CHAPTER 1 — These Were the Men
These Were the Men
This, after all their travelling, was the most important voyage of the lot—the voyage to Greece. Twenty-second Battalion was sick of ships, tired of delays and rumours and endless route marches and moving on again, impatient of other men (sailors, airmen) protecting them, fighting the war for them. Now they had crossed the Mediterranean to Greece, a crowded train had taken them far into the north, and as the Germans struck from the vassal state of Bulgaria, they moved quickly into the mountains, into the woods and shadows of Olympus Pass. They prepared defences as best they could (barbed wire, weapon pits, a few mines) and shortly before midnight on 14 April 1941 they heard a faint echo and throb which grew and surged into a roar of engines as the enemy came up the road to Olympus.
They were about to become infantrymen. This time, nobody would be in front.
I would like to tell of the days in Trentham Camp, when Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew, VC,1 addressing the first parade of his battalion, said: ‘My name is Andrew: A-N-D-R-E-W. There is no “s”. And I'm the boss.’ How men would watch their officers, rather pale in the face and obviously shaken, leaving the Colonel's midday conferences. Colonel Andrew was a strict (too strict, some say) disciplinarian; he saw to it that his battalion drilled and route-marched like no other battalion in 2 NZEF. Right from the start this tall, lean man with a stiff black moustache was determined that his battalion would be welded into a unit (‘22nd. Vrai et Forte! Second to None’), armed with what scanty weapons we had in those early days, and doubly armed with the armour of self-discipline.page 2
And soon they were calling him ‘February’ because of his automatic sentence when rules were broken: ‘28 days’ detention’.
Trentham: the first big step: the foundation for what was to follow: ‘that air of adventure and great things to come period of life’. Then gradually, very gradually, getting further away from home and nearer the enemy through weeks of sailing, marching, or being mucked about, then maybe a distant air raid or war damage, then the sound of artillery in the distance, gradually getting closer, then seeing the first enemy shell land….
The men found Trentham ‘so suddenly different from what I had been used to: the place which created the atmosphere in which we were to live for so long. The general expression of chaps going into camp (“We're in the army now, so—'em all”)—those laughs we had at PT—the first roll calls and one-stop-two—mess parades and growling about the food— learning to salute and say “sir”—quiet talks by our brand new N.C.O.'s: “You do the right thing by us chaps and Corporal X— and I will see you right”—the early risers roundly cursed, the man with “that terrible laugh of his”, the sleeper who ground his teeth horribly—all that folding blankets, polishing brass and rushing to get on parade in the morning —the tremendous indecision whether greatcoats would be carried and groundsheets worn or vice versa—the RSM's voice —the bullring (“Never walk across there, it's sacred ground and it would be more than your life is worth”)—picking up paper and cigarette butts on cold mornings—… arms inspections—the first day on the rifle range (some hit the target and some didn't)—fatigues—final leave—vaccinations—exploring the ship—looking at Mount Egmont fading in the distance (it was the last we saw of New Zealand) and wondering how long before we would see it again, that's if….’
I would like to tell of the voyage to Britain, defiant and alone (but all voyages are the same)2; of the English hospitality page 3 and the church of Hollingbourne in Kent, where the vicar, Rev. E. A. Norman, hung the battalion flag, and it hangs there still today; of the German armada winging in over Kent as the Battle of Britain opened, and the battalion waiting on the coast by Maidstone for the invasion which never came; of the night when the battalion suffered its first casualties in a bombing raid when Ian Holms3 was killed and three others wounded; and of the long voyage, past the Cape of Good Hope again, to three brief weeks in Egypt before embarking for Greece.
But all this was preparing for war—an elusive war which seemed to sidestep the battalion. This would take up many pages, which instead will go to longer descriptions of the battalion in battle, and what men remember there. For a battalion's task is to fight, a battalion is a battle-axe in the very forefront of the fray, and the infantryman's lot is privation, great bleak stretches of boredom and wasted time, danger, fatigue, teamwork. And great pain cannot be described: the mind will not remember.
Colonel Andrew had learned all this the hard way, first as a lance-corporal in the First World War when he won the Victoria Cross at Warneton Road, near Messines. Leading two sections, he seized a machine gun and charged on to take a second machine gun. Then, taking a private with him, he went on another 300 yards to take a third machine-gun post and a nearby strongpoint in the cellar of an inn called ‘In Der Rooster Cabaret’. After the war he served with a British regiment in India and became a Regular soldier in the New Zealand Army. With his route marches, his curt ‘28 days’, his insistence on discipline—discipline—discipline (although his successor, Lieutenant-Colonel Russell,4 would win devotion from a totally different outlook), Colonel Andrew worked for page 4 (or demanded) ‘that pride in unit’ which would create a particular spirit of its own, a collective strength and unity which can be spoken about by many but which can be known only by the rifleman.5 It would lead to an officer speaking with a jealous possessiveness of ‘my boys’, so that certain officers, lying freshly wounded in hospital, would be as merry as crickets until the news came: ‘The Battalion's going in.’ Then they would fall silent, wondering if the men who had taken their places would be sufficiently shrewd, would not underestimate the cunning German, would take full care of ‘my boys’. And at times, all through the restless night, these men would cry out or mutter encouragement, warnings and advice as once more they led their men forward in their sleep.
It would lead to a man jumping on to a grenade to lose his life in attempting to save his companions; it would carry a man forward when mentally and physically he was utterly incapable of further exertion. When Captain Young6 made an ‘impossible’ escape in the desert, his main thought was ‘to get back to my battalion at any cost’. The first New Zealand officer to escape from Germany (Colin Armstrong,7 an original member of the battalion) would write in his book, Life Without Ladies, that escapers ‘have justified themselves in their own eyes and in the eyes of their people and their regiments.’ Another officer, shockingly wounded, refused to die ‘because—well, I was determined to live: call it by the old military term “Maintenance of the Aim” if you like.’ It would make a man, wounded in action and receiving rough yet tender care from his comrades, write: ‘At that moment I was proud to belong to 22 Battalion.’ And it would lead to Colonel Andrew himself admitting: ‘In the presence of these men, one felt humble.’
The battalion also would produce a man who gave trouble before going into action, and who on the night of one attack fell sobbing and completely demoralised near the start line page 5 while shells exploded about the poised platoon. Two other men ‘were about to go too’; if they went, most of the platoon would crumble. After some straight talk, insisting that the man was going in whatever happened, the platoon officer seized him by the neck, held him erect off the ground, ‘and tried to shake some guts into him, but in vain.’ So, towing him by an arm, they dragged him along the ground, along with them into battle. This man, later sent back to a cold reception from the same platoon, on his own initiative took complete control of the platoon and led it to success in a night of chaos when all its leaders were lost or wounded. This man has every right to consider himself among the great men of the battalion.
But the backbone of any battalion is no heroic figure but the ordinary man (‘He's the one who counts,’ as Colonel O'Reilly8 says), who quietly leaves his civilian life, quietly and steadily performs his army duties, and then, just as unostentatiously, disappears into civilian life again. Such a man is a private who has contributed a great deal to this book. He expresses the feelings of most New Zealand soldiers when he writes: ‘Anyone would think by the way I write that I really enjoyed the war. But nothing could be further from the point as I don't think anybody could hate war any more than I do. And as for army life—I could never picture myself taking it up as a career. Still on the other hand there were those good times, and I have always liked travel. And there was that comradeship which I haven't experienced to the same extent in civvy street. In fact when I first got home I never wanted to have anything more to do with the previous four years—it wasn't until a few years later that I started to take an interest in what had happened. But now I have even read quite a few books on World War 2 and look forward to going to reunions.’
He later writes: ‘To my mind, two things which showed up the wrongness and hell of war: when we were together, the Platoon or Company, some of us may have stopped to wonder how many of us would come through. Then one day a shell or something would come over and we would hear that so- and-so had been killed. Then you would realise how often it page 6 was that one of the best had gone (not that you wanted to pick out anyone else to take his place). But until then you hadn't given it a thought that he would die. Sometimes he was a well-known character, but more often—it seems—he wasn't well-known. But as soon as he had gone the atmosphere in which we lived our lives changed, and you realised that the part of that atmosphere that was missing now had, before that, been filled by so-and-so, and his passing had left something missing.
‘Another instance was the shelled or bombed village or town. I remember especially once in Italy we were going along in the trucks to take up a new position and just before we entered a town we stopped, and immediately we heard a hell of a racket just ahead—Jerry was shelling hell out of the place— just a continuous crashing cracking and crumping. When it stopped we moved on through the town. The dust was everywhere—just like mist forming in the evening (it was evening), and the smell of dust, explosives and rubble (any who have experienced that smell will remember it) lying on the still warm air. A dead cow. And about half a dozen Italians—some men and women and one or two children—standing or walking by some rubble—their heads down taking no notice of us and looking pretty dazed. They looked as though they may have been looking for something. The old saying came to mind: “We call ourselves civilised”. It wasn't only that it was happening in Italy but in so many other places—and could happen in N.Z.—and yet no one wanted it to happen.’
It is difficult to describe or define this collective strength and the feelings of men for their battalion. ‘Scotch’ Paterson,9 who during his two years with the battalion rose from corporal to company commander and won the MC, writes:
I think a man's consciousness of the battalion varied with both the rank he held and his length of time in it. I know as a corporal, for my first two months the idea of the battalion was more or less as we would now look upon the world—its limits extended beyond your immediate horizon. You did not actually seem aware of anything outside the battalion—the rest of the army, or the Division, were too far away from your ken altogether. Other companies in page 7 the battalion touched your consciousness only vaguely. Your immediate world was bound up, not even so much in the company as in the platoon.10
The platoon was the fighting unit, the unit you actually lived in, and even that was brought down to a small world in the section. You ate with, slept with, fought with those in the section. You knew those in the other two sections and you relied on them in a fight to support you and help you as two distinct units in the same way that your own section working as a unit tried to help the other two. You didn't know, however, the chaps in the other sections with anything like the same degree of intimacy. Generally in a battle you felt the strength of the platoon rather than the battalion.
On the other hand, by the time the battalion started in Italy as I knew it, the battalion had established certain traditions. The old hands in the platoon, maybe a corporal, a sergeant, maybe one of the privates in a section or the driver of the platoon truck had stories of men who had gone before. I well remember the scathing comment of our platoon sergeant to one of us who had offended in some way or another: ‘You'd never get away with that if Les Andrew was here.’ It was a real rebuke.
On the other hand too, while we seemed to be intensely proud of our platoon, we were equally so of the company and, in a larger way, of the battalion. You didn't want to let the company down— although ‘Company’ didn't mean so much a group of men in my mind at the time, as a stern looking soldierly stocky man, who for all his apparent ruthlessness would duck and dive his way through every night without fail, under at times really terrific shell and small arms fire, to our positions in Cassino with a sandbag full of hot pies baked for the boys by Terry the cook somewhere in B Echelon [the non-fighting part of the unit]. Haddon Donald11 used to arrive that way about midnight as a rule, and would go round in the dark, stand beside one of the boys as he peered through a hole in the wall out into the dark, and call him quietly by his first name or his nickname, thrusting a very squashed but very, very acceptable pie into his hand. ‘How's it going, Noel?’
I should think there would be quite a number of men who never knew much more than the men in their section before they headed home on a hospital ship. On the other hand a great many more, staying long enough to see the battalion out of the line a few times, would come to know at least the company or to get a broader view of the battalion and identify themselves with it as a unit. As you climbed in rank, of course, you automatically came into the picture. page 8 However, though you knew you depended on the artillery, on the tanks and all the supporting weapons behind you, I think, going into an attack, the strength you felt you really relied upon was the strength of the platoon, since you knew that as a last resort that may be all that was left to you. An instance of this was the attack on La Romola when in the confusion such as I had never known before or since— smoke, dust and noise—the attacking force of 3 Company was really for a great part of the night a number of small bands of men, each group carrying on up the hill not sure whether there was any of the rest of the company left or not. We all met up eventually near the top, but for a time I doubt whether anyone realised there were any others still on the go.
Later in Italy after a few spells out of the line there were opportunities to gain a battalion outlook—helped no doubt by such things as the brigade sports meetings—the training period at Fabriano when the NCO's of the battalion were able to get together for a fortnight on their own—company farewells to chaps going home, and so on.
I have always thought that ‘the old hands’ were really the men who won the war. They knew the fighting when things were tough, when it was the men rather than the materials which carried the day—when the end of the war was just nowhere in sight at all and yet men carried on doing sometimes almost incredible things. These were the men (privates and nco's in the early days) who carried that fighting spirit on into their units as nco's and officers in the times that I knew. They were the ‘old digs’—you could tell them by their eyes.
These were the men, still untried in battle, who awaited the German now at Olympus.
* * * * *
Twenty-second Battalion's path to the battle-front had been long and devious.
First battalion parade at 7 p.m. on 18 January 1940 at Trentham. Men from these districts form the companies: A, Wellington; B, north of Wellington along the west coast; C, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa; D, Taranaki. First route march on 7 February from Trentham to Wallaceville bridge; ‘casualties were not numerous,’ notes the war diary. The battalion pipe band, six drummers and six pipers under Lance-Corporal Cameron,12 leads the march. (The pipes had been presented by New Zealand Scots through the president of the Highland Society of New Zealand, Mr E. D. Cameron, who later worked to replace pipes chopped up in Greece.) The battalion marches page 9 through Wellington on 27 April, and sails13 from Pipitea Wharf on 2 May in the 43,000-ton liner Empress of Britain, with ‘Borax’, a fox-terrier mascot, smuggled aboard.
The convoy increases off the east coast of Australia: the Queen Mary joins the escorted ships now carrying some 8000 New Zealanders and 8000 Australians. Shore leave at Perth. The convoy is diverted south in the Indian Ocean on 15 May to reach Capetown on the 26th. The battalion's first decoration and first death: John Ormond14 dives overboard into swift and shark-infested waters in an attempt to rescue a sergeant (from 1 NZ General Hospital), and is awarded the BEM; Norm Traynor15 dies of head injuries received ashore. A short call at Freetown to refuel (France falls, Italy enters the war). On 16 June the great convoy sails up the Clyde to anchor off Gourock. To Mytchett (near Aldershot): route marching, training, finding the rations slender, and a visit by King George VI. In July battle dress replaces brass-buttoned uniforms (‘giggle suits’). The battalion's first ‘mechanised move’ in double-decker buses on 11 July to ‘Hog's Back’. In August the Second Echelon's ‘100-mile route march’. In mid-August the Battle for Britain begins, and early in September Mr Churchill pays a visit. To Warren Wood and Hollingbourne (six miles from Maidstone, Kent), to coastal positions awaiting the invasion which does not come. Men make their first acquaintance of English farming methods ‘and some of them never got over it.’ As Lieutenant Freddie Oldham16 wrote:
And why the man in front of horse?
His father taught him to, of course.
Bombing delays leave trains. Colonel Andrew to late comers: ‘You know that trains are likely to be delayed. You should have left a day earlier. 28 days' detention.’ Manoeuvres, the troops rather bewildered and critically short of equipment, with London Division (men with flags represent tanks). On the night of 27-28 October a bomber jettisons its bombs: one man killed, Private Ian Holms, the battalion's first death from enemy action, and three wounded in A Company. To winter quarters at Camberley, near Mytchett Camp, ‘responsible for countering any action by enemy parachutists or other airborne troops’. Camps left by other units in an ‘appalling state’; Brigadier Hargest17 in a letter congratulates 22 Battalion on the most creditable ‘striking contrast’ with its late quarters—and asks for fifty men from the battalion to clear up other units' litter. At the foot of the letter Colonel Andrew notes: ‘I wonder whether it will continue thus throughout war service with the 5 Bde in this war.’ More route marches to the skirl of ‘The Pibroch of Donald Dhu’, the battalion regimental march. Advance party of sixty-nine (including Lieutenants Clapham18 and Anderson19) leaves for the Settler and Elizabethville at Liverpool in mid-December. Early in a freezing New Year the battalion sails from Newport, Wales, in the ‘Drunken Duchess’ (or Duchess of Bedford), and reaches Egypt on 3 March after a hot, cramped voyage with poor food. Three weeks in Egypt, then the battalion, packed into the small steamer, Hellas, sails for Piraeus harbour, near Athens, Greece.
* * * * *
The battalion had moved back to Olympus from Katerini on 8 April 1941 (two days after Germany declared war on Greece), to join Major Hart's20 large advance party preparing weapon pits in the gorge. The battalion plugged the gap between 23 Battalion, on the steep right flank, and 28 (Maori) page 11 Battalion on the equally rough left. They straddled the main road leading south to Athens. Along this road through the gorge the main attack would come. Close by were a turbulent river and the Petras tuberculosis sanatorium, partly German staffed and, curiously enough, not evacuated.
Everyone worked hard, putting finishing touches to existing weapon pits, preparing new ones, improving bush tracks, and entrenching. Reserve ammunition, rations, and quantities of barbed wire came up along steep, winding mule tracks. Anything approaching a road would be destroyed when the enemy drew near. The pioneers, under Lieutenant Wadey,21 bridged the small Elikon River for emergency access to C and A Companies; signallers with Lieutenant Beaven22 put down telephone wires linking companies and Battalion Headquarters. The battalion held a complicated position almost two and a half miles long over very rough, wooded country. A deep ravine to the right of the pass road severed the front, which was cut up further by steep faces, rock, and loose shingle. As one man said: ‘It was hellava country to wire …. A very tough, wiry, stumpy bush smothered in thorns grew along the faces, and we tied all these bushes together with barbed wire. This made pretty tough obstacles almost impossible to get through.’
The crisp air and the solid work gave yet more zest to men already fighting fit. ‘Never,’ noted one officer, ‘have these fellows been more cheerful or willing.’ It was spring, and a strange clicking noise, like slithering pebbles, alarmed many a lonely sentry in the night until New Zealanders discovered the tortoises were mating. Here and there little patches of primroses, hyacinths and violets grew wild among fir and cypress woods, and looking up, a man could glimpse the snowy peaks of Mount Olympus. Stories, not of ancient gods but of deer on Mount Olympus, sent a hunting party from 14 Platoon out one evening, and after an arduous climb, when only tracks of deer were seen, the hunters returned with a plump calf: page 14 ‘mistaken for a fawn’ was the excuse. It was expertly quartered and boiled in a benzine tin, and the veal handsomely supplemented the platoon's rations, for food was not plentiful at Olympus. Even a sackful of sodden dog biscuits found in an old ammunition dump were boiled into a mash and eaten by B Company.
Delicacies came the way of 9 Platoon when, on the cold, raw night of 10 April, the German medical staff of the sanatorium stole away undetected, leaving the patients helpless. This was discovered in the morning by Lieutenant ‘Snowy’ Leeks,27 who had been suspicious of the place for some time. Some 5 Brigade trucks evacuated the patients, and 9 Platoon enjoyed hospital-baked bread, rabbits, fowls, pork, and even a peacock. Some titbits went back to Battalion Headquarters ‘to appease the old man’. A case of brandy and cherry brandy quickly disappeared into water bottles, none reaching ‘the old man’. Later on, strange sounds (quite unconnected with the brandy) from the sanatorium vexed patrols: doors banged suddenly in the night, and prowling dogs knocked over objects inside the empty rooms.
Good Friday (11 April) dawned wet, cold and misty, and next day, when the enemy was still out of sight, the CO called off all except routine duties to let men light most welcome fires and dry out sodden clothes and blankets. Padre Hurst28 held a small, simple and impressive eve-of-battle communion service in his tent at the top of a ravine. That night more rain and snow made conditions worse, turning roads and tracks into quagmires and adding to the wretched plight of the refugees, who a few days earlier had been allowed to pass, but now, with the enemy expected any time, were given short shrift and sent back the way they had come. Mixed among the refugees were swarthy little Greek soldiers (some carrying their shoddy boots and trudging along barefooted) in khaki uniforms recalling 1914-18 fashions. The Greek troops were let through the road block, together with a weird piece of Greek artillery, a lumbering cannon on six-foot wheels drawn by an exhausted old engine.page 15
The last peaceful day passed—Easter Sunday (13 April29). Down by the riverbed Padre Hurst celebrated Holy Communion, using a large square stone for his altar in a natural sanctuary, with the men sitting round on boulders in a natural church. Many a man carried the memory of this Olympus service with him until the end of his war days.
At 2 p.m. on Monday an enemy reconnaissance plane droned slowly over the pines and cypresses concealing 22 Battalion, and from that time onwards similar aircraft flew over 5 Brigade's positions, scorning the quite ineffectual fire from light automatic weapons and impudently swooping so low that the Iron Cross markings and sometimes the pilot himself were seen. Three hours after the first German scouting plane appeared, B Company watched the last Divisional Cavalry vehicle clatter back; then the three 22 Battalion Bren carriers in front of the road block were withdrawn, and an hour later the plunging echoes from the last demolitions faded and died in the darkening mountains. The road bridges ahead were smashed, the fifteen long months of training and preparation were ended, and 22 Battalion, alert beside its weapons, faced the enemy.
The motor-cycles, headlights glaring, swung into sight. Before they braked to a stop in front of the demolition, 11 Platoon (Lieutenant Armstrong) opened fire with its Bren guns, and the startled vanguard shrank back leaving, as was discovered next morning, five wrecked motor-cycles, some with sidecars and all with weapons, lying about the road. Simultaneously advanced troops made a show of force across the front by firing indiscriminately from machine guns, pistols and spandaus. Tracer streamed and ricocheted through the night. Then the firing died down and stopped, although enemy transport (still using headlights freely) could be heard and seen collecting strength further back. Two Germans blundering into wire received a ‘pincapple’ from Cam Weir.30 Sentries in the forward posts kept very much on the alert.
The next day (15 April) was rather an anti-climax. After page 16 breakfast (in name only) news spread officially that Olympus would be abandoned in the night. Although few men in the battalion knew this at the time, another German force, after invading a helpless Yugoslavia, had advanced through the weakly defended Monastir Gap, in the north-west. Any further advance would leave the whole Olympus range defences outflanked and cut off from behind. The Allies were to pull back urgently, first to the Olympus-Aliakmon River line and then to Greece's narrow waist at Thermopylae, where (they hoped) a solid stand could be made on a short front. Two-thirds of Greece would be lost in this sweeping withdrawal south.
News that 5 Brigade was to retreat to the southern end of the pass in the night was rather a surprise, for the day was fairly quiet, apart from short exchanges of fire in the early morning and some shelling in the afternoon. It seemed that the enemy, checked for the time on the road, was trying to find a way round the flanks. Shortly after breakfast 22 Battalion heard the Maori Battalio's mortars to the left open up for half an hour to engage and drive back ‘five enemy tanks’, actually tracked troop-carriers. Later from the right came the sound of 23 Battalio's mortars engaging an enemy patrol, and 25-pounder shells passed overhead to scramble transport and debussing troops.
Twenty-second Battalio's main labour of the day went into preparing for the withdrawal, which was expected after nightfall. The companies started packing out some gear by mules31 down slippery bush tracks to the road behind the front, where trucks would take over. Unnecessary stores were destroyed, and Barney Clapham, the transport officer, ‘very worried about repercussions’, chopped up the battalion bagpipes.
An example of resourcefulness about this time was given by the driver, Jack Hargreaves,32 who loaded C Company's 15- cwt truck with ammunition and the most important parts of the company's stores, and attempted to get the truck out along the partly built track (all access roads now were held by the page 17 enemy). Starting off alone, Hargreaves got the truck not only along the primitive track but also through scrub and rough country before he was forced to abandon and destroy it. Tramping out alone, through miles of strange, rough country and forest, he rejoined his unit.
Back in the battalion lines in the late afternoon the scream of shells over forward areas showed that the enemy, making full use of his reconnaissance planes still cruising over the pass, was groping for the well-concealed 25-pounders. Soon the battalion would develop an accurate ear for shells, instantly distinguishing between the sound of an ‘inne’ (a shell heading for your area) and the report of our own guns. Many a soldier was almost indignantly surprised when the enemy suddenly varied his range, and loud reports in the battalion area showed that the 22nd was under enemy shelling for the first time. The few’ 14-' 18 men in the battalion (no doubt wondering whether they could stand up to it for a second time) found they recognised instantly the different sound between close and ‘safe’ shells – and also between rifle fire and machine–gunning: bullets going pss–pss–pss were safe; bullets pinging, cracking or buzzing like bees were close and dangerous. Colonel Andrew, inspecting positions, heard one Kiwi advise another: ‘You watch the old man. When he ducks, you duck.’ These random shells caused two casualties, Sergeant Dillon33 (Battalion Headquarters) and Private Wright34 (a signaller attached to the mortars), neither of them severely wounded.
An hour after the shelling started a verbal message from Brigade said: ‘Hold everything 24 hours’; the retreat was postponed. In the evening mortar fire over the battalion area caused no casualties. ‘Practically all the boys were awake all that night,’ writes one man, ‘very few got more than an hour's sleep, practically all our nerves being strung up so that we heard many noises that we would not have noticed normally. Excitement was pretty general and every Jerry patrol that approached us was warmly welcomed.’
Late in the night, between midnight and 2 a.m., D Company's turn came. The company (left of the road and linking page 18 with the Maori Battalion), with the rain, scrub and broken ground, had a tough job covering the wire and minefield along the whole of its front. Parties could be heard stumbling against bushes in the darkness. Sergeant Jerry Fowler35 fired his 2-inch mortar towards one party and was annoyed at derisive cries in English of ‘You'll have to do better than that!’ D Company, thinking this a ruse to discover their positions, lay low, and in the morning found their wire cut and all their carefully laid mines by the little bridge removed—a game piece of work.
Soon after daybreak on 16 April the main enemy attack began in an attempt to shoulder a way up the main road through 22 Battalian in the centre. Tom Logie36 was the first in the battalion to die in battle. Suddenly shelling began, short of Headquarters Company's cookhouse in a dry riverbed. The Colonel's batman, ‘Shorty’ Lawless,37 went to ground in a muddy patch and lost the Colonel's pot of tea. Company Sergeant-Major Fraser,38 an old soldier, realised the shells were falling short and began to laugh. ‘Twice again “Shorty” and the tea parted company amidst uproarious laughter. [A minute later a] shell landed right in the cookhouse. Tom was killed almost instantly and another lad [Jack Tregea39] was hit in the elbow.’ As the shells increased, Doctor Longmore40 hurried to the cookhouse while Padre Hurst and Sergeant Drake41 collected his instruments. ‘We hurried back to find Tom just passing on, and the Doc performed an immediate operation to remove Tregea's forearm. It was a brave and skilful job, well done and well taken,’ noted Padre Hurst. ‘I gave the soldier the cigarette he asked for about two minutes after he page 19 had been sewn up. How quickly great fun, our first fear and I suppose reaction to it in laughter, became real tragedy.’
Meanwhile B Company, spotting tanks (and no mistake this time) and other vehicles approaching, called for immediate concentrated artillery fire in front of 11 Platoon, and as the shells cracked down Lieutenant McAra's men, until now ‘not wasting ammunition on scattered targets’, swung their mortars into action for the first time, pumped 137 rounds into the knot of men and vehicles taking cover under a cliff just between C and B Companies on the Petras road, and claimed about a company of men and two armoured vehicles. (They were very innocent in those days; a company of men takes a lot of killing.) After his 3-inch mortar detachment had been driven out by heavy shelling, Sergeant George Katene42 of the Maori Battalion, whose conduct won the Military Medal, immediately opened up in another position. Others saw the artillery ‘making hits galore, really grand shooting’ along the road, and again B Company's approaches were clear, until five German tanks at 7 a. m. crawled to within 400 yards and pasted away at 11 Platoon with machine gun and two-pounder cannon.
A fine description of the battalion first meeting enemy tanks is given by Corporal Andrews43 of the hard-pressed 11 Platoon: ‘I yelled out to the boys that three tanks as big as houses had come up, they laughed, but when the little tank pulled aside and the big fellows weighing somewhere about 35 to 45 tons came into sight they changed their minds, but they were not in the least downhearted—in fact Herb [Burgess44] gave the old crown and anchor cry of “Shower’ em down, shower’ em down!” [The tanks eventually came to within 100 yards of 11 Platoon, opened fierce fire, then withdrew.] Each of these retirements heartened the boys and I now think that at the time we fully believed we had them licked. We most certainly hindered them, but the more we fired at them the more we gave our positions away and the Jerry was not slow in getting our positions to a foot.’page 20
Swept with fire, the platoon had to sit tight and take it. Alan Murray45 lost a thumb; Jack Tustin46 was mortally wounded across the thighs; Herb Burgess and George Peacock47 died at their post, manning their Bren gun to the last. The only real threat to the tanks was the indirect artillery fire (which now moved these tanks only 200 yards or so up and down the road) and the chance of a fluke hit from a mortar. The two-pounders were too far back to fire. The battalion's only immediate defence against armoured vehicles was the ‘elephant gun’—one Boys anti-tank rifle to each platoon—Brens and rifles. Men now were even more sceptical about the value of rifle and Bren fire against tanks. At this time, on B Company's immediate front and within 800 yards, were about forty vehicles including one medium tank, other lighter tanks, and many tracked vehicles used for troop-carrying. Out of sight a great mass of enemy transport, tanks, and troops had piled up, stretching from the pass along the road back to Katerini, the first three miles mainly made up with tanks, tracked troop-carriers and motor-cycles.
Soon the infantry knew only too well that more mortars had crept up to join the fray. The troubles of the riflemen increased again when too many 25-pounder shells seemed to be landing too close to the forward weapon pits (the guns, firing over 3000 rounds this day, were having much trouble in clearing a ridge further back), and B Company with some relief received Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser,48 CO 5 Field Regiment, who set up a special observation post, contacted the guns by radio, directed fire himself, and soon quietened the mortars.
At 8.40 a.m. a strong enemy tank attack was launched again up the road. These tanks had been hidden in trees and scrub not more than 600 yards from the front. Colonel Fraser, seated in the open on a folding chair, ordered ten rounds' gunfire. The gunfire and tanks arrived at the same spot simultaneously in a cloud of dust and smoke. Infantrymen saw the attack page 21 splinter and smash. At least ten vehicles, including an ammunition truck and at least one tank, were knocked out—the tanks were supported by infantry. Then another tank and an ammunition truck went up, the truck being credited to hard-working Private Whibley49 and his Boys anti-tank rifle. ‘In actual fact,’ writes Whibley, ‘we were under the impression that a shot from the Boys had entered the visor of the tank, for when I fired it ran off the road and started to smoke.’ (B Company, reporting on the Boys rifle in action, said it ‘embarrassed tanks’.)
The hard-pressed 11 Platoon50 was rushed by three tanks at 9.18 a.m. One tank charged straight down into the hole left by the demolition. The platoon disposed of the crew. The two remaining tanks tried to cross the demolition, apparently attempting to use the first tank as some sort of bridge. Failing to do this, they sprayed B's front. The battle continued throughout the morning, mainly in the central sector. At one stage 11 Platoo's forward post in the cliff face had to be withdrawn to another position further back. The men stuck to their position until their post was virtually shot away from underneath them: tanks had fired at the weapon pit until the soil below the parapet collapsed.
Under such pressure B Company, curtained by fire, between 9.30 and 10.30a.m. suffered further casualties: Johnny O'Brien51 (a Maori) and Doug Wilson52 killed; Sergeant Joe Mahar53 and Privates Harnish54 and Lovett55 wounded. Corporal Jack page 22 Hagen56 later led a party back in a brave attempt to bring out the dead and bury them. As this party moved forward Paul Donoghue,57 a volunteer from Headquarters Company, opened up with a Bren to give covering fire, but drew such a response that the party finally was forced to give up.
On the battalio's right flank a company of infantry attacked C Company to test defences between the sanatorium and the river. Fourteen Platoon drove them back, and at dusk the enemy was heard digging in. Activity in front of A Company, further right, was small, and it didn't seem that the neighbouring 23 Battalion positions were being pressed heavily. Across on the other flank 28 Battalion, holding one big attack in the forest, also gave some help to D Company 22 Battalion. From 3 p. m. onwards activity on this company's front increased. All through the afternoon a D Company sniper, Barney Wicksteed,58 had prevented enemy pioneers from working on the smashed bridge in front of B Company. In the dusk a force estimated to be a battalion strong gathered in the scrub on a 1000-yard front. Twenty minutes later a tank got across the demolition and turned towards D Company, halting where the mines and the wire had been interfered with in the night. The tank made no efforts to close in on the weapon pits but hampered D Company's movements with persistent fire. Small groups of infantry attempted to reach the steep valley between B and D Companies. Later, at 6.30 p.m., an armoured troop-carrier crossed the demolition and took cover under a bluff in front of B Company. The troops aboard went to ground in the valley between B and D Companies. No further attempts were made to get through 22 Battalion, which during the afternoon and early evening had more wounded: Privates Christiansen59 and Meek60 (D Company) and Sergeant Ford61 and Private Weir (B Company). page 23 Two men missing believed killed, Privates Norris62 and Peterson,63 were captured.
The wounded, particularly Jack Tregea with one arm, showed great fortitude during the move back over rough tracks. The stretcher-bearers had a rough time handling stretchers through scrub and wire and up and down hills. At one exposed spot below B Company headquarters the stretcher-bearers had to leave cover, cross the road swept occasionally by enemy fire, and crawl through wire with stretcher and casualty.
Fortunately the enemy did not press forward after dusk. The strenuous six-mile withdrawal to the mouth of Olympus Pass succeeded. The night was impenetrably black, the ground precipitous and bush-covered, every mule track a morass, and at any time the enemy might press on and cut things up. Companies gradually thinned out as more and more heavily burdened riflemen trudged back, until last of all the Bren-gunners left for the rendezvous behind the RAP on the road. From 8.30 p.m. tired men began passing the check post carrying practically all their arms, ammunition and equipment, and slogged on through the mud and up the pass road. Flares going up on each flank showed where the enemy was following the withdrawal, but after a while darkness, the rough going, and demolitions brought them to a halt.
Forward posts of C Company (the nearest in a straight line to the check post) took over three hours to reach the road. Platoons had to come out in single file carrying rifle, pick and shovel, and as much ammunition as possible, and sweat up a steep hill covered with scrub and stunted bush to reach Company Headquarters. From here they scrambled down a narrow track greasy with mud (a jibbing donkey, acquired by a signaller, was flung over a cliff here), crossed a valley and creek, and then, in many cases actually on hands and knees, climbed up the other side on to the main road. The rearguard could hear the Germans talking when the last of C Company left Company Headquarters.
Half of D Company might have been captured if it had not been for Captain Campbell. The company destroyed everything which could't be carried, and left a few booby traps page 24 behind (a grenade under pack straps was a favourite trick). Then the first party moved off at dusk in a heavy mist and rain while the German mortared the track out. However, contact guides posted through the bush to lead out the second half moved off by mistake with the first party. The rest of D Company spent an exhausting64 night in total darkness trying to find the way out through dense bush and over precipitous country. Finally, the last men hit the pass road at 3 a.m.
B Company, the last company to move, started off under heavy fire. The shelling may have been partly due to the din made in extricating Wally Harrison's65 truck, stuck down a bank. Despite the shelling B Company withdrew with little confusion, Sergeant Charlie Flashoff66 showing great coolness as he stood by the sunken road repeating reassuringly: ‘Take it easy, chaps. Help your cobbers up. Take your time. Just round the corner you'll be safe.’
A section of pioneers under Lieutenant Wadey and Second- Lieutenant MacDuff,67 with a carrier, remained by the prepared demolition by a check point just behind the old positions. The detonation was delayed because the three officers and forty men from D Company had not checked through. Finally, at 1 a.m. on 17 April, Colonel Andrew, satisfied the D Company party would not be coming out that way, ordered the engineers to blow. They also blew the pass road in seven places.
On foot and (if lucky) by motor transport,68 the battalion page 25 moved back from Olympus while shells from 25-pounders whistled overhead to the enemy positions. Vivid muzzle flashes cut open the darkness. At 4 a.m. most of the battalion had reached Ay Dhimitrios, wet, cold, hungry and exhausted—and very much wiser men. When reporting to General Freyberg, Brigadier Hargest wrote of 22 Battalion's ‘steady withdrawal, absolutely to time, without any excitement. They had borne the heat and burden of the day.’
Four explosions, ripping the road ineffectively apart, delayed the invader and signed off the stand at Olympus, which had cost the battalion fewer than two dozen casualties.
The retreating infantry, trudging along in the downpour, heard the first demolition explode after midnight. The second went off at 2 a.m., when most of the battalion was well on the way to Ay Dhimitrios, at the south-western end of the pass. The next, fired within two hours, disturbed none of the exhausted soldiers' sleep,69 and by the time of the final explosion, at 7 a.m. on 17 April, B Company, moving along like sleepwalkers through the little village of Ay Dhimitrios, rubbed their eyes in astonishment. It looked like a dream, something quite out of this world: the few women moving about the cobbled streets all wore nineteenth-century crinolines. B Company, with next to no sleep, was back on duty again, moving up the hillside through the village and standing to against the expected German follow-up. In the thin rain and sleet Jack Hagen, like many more of his comrades, huddled miserably under a sodden blanket for shelter, while one man dozed and another kept watch.
Not long after dawn the battalion, united again, moved back about three miles, partly on foot and partly by truck, and formed alongside the Maoris a new line at the head of the pass. Here weary, muddy soldiers revelled in hot food again, sent up from B Echelon together with mail from home, some of the letters no more than four weeks old.page 26
At 3 p.m. the battalion (less A Company, staying for an hour's rearguard) was moving south fast, bunched under the canopies of 4 RMT Company's three-tonners and enjoying tinned fruit taken from abandoned dumps—the first time tinned fruit had been on the battalion menu for months. Many of these lorries showed signs of strafing and bombing, a pointer to what might lie ahead on the way down to the Thermopylae line. Luckily the rain and the mist round Olympus had held off the Luftwaffe, for the battalion had been swallowed in a great river of army traffic scurrying south, soon swollen (at the crossroads by the hamlet of Elevtherokhorion) with heavily laden trucks, carriers, and guns getting out from the northern end of the collapsed Olympus line. But so far the road surfaces were good, and about dusk the battalion passed through Larisa, the first town the men had seen thoroughly devastated from the air. First an earthquake (promptly taken advantage of and exploited by Mussolini's airmen) had struck the town; then came the Luftwaffe. Torn buildings sagged into streets heaped with rubble and gashed with craters and here and there flames danced on splintered beam and blackened ruin. Private Hilder70 remembers the storks among this desolation. ‘You could see them on their nests, up on top of the remaining chimneys.’
Tom De Lisle71 wrote: ‘Despite the fact that they knew the troops were withdrawing, the Greek people were kindness itself, producing boiled eggs, wine and bread for which they staunchly refused to accept any drachmae in payment—not by any means the last example of Greek loyalty and kindness.’ But other men remember Australian hospitality by this wrecked town, and Lance-Corporal Cleghorn72 notes: ‘We carried out an exchange for tinned beer. The exchange was effected in transit, with a man sitting on the bonnet of the truck tossing tins to the Aussies in the back of their transport, and catching tinned beer in exchange.’
The headlong retreat from Olympus (‘We fled like the Ities page 27 in the desert’) was now about to tax the patience of 5 Brigade. From the Olympus line the brigade was ordered to go by the coastal road to Volos, where it would form a rearguard. But only a few hours after the brigade had left Olympus orders were changed suddenly, as the coast road was impassable. The brigade was to use the main road and turn east to Volos beyond Lamia. Some groups learned of the switch in plans at Larisa, and some did not, for communications were poor and under great strain. Trouble for 22 Battalion began in the night at Pharsala, about 20 miles south of Larisa. The night was pitch dark. The road, in grade and width like a metalled country road in New Zealand, was suddenly knotted with traffic tangles.73
Near Pharsala (‘the father of all traffic jams’), some military police tried to switch New Zealand units off the choked road, and here Colonel Row74 (a New Zealand officer attached to Anzac Corps Headquarters) quite innocently added to the confusion, thereby starting a rumour of a ‘Fifth Columnist New Zealand officer’. The Colonel, acting on instructions from Anzac Corps, used a petrol company's road map (the kind given to unsuspecting tourists), which showed a comfortable road leading east to Volos, to divert some of 22 Battalion, who found to their dismay and disgust that the road after a while petered out into an ox-track. It seems that about 200 men from the battalion, including Major Hart, went this way; the trucks dumped the riflemen in the dark and made off to gather more soldiers in the north. Lieutenant Donald (14 Platoon C Company) refused to be diverted anywhere and safely reached the Molos area nearly a day ahead of the battalion. Furthermore, Donald's group gathered enough canned beer from an abandoned canteen ‘to give every man in the Battalion two cans, and every man in C Company, six cans.’
Another part of the battalion, A Company, was hopelessly lost, and vanished (on paper) for twenty-four hours. The rest of the battalion, strung out and scattered among the scurrying page 28 transport (it was now 1 a.m. on 18 April), carried on down the main road south to Lamia, in the last hours of darkness striking a packet of trouble on the hilly pass before Lamia: another traffic jam, trucks piled up on the narrow road, some over the side, transport banking up, several trucks on fire. Flames could have drawn night bombers; certainly the daylight would draw attacks on the helplessly stalled transport. The sheltering dark would not last much longer. A path was cleared by tipping trucks ahead over the bank (Battalion Headquarters truck went over too). So the greater part of the battalion got through to Lamia.
Some groups were near Lamia township (but do not seem to have suffered any casualties) when the Luftwaffe struck. ‘Our attention was drawn to the raid by the local peasants. We were driving along and couldn't of course hear the planes for the truck engine. Suddenly we noticed the people in the fields rushing frantically away from the road and taking cover. We got out of the truck just in time to see the Stukas circling over the town and then peeling off one by one in their dive. Most impressive.’
At Lamia air raids were by no means the only headache. Here Major Laws and B Company (ignoring orders to change direction at troubled Pharsala) were now switched east to Volos, the original destination; so was Major Leggat75 with most of the B Echelon transport; so also were Colonel Andrew, Second-Lieutenants MacDuff and Hawthorn,76 and others, and ‘at Volos we were loudly cheered by the inhabitants, who seemingly thought we had come as their saviours—and just as noisily condemned when we retired.’
At Volos the hunt for many missing platoons began. The rearguard at Volos was now unnecessary, and the battalion was ordered to Molos. MacDuff, Hawthorn and others, on motor-cycle and in truck, roamed far afield, collecting isolated parties which were stranded, lost, or marching south, and killing sheep on the way for provisions. Suffice it to say that somehow, by good luck and much hunting, the battalion, here page 29 and there running the gauntlet of daytime air raids, gathered together safely again at Molos, the final destination, by 19 April, and was resting thankfully after digging deep slit trenches.
The New Zealand Division, now in its last week in Greece, was guarding an area including the famous Thermopylae pass where heroic fighting took place between the Spartans and the Persians more than 2000 years ago. Fifth Brigade units, making the best possible use of trees for cover and camouflage, prepared positions for holding the coast road and the foothills south of Lamia and the Sperkhios River, which ran along the whole length of the front, cutting through a marshy plain.
Enemy planes arrived over the area about breakfast time on Sunday, 20 April, hunting and blasting away, coolly bombing and strafing the road and scouring the battalion area from as low as 200-300 feet. Formations of the RAF were said to be on their way, but none arrived. The brief appearance of four Hurricanes over the bay during the morning was most heartening, and later when one suddenly reappeared and shot down a Junkers into the sea, as one man the troops along the front, regardless of exposing themselves, rose from their trenches to cheer. It was hateful—humiliating—sticking to a hole in the ground, unable to hit back.77 Around noon bombing caused the first battalion casualties since Olympus. A few men had bunched together to draw their rations. One bomb collected a group of D Company, killing five and wounding six—more than half the casualties at Olympus in one blow.78
‘This was the first really low-level bombing I personally can recall,’ writes one man. ‘The fact I can best recall is being able actually to see the bombs drop away from the fuselage of the plane and come down in a long curve. One seemed to have plenty of time to watch and then duck below ground level in the slit trench.’ But another man felt this way: ‘Bombing is page 30 pretty uncomfortable. You can see the black dot (usually three of them) detach itself from the plane, turn slowly over and then come apparently straight down to you. Its screech gets louder and louder. You bitterly regret that you grew so large and then there's a bang 50 or 60 yards away.’
Thermopylae, for most of the battalion, meant taking up defensive positions near the Springs of Thermopylae—a spa with a hot sulphur stream—digging and wiring, working away until air sentries gave the alarm of enemy planes heading in, taking cover, changing position a little, watching artillery open up at the enemy feeling out across the plain, and diving to earth when shells came back. Lights blazing, German transport streamed down the hill behind Lamia all night (21-22 April). The battalion watched, started counting, and soon gave up, but no attack gathered after dawn. In mid-afternoon on 22 April Colonel Andrew, returning from a brigade conference, passed on the news that Greece, with the Germans now bursting down below Albania on the opposite coast, had capitulated. All British forces were to be evacuated. Sixth Brigade would remain with the artillery at Thermopylae, but 5 Brigade was to go at once. Immediately word went round to stop work on positions and rest as much as possible. All gear except the material a man could carry was to be buried or destroyed without tell-tale signs—fires, for instance, were prohibited. As if in farewell twelve Messerschmitts appeared, one by one breaking formation and diving at selected targets, spraying explosive, incendiary and tracer, then continuing the dive to almost tree-top level as they left. Ignoring air activity and orders to stay put, a Royal Horse Artillery officer, who had camped near C Company, slipped off in his truck and returned with it laden with tobacco and cigarettes from an abandoned Naafi. The supplies from this well-remembered Englishman lasted some men well through Crete.
Under cover of darkness 5 Brigade moved back 17 miles to Ay Konstandinos, on the coast. Major Hart commanded a rearguard of sorts for 5 Brigade. With Second-Lieutenants Leeks and Carter79 and fifty-eight men, together with a party from 23 Battalion, Hart and his force stayed, the group from page 31 22 Battalion spreading out and pretending it was a brigade, and the 23 Battalion party holding a bridge ahead on the main road from Lamia. The carrier patrol group (nineteen altogether now, and under Captain Denis Anderson) patrolled dank river flats in front of the Thermopylae-Molos line, hearing in the night thousands of frogs, the weird cries from some night birds, and watching the twinkling lights of the German transport coming down to Lamia. Except for a minor flurry round the bridge the night was peaceful. From dawn until noon on 23 April enemy planes cruised above Thermopylae. In mid-afternoon the party by the bridge dealt with about eighteen Germans on motor-cycles, and later fired on an attempt to cross the river towards dusk. Then the whole of Hart's force was pulled out, ‘fortunately for us 12 hours before the battle commenced,’ wrote Hart. ‘I think [Brigadier Barrowclough80] felt he should do so as we were not part of his brigade, and he didn't want to see us scuppered protecting him after our own brigade was safely away.’ Hart's infantry were taken by the carriers into Molos.81
The carriers at Molos gave protection to a demolition party under Lt-Col G. H. Clifton, joined Divisional Cavalry near Athens, filled up with petrol from the Divisional Cavalry dump, and then made south towards Corinth until one by one the motors failed. Picked up by truck, the carrier men missed the action the Divisional Cavalry fought against parachutists at Corinth, and Anderson and his men, carried off with 6 Bde, were soon back in Egypt.
Meanwhile, all through this day (23 April), the bulk of the battalion rested under cover in the olive groves at Ay Konstandinos, secure from the searching Luftwaffe. One party, boots off, slept soundly on a pine-covered slope until Tom Barton82 bellowed, ‘Get out! Get out!’, starting a mad, cursing scramble over thorn and thistle. Nothing happened. The party limped back to find that a falling pine cone and not a grenade page 32 had struck Tom in his sleep. He had warned his comrades with what, happily, was not his last breath.
The battalion drew reserve rations and enough petrol for 150 miles from a neighbouring supply depot. Up with the rations came a dozen brown demijohns of rum. In the cold and wet of Olympus men had been told there was no rum in Greece. Considering rum would increase the dangers of the night drive ahead, the CO ordered Tom Hawthorn into action. Swinging a mean pick, the Intelligence Officer despatched the lot.
The battalion pulled out at 8.30 p.m. on a nine-hour run over 140 miles to another olive grove near Athens. Headlights were used most of the way. The troops passed through Athens in the early dawn and felt a useless pity for the abandoned Greeks. Their last day in Greece (24 April) went by under the olives. German pilots prowled overhead, but found nothing. Men, bitter and apprehensive, reduced their packs to the bare minimum, ate heartily from reserve rations, stored away bully and biscuits in overcoat pockets, and passed the time sleeping or playing cards. Drachmae notes, now thought worthless, were gambled away recklessly or were used to light cigarettes and pipes. Trucks not needed in the shift to the beach in the night were ruined by draining away all oil and water, flinging grit into the petrol, and then running the engine hard until it seized, when picks added the finishing touches. Some of these trucks had not covered 2000 miles.
The running rearguard of Greece – more running than rearguard – was over. Inside the trucks nobody talked much. The 20-mile run ended a few miles short of Porto Rafti (‘D’ Beach), head over heels into the final flurry of a bewildered campaign, ‘a hellava schemozzle: liaison officers bustling, yelling, rushing round in circles, kicking out the headlights, page 33 demanding men sling away arms and equipment—orders and counter-orders from every Tom, Dick and Harry.’ The battalion had taken great pains to keep all its rifles, essential equipment, mortars and precious radio sets, yet in this confusion of orders all the radios and some rifles were dumped.84 ‘These b—s going over our trucks and equipment forced us out of our trucks too early and left us, tired enough as we were, to footslog several miles to the beach. But everything went perfectly down by the shore where the landing craft lay.’
Out in the darkness waited HMS Glengyle and HMS Calcutta. ‘One followed the queue down to a mess deck where the Navy was dishing out big mugs of Navy cocoa and fresh bread on a slab of bully beef, while a matelot flourishes a jar with a “Mustard, laddie?”
‘Safe again in the hands of the Navy.’
1 Brig L. W. Andrew, VC, DSO, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Ashhurst, 23 Mar 1897; Regular soldier; Wellington Regt 1915-19; CO 22 Bn Jan 1940-Feb 1942; comd 5 Bde 27 Nov-6 Dec 1941; Area Commander, Wellington, Nov 1943-Dec 1946; Commander, Central Military District, Apr 1948-Mar 1952.
2 Yet this 5th Reinforcement troopship memory shows the link across the years: ‘The OC Troops was Col. Turnbull, an old Dig whose pet aversion was long hair. After one particularly sarcastic lecture he rocked the whole show by referring to many as “Enaus”—talk about a flap—never heard that one before—much speculation until eventually a definition came up: “A woolly looking animal with long matted hair, probably lousy.” The reaction was terrific and in a matter of hours every conceivable sort of hairdo appeared—bald types, top-knots, cowlicks and some furrowed like a ploughed field. Col. Turnbull was OK though, and I well remember on disembarkation at Tewfik, as he was standing watching us pull away in the barges a wag sang out: “Hooray, Enau.” The old boy lifted a hand and his emotion was evident to all and had a sobering effect—his own memories probably of similar circumstances 27 years before.’
5 Out of a battalion numbering about 32 officers and 740 men, only about 350, or less than half, actually went forward with rifle and bayonet, automatic weapons, radio set, and first-aid equipment.
6 Lt-Col R. R. T. Young, DSO; Richmond, England; born Wellington, 25 Jun 1902; oil company executive; CO School of Instruction Feb-Apr 1943; CO 28 (Maori) Bn Dec 1943-Jul 1944, Aug-Nov 1944; wounded 26 Dec 1943.
10 ‘And not without reason,’ writes Colonel O'Reilly, ‘for when the battle's joined in an infantry attack, things are really over to the platoon. Time and again Company Headquarters lost touch, but in the morning following the attack, the platoons were on their objective.’
13 The officers when the battalion embarked were: CO: Lt-Col L. W. Andrew; 2 i/c: Maj G. J. McNaught; Adjt: Capt P. G. Monk; IO: Lt W. W. Mason; MO: Lt W. M. Manchester; QM: Lt T. Thornton; Padre: Rev. W. E. W. Hurst; RSM: WO I S. A. R. Purnell; HQ Coy: Capt E. F. Laws, Lts G. G. Beaven, E. J. McAra, D. F. Anderson, M. G. Wadey, H. R. Harris, 2 Lt L. Leeks. A Coy: Capts J. W. Bain, J. Moore, Lts W. G. Slade, R. B. Fell, G. C. D. Laurence. B Coy: Capts S. Hanton, T. C. Campbell, Lt S. H. Johnson, 2 Lts C. N. Armstrong, T. G. N. Carter. C. Coy: Maj J. Leggat, Capt W. Bourke, Lt K. R. S. Crarer, 2 Lts H. V. Donald, E. E. Tyrell. D Coy: Maj J. G. C. Leach, Capt I. A. Hart, Lts W. G. Lovie, L. B. Clapham, 2 Lt P. R. Hockley. Reinfs: Lts E. T. Pleasants, E. H. Simpson, 2 Lts B. V. Davison, F. G. Oldham, C. I. C. Scollay, J. L. MacDuff, T. R. Hawthorn.
17 Brig J. Hargest, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d.; born Gore, 4 Sep 1891; farmer; Member of Parliament 1931-44; Otago Mtd Rifles 1914-20 (CO 2 Bn Otago Regt); comd 5 Bde May 1940-Nov 1941; p.w. 27 Nov 1941; escaped Italy, Mar 1943; killed in action, France, 12 Aug 1944.
25 Col T. C. Campbell, CBE, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Waiouru; born Colombo, 20 Dec 1911; farm appraiser; CO 22 Bn 6 Sep 1942-18 Apr 1944; comd 4 Armd Bde Jan-Dec 1945; Commander of Army Schools, 1951-53; Commander, Fiji Military Forces, 1953-56; Commandant, Waiouru Military Camp, Dec 1956-.
29 This day Capt Monk became 2 i/c B Coy, 2 Lt MacDuff replacing him as Adjutant; Capt Campbell (2 i/c B Coy) took over D Coy; Maj J. Bain (D Coy) had been evacuated sick.
31 When this had been done, according to army regulations an acquittance roll had to be made out for the muleteers. ‘There's nothing funny about trying to make an alphabetical roll of scared mule-drivers when you don't know their language,’ recalls K. R. S. Crarer. ‘The roll never got more than half done.’
33 WOI D. G. Dillon; Patangata, Hawke's Bay; born NZ 12 Nov 1911; labourer; wounded 15 Apr 1941.
50 Second-Lieutenant Armstrong received the MC, his citation reading: ‘His platoon was placed in the path of the enemy's advance and successfully resisted [on 15-16 April] the combined efforts of motor cyclists, AFV's and infantry to penetrate his position. It was largely due to the example of 2 Lt. Armstrong that the action was successfully fought.’ B Company had suffered 13 of the battalion's 19 casualties at Olympus.
51 Pte J. O'Brien; born Maketu, 27 Jul 1913; labourer; killed in action 16 Apr 1941.
53 Capt J. Mahar, m.i.d.; born NZ 31 Oct 1913; contractor; wounded 16 Apr 1941.
64 A. G. Lambert recalls: ‘Old Bill Norm had the old anti-tank rifle, damn heavy to carry. To dismantle it he threw the bolt away and carried the darn rifle for miles before he threw it away. His language was rather choice when one of the boys mentioned the fact he could have swapped loads with the same effect.’ A wounded Bren-gunner, D. J. Meek, leg smashed, was accidentally left behind: ‘the worst half hour I've spent in my life as I thought the Jerries wouldn't worry about one wounded prisoner, and I thought they would torture me or something like that. I sure was glad to see four chaps return for me.’
68 One party, told to get into the first empty truck reached, struggled on in the downpour until an empty truck loomed up on the side of the road—a civilian truck, obviously commandeered. Thankfully the party clambered in and waited for the convoy to move off. Some slept, others waited anxiously. Eventually Lieutenant Clapham (transport officer) and Sergeant Bob Smith appeared on motor-cycles and told them all transport had gone. The red-faced soldiers found they had parked in a useless old civilian truck jacked up on blocks of wood and without wheels.
69 ‘We were sited in defensive positions before dawn and told to dig in on the barren rocky hillside,’ writes a lieutenant. ‘This we were too exhausted to do, and all except the sentries lay down and slept on the sodden ground with no covering except their greatcoats. I can remember thinking that the weakest of us might easily die of exposure that night, but I was gratified when each one responded to a shake and made short work of a very welcome mess-tin of bully stew.’
73 This road, Larisa-Lamia, had been reserved exclusively for Australian traffic. New Zealanders were switched on to it as an emergency measure, and here and there were roundly abused for trespassing.
77 Soldiers, calling the RAF ‘Rare as Fairies’ and much worse, spoke bitterly about the total lack of air cover in the move to the Thermopylae line: the Air Force tartly replied that soldiers should have ‘levelled their ignorant criticism’ at their own commanders who choked the roads with endless columns of MT and should have withdrawn ‘exclusively by night’.
78 Casualties in the midday bombing were: Killed: 2 Lt G. D. McGlashan, Sgt J. S. H. Dring, Cpls A. E. O'Neill and G. M. Sandiford, and Pte L. B. Bosworth. Wounded: 2 Lt J. D. W. Ormond, L-Cpl A. T. Blakeley, and Ptes D. L. George, A. G. L. Lambert, all of D Coy. Pte J. Cockroft (of Bn HQ and attached to the company) was fatally wounded. 2 Lt D. H. Nancarrow (C Coy) was wounded by a bomb splinter.
80 Maj-Gen Rt. Hon. Sir Harold Barrowclough, KCMG, CB, DSO and bar, MC, ED, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US), Croix de Guerre; Wellington; born Masterton, 23 Jun 1894; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde 1915-19 (CO 4 Bn); comd 7 NZ Inf Bde in UK, 1940; 6 Bde May 1940-Feb 1942; GOC 2 NZEF in Pacific and GOC 3 NZ Div, Aug 1942-Oct 1944; Chief Justice of New Zealand.
81 At Molos the carriers and the infantry in Hart's party split up. The infantry from now on stayed with or near 6 Bde's headquarters until evacuation south of Corinth Canal. Although once taking up an anti-parachute role very briefly, they did not go into action; they reached Port Said on 2 May in the Comliebank and Thurland Castle.
|Killed in action or died of wounds||12|
|Wounded and prisoners of war||4|
|Prisoners of war||17|