barn for a day, and it was dry and warm. Little Pat Kelly was killed here - I mean not in the village. He was the first friend I had in the 20th and he taught me to fix bayonets and put on web gear…. The snow on the hills reminds me of an evening when … [a company commander] stormed at Aussie Deans and me for leaving footprints in the snow near his H.Q. I've not long walked by the part of the road where Aussie Deans persisted to brew tea on his primus as the shelling increased. I have not yet located the house or its site where the shell burst into the room where Kip and Teddy Dawson had set up H.Q. just before we finally pulled out of Lava - but I remember it well. At that spot on the road just mentioned I remember Kip saying “Lieut. Dawson and Sjt. Sullivan stay with me — the others with Cpl. Deans go down the road.” (which we did with some haste). The little hillock on and near which Pete McGhie and his Pioneers made their trenches and a dugout looks so very familiar and strange to say a dugout with concrete lining is there in that exact spot now. I remember Spice and Lofty Wills (the legal man) taking shelter in there. Do you remember our seven planes going out each day, the German raids increasing and the Jugoslav Battery? Did not Freddie Mason return one evening after one of these raids with some scratches on his gloves and handlebars — and was something of a hero? Tell Uke the ravine where he had his ammunition store is now much larger. Tom Jackson and I made attempts at digging a dugout near there, but the rain soon flooded us out — I recall our mosquito nets lying in the mud….page 94
Well man I think this brings my tour of the old battlefields of our day to an end — and so from Lava where we were all so young and fit and fresh some fourteen years ago I would like you to pass on to Kip. and all the 20th all sincere good wishes for a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year….
8 Pte G.S.S. Homann; born England, 27 Apr 1917; farmhand; died of wounds 15 Jul 1942.
13 Pte F.P. Kelly; born NZ 13 Oct 1916; clerk; killed in action 15 Apr 1941.
18 Sgt T.M. Drummond; born NZ 6 Sep 1914; motor mechanic; killed in action 27 Apr 1941.
28 Brig G. H. Clifton, DSO and 2 bars, MC, m.i.d.; Porangahau; born Greenmeadows, 18 Sep 1898; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1919–21 (MC, Waziristan); CRE 2 NZ Div 1940–41; Chief Engineer 30 Corps, 1941–42; comd 6 Bde Feb–Sep 1942; p.w. 4 Sep 1942; escaped Germany, Mar 1945; NZ Military Liaison Officer, London, 1949–52; Commandant, Northern Military District, Mar 1952–Sep 1953.
31 Maj-Gen K. L. Stewart, CB, CBE, DSO, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US); Kerikeri; born Timaru, 30 Dec 1896; Regular soldier; 1 NZEF 1917–19; GSO 1 2 NZ Div 1940–41; Deputy Chief of General Staff Dec 1941–Jul 1943; comd 5 Bde Aug–Nov 1943, 4 Armd Bde Nov 1943–Mar 1944, 5 Bde Mar–Aug 1944; p.w. 1 Aug 1944; comd 9 Bde (2 NZEF, Japan) Nov 1945–Jul 1946; Chief of General Staff Apr 1949–Mar 1952.
45 Maj G. H. Thomson, OBE, ED; New Plymouth; born Dunedin, 5 Mar 1892; obstetrician; gunner, 4 How Bty, Egypt and Gallipoli, 1914–16; RMO 4 Fd Regt Sep 1939–Apr 1941; p.w. 29 Apr 1941; repatriated Oct 1943.
46 L-Sgt C. J. West; Bluff; born NZ 13 Aug 1907; oysterman; p.w. 1 Dec 1941.
48 Lt F. O'Rorke; born England, 31 Jul 1906; sheep-farmer; killed in action 28 Apr 1941.
50 Panzerabwehrkanone: anti-tank gun.
52 2 Lt J. Denvir, DCM, Soviet Medal for Valour; Greymouth; born Scotland, 5 May 1913; storehand; p.w. 23 Apr 1941; escaped 23 Dec 1941; served with Yugoslav partisans; three times wounded; safe with 2 NZEF, Feb 1944.