CHAPTER 4 — Campaigning in Greece
Campaigning in Greece
WHEN the 23rd arrived in Katerini, the stage was practically set and the curtain was about to rise on a modern Greek tragedy: the German Twelfth Army was massed in Bulgaria and Field Marshal List had reported to Hitler that he would be ready to invade Greece on 1 April. A coup d'état in Belgrade overthrew the pro-Axis Government. Hitler decided to attack Yugoslavia and Greece simultaneously and orders were given for invasion to begin on or soon after 5 April. To meet this threat from twenty German divisions, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Wilson, GOC British Troops in Greece, had a pitifully small force. In addition to the various Greek divisions which had already been fully committed against the Italians, there were 1 British Armoured Brigade Group, the New Zealand Division, 6 Australian Division and some corps and line-of-communication troops.
The New Zealand Division went into position on the right of what was called the Aliakmon position, 4 and 6 Brigades forward, 5 Brigade (less 21 Battalion) in the Olympus Pass (strictly the Petras Pass). On 9 April 21 Battalion took up an isolated position at Platamon, barring the coastal road east of Mount Olympus.
The 23rd spent two nights in Katerini before moving out on 31 March to prepare and occupy its first battle positions. While waiting to move, the men cleaned their weapons and sharpened their bayonets. A church parade was held and was watched with interest by the local Greeks, with whom the men mingled freely in the evenings. After their somewhat upsetting experiences with the cognac bought in Athens, most men now preferred to sample lighter Greek wines such as mavrodaphne. An entry in the diary of Private Charles S. Pankhurst1 recalls the pleasure of those and similar nights: ‘Scottie and I drank considerable red wine (several bottles at 60 drachmae each) but we did not get drunk, only happy and lovable’.
More serious business lay ahead. Brigadier Hargest and the senior officers of the battalion had already reconnoitred the page 28 page 29 battalion's sector of the Olympus-Aliakmon River line, and on the morning of 31 March the companies moved by truck southwest to the Petras Sanatorium and then on foot up towards the mountain. As they marched up the newly formed road, the men of the 23rd met the 26th coming down to move forward in the transport to the Aliakmon line. Greetings were exchanged in passing, but this time feelings were very different from what they had been at the two units' last meeting in Helwan. This time the men were conscious of entering upon their first real operational role. Hearts beat a little faster as their owners realised they would almost certainly face the enemy in the positions they were about to occupy. In 5 Brigade's sector in the Olympus line the 23rd was on the right, the 22nd in the centre astride the Olympus Pass road and the 28th on the left.
The 23rd companies soon found themselves on the ground chosen for them: a spur from the snowline on Mount Olympus stretched down to and along a ridge which ran north-west towards the Itamos stream and the Olympus Pass. Partly because this was their first battle line and partly because of the natural beauty of the surroundings, those who were there will always remember their Olympus positions. To the south-east was Mount Olympus, the highest and most important mountain in Greece. Rising from pine-filled valleys through belts of oak and beech till its snow-capped peak was caught up in the clouds, this mountain had from ancient times been known as ‘the home of the gods’. It reminded the South Islanders of some of their own Southern Alps. To the north-east the plain around Katerini lay between the blue Aegean on the east and the low Macedonian hills and the low-lying areas around Salonika farther north. On the immediate front, the downs were covered with scrub and undergrowth which would afford cover to attacking infantry. Bushes of daphne and clumps of red-flowered Judas trees added a touch of colour while wild flowers grew plentifully under the trees.
The narrowness of the ridge and the length of the battalion front—nearly four miles—made defence in depth impossible. All four rifle companies had to be placed in the front line and, at first, no company had a platoon in reserve. On the right flank, D Company, under Captain Manson,2 was stretched to the utmost from where 17 Platoon, under Lieutenant Dick Connolly, covered the junction of tracks from Strapokameni page 30 and Vrondou to where 18 Platoon was dispersed on the west of Ravani. ‘Right of the line for the whole Div!’ was the proud boast of 17 Platoon on this occasion. Next to D came C Company, under Major Thomason, overlooking the village of Lokova, and B Company, under Major Kelly. On the left, A Company, under Captain Carl Watson, had its left flank on the western end of the ridge more or less in touch with 22 Battalion across a steep-sided gully.
Practically every man in the battalion was soon hard at work preparing and later perfecting the defensive positions. Some dug and wired the section posts, some improved fields of fire by clearing scrub on the immediate front, some made more or less covered approaches from company headquarters to the forward posts, while, in the rear, others worked hard on the roads which would enable trucks to supply each company area. The 26th had already constructed a dry-weather road which gave access to the battalion area from the Sanatorium on the left front. Men worked on extending this road along the ridge behind the main company positions, where it was known as the ‘Back Road’.
On 2 April General Freyberg and Brigadier Hargest visited the sector. They were impressed by the work already done but were worried about supplying the unit when the main entry to the area was from the front. In addition, should the necessity to withdraw arise, the 23rd would be unable to reach the Olympus Pass road in the face of enemy pressure. The construction of a road to the south along the steep track which was understood to lead to the village of Kokkinoplos was therefore decided upon. Consequently, Lieutenant Bassett, the IO, with Sergeants Jim Bevin3 and ‘Mick’ Bowie,4 well-known Mount Cook guide, and Private Mannering,5 a former surveyor, went on a special road reconnaissance. Next, in this effort to provide the 23rd with its own supply and exit route, the pioneer platoon, under Second-Lieutenant Jim Ensor,6 made strenuous efforts to make the road capable of taking vehicular traffic. Later, for two or three days, it was assisted by two companies of 22 Battalion, while 7 Field Company of the New Zealand Engineers began working towards the 23rd positions from the page 31 Kokkinoplos end. But, even with this team of workers, the going was so difficult and the weather so wet that a short but vitally important stretch of this road was incomplete at the critical time.
As the men worked from dawn to dark on their positions in the keen mountain air, they grew harder and fitter and more expectant of playing a worthy part in the approaching battle. Perhaps they were excited at the prospect of meeting the enemy or pleased with their spring-beflowered surroundings, where banks of primroses and anemones, violets and crocuses, contrasted strikingly with the sandy wastes of Helwan and Amiriya, but, in any case, most men thoroughly enjoyed their soldiering in early April 1941. Even the misty rains, common at that season, did not damp their spirits at first. ‘Worked on excavation for signal office and had pretty good day,’ wrote Private Johnston7 in his diary on 5 April. ‘Gee! I am happy and in the best of health’.
The battalion's defences were steadily improved. The front was too long, however, and the danger of enemy infiltration was so serious that on 9 April two companies of the 22nd took over the whole of A Company's position and nearly half of B Company's. This enabled the 23rd to thicken up its positions and strengthen the whole front. The order of the companies from right to left now became D, C, A and B. Headquarters Company provided a reserve force which was the smaller because the Bren-carrier platoon under Lieutenant Max Coop was on duty in an anti-paratroop role around the landing ground between Katerini and Kalokhori.
Rarely, if ever again, did the battalion take such pains over a defensive position. Everything was done that the experience of the First World War officers and the training courses of the subalterns could suggest. The section posts could scarcely have been made stronger or been better camouflaged in the time available. Minor causes of annoyance arose and hindered progress. The anti-personnel mines, on which the companies were depending to deal with the remaining covered approaches on their front, arrived without fuses. ‘Just another army mix-up!’ was the laconic comment of one soldier in his diary. The weather deteriorated rather badly: rain fell, the roads in the area became quagmires, much time had to be spent on their page 32 maintenance, work was held up on the Kokkinoplos road, and the troops slopped about in the mud trying to improve their section posts under most discouraging conditions.
By this time, events on the wider front to the north were bringing the war closer to the Olympus positions. At 5.45 a.m. on 6 April, Germany declared war on both Yugoslavia and Greece. Attacks were made on the frontier posts of both countries and the Luftwaffe struck as far south as the port of Piraeus that night. The speedy defeat of the southern Yugoslav army opened the way to Greece through Monastir. In addition, the Germans simultaneously made good progress through northeastern Greece. On 8 April the 23rd could see the fires started in Salonika by enemy action. The advance through Monastir threatened to outflank the Aliakmon line, occupation of which in any case had not been completed. On 8 April, therefore, 4 NZ Brigade was ordered back to Servia. The withdrawal of 6 Brigade to a supporting position south of Elasson followed. For two days and nights a steady stream of traffic flowed back through Olympus Pass as the two forward brigades withdrew through 5 Brigade. Apart from the armoured cars of the Divisional Cavalry and their supporting artillery, all New Zealand units affected had withdrawn through the pass soon after nightfall on 10 April.
The war was definitely coming closer. On 9 April the refugees from Salonika and the bombed villages to the north created a fresh problem: the Germans were believed to be making use of both real and bogus refugees, and consequently these people had to be ruthlessly turned back and directed to follow the coastal road to the south. The inhabitants of the small village of Lokova in the centre front of C Company's area also had to be evacuated. At 11 p.m. on 9 April the 23rd was ordered to man all section posts and the troops stood-to throughout that night while the traffic could be heard rumbling through the pass. ‘Standing to’, frequently in the rain and once in a late snowfall, became the accepted routine while the battalion remained in its Olympus positions.
On 10 April the supporting arms necessary to complete the defences of the area went into position. Fifth Field Regiment placed its guns in the pass area behind 22 Battalion and 27 Battery of this regiment established two observation posts in the 23rd's area. No. 10 Platoon of 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion set up its Vickers guns in A Company's front to the left rear of Lokova, while 32 Battery of 7 Anti-Tank Regiment sited its page 33 two-pounder guns to cover the road leading to the Sanatorium and the tracks which came in from the right flank in D Company's area.
Now it was obvious that a stand would be made on the Olympus-Aliakmon River line. More barbed wire arrived and, despite the pouring rain, the men worked long hours erecting more obstacles and strengthening the defences. To give warning of enemy patrols at night, rattles of tins with stones and bells ‘borrowed’ from mountain goat-herds were hung on the wire. With increased activity in the air and evidence of enemy successes in front, the atmosphere grew more electric: rumours passed from section to section of disasters in Yugoslavia or, more encouraging, of the arrival of fresh squadrons of RAF fighters. The ‘old hands’ put these rumours down to a mixture of fear and wishful thinking and concentrated further on the defences. But, as Brian Bassett wrote home on 11 April, ‘War provides fluctuating moods—during the day one feels thoroughly confident and ready and anxious to tackle the aggressor. Then at night, when the rain pelts down and we wade ankle-deep in mud, noises are heard and one cannot help feeling that somehow he has slipped through somewhere and is on us.’ Once again, with tension mounting and most men anxious to get the first shock of action over, the untried soldiers of the 23rd were glad to have a few veterans of the 1914–18 war present to give them a lead.
Twenty-six years earlier, in April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps had earned a grand reputation for the soldiers of these two Dominions of the South Pacific in the landing at Gallipoli. Appropriately enough, since the New Zealand Division had passed under the command of 1 Australian Corps on 5 April, General Blamey announced on 12 April that his corps would be designated the ANZAC Corps. Perhaps it was with thoughts of what Anzac meant, or perhaps it was the mountain scene or the Easter season, but more probably it was the imminence of battle that made one soldier refer to the Easter Sunday church service, held on the early morning of 13 April, as ‘one of the most impressive church services ever attended’.
On the following day, 14 April, it was obvious that the Divisional Cavalry could not continue its delaying action much longer. That night Colonel Falconer recorded in his diary: ‘Enemy advanced troops entered Katerini late afternoon. All possible preparations made here to meet him.’ All vehicles such page 34 page 35 as the 30-cwt and office trucks that were not needed during battle were sent back to the unit B Echelon area at Pithion, about three miles south of Kokkinoplos. As the direct road to Kokkinoplos was not completed, these trucks went via the Sanatorium and Olympus Pass roads. Late on the afternoon of 14 April, only a short time before demolitions cut the battalion off from the pass road, ten Bren carriers rejoined the unit, making a welcome addition to its fire power. Throughout the afternoon the officers watched through their binoculars the approach of enemy transport. As evening drew on, an enemy ‘recce’ party approached the pass but their motor-cycles were quickly knocked out by 22 Battalion. Contact had been made by 5 Brigade. Fourth Brigade also reported first contact with the enemy in the Servia area.
At 8 a.m. next day Colonel Falconer attended a conference at 5 Brigade Headquarters, where he was told that the Yugoslav-Greek line to the west had broken and that 5 Brigade was to withdraw at nine o'clock that night. For the officers and men who had put days and nights of hard work into perfecting their positions and who were confident that they could beat off any ordinary infantry attacks, these orders to withdraw were most depressing. The additional news that the road to Kokkinoplos was still incomplete and that the ten carriers and nineteen trucks still in the area would have to be destroyed was scarcely cheering. Major Leckie went back to see if the tracked Bren carriers could negotiate the unformed portion of the new road. He found that the steepness of the gradient and the greasy nature of the track made the passage of any transport impossible. A Greek detachment of thirty mules arrived to assist with the evacuation of ammunition, heavy stores and, if necessary, the wounded. Sergeant Norman Trewby8 was placed in charge of the muleteers and their animals. With 40-pound packs on the sides of each mule, the animals had very great difficulty in climbing the steepest part of the track, but although some of the muleteers disappeared, five return trips were made by this mule train. In the meantime, the men had been told to destroy everything they could not carry on their persons during the withdrawal. Each man cut two of his three blankets to ribbons, destroyed spare clothing and holed petrol and ration tins. The officers hid their valises and other valuables in trees or in holes. After this had been done, orders arrived that the Olympus page 36 position was to be held another day. Thus the message sent out by Major Thomason to his platoons read: ‘Hold everything for 24 hours. Troops will hold their present positions at all costs’. The news that they were to hold on for at least another day was welcome, although the language used about the premature destruction of blankets and clothes showed how annoyed some were with what was a very natural action under the circumstances.9 Captain Max Smith10 was sent back with 8 Platoon to start work on a new position at Kokkinoplos.
The day passed without anything in the nature of a battle being fought on the 23rd's front. The enemy could be seen bringing up trucks and tanks on the plains below and the New Zealand artillery shelled some light forces on the Katerini road. Despite the rain, German reconnaissance planes came over, doubtless reconnoitring the occupied positions.
On 16 April German infantry began to infiltrate across the battalion's front, searching for gaps and weaknesses or for an exposed flank. C and D Companies on the right saw the most action as most of the enemy patrols concentrated on their sector. Possibly their air reconnaissance had told them how the 5 Brigade positions grew weaker, with fewer men holding more ground, the farther away they were from the pass road. In any case, A and B Companies, whose fronts were shorter, received less attention than the two more fully extended companies.
In C Company's area, Second-Lieutenant Dan Davin11 with 13 Platoon held a forward outpost position with the role of breaking up any attack before it reached the main positions of 14 and 15 Platoons. On the platoon's right flank was a wooded and unoccupied spur. Davin called for a volunteer to patrol this spur and to create the illusion of its being defended, and selected Corporal Campbell12 for this difficult and dangerous task. Once this spur was seized by the enemy, the sections were unlikely to be able to move, so overlooked would they be from the higher ground. No. 3 Section, under Corporal Quinn,13 had orders to face the spur if trouble threatened from that quarter.page 37
Higher up the slopes of Olympus, D Company was even more widely dispersed: 18 Platoon under Second-Lieutenant Cunningham,14 next to C Company, and 16 Platoon, under Lieutenant Bond,15 farther up, held positions on either side of the Ravani feature, while 17 Platoon, on the extreme right, was attempting to cover a front much wider than that covered by both A and B Companies together.
From an early hour, well before daybreak, the 23rd stood-to and consequently was not taken by surprise when the German patrols made their first appearance. Action began when Private Todd,16 of No. 3 Section, 13 Platoon, opened fire with his Bren on three or four Germans he had seen making across open ground for the wooded spur on the right. He hit two but, apparently, in the earlier darkness, some enemy had reached the spur. Shortly after dawn, firing broke out on this spur and Corporal Campbell's tommy gun was heard firing short bursts. But one man had no hope of holding that feature alone and Campbell was taken prisoner.
From time to time, thereafter, firing broke out to the right rear of No. 3 Section. Assuming that his platoon was too completely under observation from the spur for men to move, Davin called Company Headquarters for assistance. Two patrols, one under Sergeant Templeton17 from 15 Platoon and one under the company commander himself, quickly restored the position. As Major Thomason led his small patrol down the face towards 13's area, he almost ran into a party of four Germans resting in a hollow. A grenade, tossed into the hollow, proved, to quote Major Thomason, ‘very effective’.
Davin next reported that a large party of Germans, estimated at a company strong, was massing in the scrub near the cemetery about 500 yards in front of 13 Platoon. The 5 Field Regiment OP officer quickly brought fire on the area and the appearance of German stretcher-bearers soon testified to its effectiveness. The infantry were delighted with this evidence of the value of artillery support.page 38
Although C Company and 13 Platoon received further attention later in the day and the wooded spur had to be cleared once more, D Company was most frequently engaged. Early in the afternoon, under cover of the fog which rolled down Mount Olympus, the enemy approached 16 Platoon's area, east of Ravani. Probably they had no idea they were so close to occupied positions as they came up to the wire in an extraordinarily close formation for a patrol. A sudden break in the fog let the 16 Platoon Bren and tommy gunners do their work. The Germans who did not fall to these first bursts of fire quickly withdrew, and although they attempted to infiltrate through the gaps, the line held until it was time to withdraw. One or two Germans succeeded in penetrating between 16 and 18 Platoons and caused some consternation by firing bursts of sub-machine-gun bullets in all directions without actually coming into touch with the D Company men.
Later in the afternoon, the enemy evidently found where the right flank of the whole New Zealand position was and No. 17 Platoon, under Lieutenant Dick Connolly, could not prevent its position being outflanked. It was impossible for the platoon, in fact, both to hold its position and prevent infiltration and at the same time keep the enemy from moving round the right flank. Connolly has described the first contact. ‘We could hear the enemy coming closer. They had a dog with them and we all agreed later that this dog did a lot of recce work for them. That could be so, too, as it never barked, came up the gullies and then went back down again. When they finally got to us, it was very misty and wet. I was following them along at my left section when I had my first coloured tracer exhibition. They opened up along our skyline but all the section posts were down the slope. Under cover of this, two Jerries jumped up and bounded into our straggling wire. Fortunately, one of Bond's Bren gunners saw them and gave them a good squirt. They were his first shots in anger and they were good shots, too. The leading Jerry rolled over and said something which sounded like “I'm hit, Bill!” The 16 Pl bloke gave him another burst and said “Too bloody right you are!”’
On the extreme right flank, Corporal Bob Buick's18 section held an outpost very near the snowline. Private Souquet,19 the sniper whose slit trench was farthest up the mountain, later page 39 reported that although he shot at them he could not prevent the enemy outflanking him at the snowline. Either the Alpine soldiers seen by Souquet or the individual or two who penetrated between 16 and 18 Platoons got within range of D Company headquarters and the stray shots flying around proved rather disconcerting. Captain Manson telephoned an SOS to Battalion Headquarters. The CO sent Major Leckie, Captain Patterson and some members of the signals and transport platoons to assist D Company. Major Leckie found the situation by no means as bad as had been feared; true, cooks and clerks at the cookhouse were ready to deal with the ‘tommy-gunners’ who had disturbed them—Private Alex Agnew20 was stirring the stew with one hand and holding his rifle with the other—but the second-in-command and his party found no enemy when they made a vigorous sweep through the scrub.
Thus the day of 16 April passed, with alarums and excursions, with the enemy probing along the front no doubt as a preliminary to a full-scale assault the next day, and with the artillery, the Vickers guns and the unit 3-inch mortars, under Lieutenant Richards,21 engaging any targets which presented themselves. B Company did a small amount of shooting and reported one enemy soldier killed and others driven off with casualties. In the excitement of getting their first bomb away, one of the mortar crew forgot to remove the nose cap from the bomb: it did no damage but the successful ranging on the target prepared the way for some effective shooting, while the experience of that first shot at the enemy taught in one lesson what training had failed to teach in a hundred.
During the day preparations for the withdrawal that night continued: trucks took all the equipment that could be sent back as far as possible and the mule train attempted to do the rest. Captain Ron Stewart22 also evacuated the sick and wounded—there were only four or five at this stage—by the mule train. Only half the task of transporting the heavy stores and equipment was done before nightfall. The falling-off in the numbers of the muleteers had something to do with this, but time did not permit of completion of the task.page 40
The actual withdrawal was rendered more difficult by the pressure exerted by the enemy on C and D Companies. According to brigade orders, while 22 and 28 Battalions withdrew by the main pass road, the 23rd was to withdraw up the unfinished road to Kokkinoplos and there occupy a position with one company in front of the village and with three companies in reserve behind it. The order for withdrawal and for the march back was HQ Company, B, A, C and D Companies. Headquarters Company began its march back at 8 p.m.; B and A Companies withdrew without incident. In the middle of C Company's front, Davin had arranged for his three sections to rendezvous at 8.30 p.m. Five minutes before the appointed time, Private Inglis,23 one of Corporal Quinn's No. 3 Section, arrived in a state of great excitement to report that ‘the rest of the section was scuppered.’ He informed Davin that ‘Todd had gone off with the Bren to see what he could do and had told this chap to report to me that the Jerries were pouring in’. It was too late to commit the platoon to action which might have made disengagement impossible. Davin therefore decided to get the rest of his platoon out as quickly as possible.
‘I and the sergeant drove and scolded the men until they were through 15 Platoon perimeter. Once they were through, I handed them over to Sergeant Dutton24 and went back (followed against orders by Congo Smith,25 a fine, bold ruffian) to see if I could find any of the others. We hadn't gone far when we heard cries. Eventually we found Todd—almost exhausted, but still with his Bren. With him were three or four others, but missing were Quinn, Campbell, Martin,26 Fisher27 and Weir.28 '29page 41
‘Sandy’ Thomas30 and his men in 15 Platoon opened fire on the Germans who were following Todd and the remnant of Quinn's section. The disengagement of C Company was delayed an hour by this minor flare-up on its front. Farther along, D Company's 17 Platoon also had trouble, having to fight back vigorously to prevent the enemy from penetrating to the line of withdrawal, which was being guarded by some Bren-carrier men and other HQ Company men under Major Fyfe. As it was feared that some of the enemy might have succeeded in outflanking Fyfe's party, Second-Lieutenant Fergus Begg31 was sent with his platoon, 10 Platoon, to act as a battalion vanguard and clear the route.
At and around Battalion Headquarters, Private ‘Buster Bill’ Beynon32 of the unit pioneers successfully blew six road demolitions. The Colonel and Beynon were the last to leave the old headquarters, where everything that had to be left was destroyed. Some items were hurled into the ravine behind the ‘Back Road’; rations were contaminated with petrol. Private Pank-hurst's diary gives the picture: ‘What a wreck we left behind! Cookhouse utensils, clothing, tents, bicycles, food, wireless sets and equipment of all kinds we smashed and rendered useless.’
At the junction of the track from Strapokameni with the ‘Back Road’, the Colonel and Bassett waited till midnight for 17 Platoon to disengage. But Connolly brought his men out in good order and without suffering any losses. No wonder Major Leckie gave Connolly special mention in his private diary: ‘This officer has done great work throughout the operation on our extreme right flank.’ The detachments under Major Fyfe and Second-Lieutenant Begg, responsible for keeping the line of withdrawal free from enemy interference, were collected, and the withdrawal continued with D Company acting as rearguard.
The march to Kokkinoplos will always be remembered by those who took part in it as the toughest they ever endured. The troops were tired before they started—tired with standing-to on three consecutive nights and with slopping about in the page 42 mud and rain; they were heavily laden with their arms and ammunition, their greatcoats and large packs, many of which were to be discarded during the withdrawal; the gradients were steep and the road, as far as it went, had been churned into a sea of mud; the night was so dark that it was nearly impossible to see the man in front; the only consolation was that there was no enemy interference during the march. The distance was approximately eight miles but the going made it appear more like twenty-eight to the dog-tired troops.
Those present can speak best of their own experiences. ‘What with the steepness, rain and mud we had to fight for every inch of progress but as we knew that to lag behind meant capture by the Huns we did our best,’ wrote Pankhurst. ‘We were mud from — to breakfast & soaking right to the skin. The hardest march we have done yet,’ Private Johnston recorded.
Dick Connolly's account has its amusing side. ‘We collected in the gully where the road branched. The Bren Carrier Pl. were there armed to the teeth but no carriers. Ted Richards awaited me—had stayed there to see if I would get away whole from the noise aforementioned. The C.O. was there, full of that confidence I always felt when near him. He was a grand chap, our “Acky”. One, Stanger,33 of my Pl complained about the weight of his Boyes A/Tk rifle so I took it and he was to take my rifle. I had a raincoat on with full webbing and a good full pack on my back, 3 bandoliers of .303 and the Boyes rifle. I'm sure you're miles out in the distance we had to go. Nearer 100 miles, I think. We set off, Ted and I together behind my Pl. We were the last on the track. The time was spent in kicking and swearing at the men who would sit down and fall asleep in the rain from fatigue. Any fellow missed that night must have crawled off the track a bit and we missed them. It was just break of day when we neared A Coy's sentries and I managed to get the Boyes off my shoulder to talk to Carl Watson when I noticed the bolt was missing. I asked Stanger and he said, “I threw it away and didn't like to tell you.” The aid of temper gave me the strength to throw the Boyes about 200 yards. Was I mad!’
A Company took up a rearguard position across the north of Kokkinoplos while the rest of the battalion got some rest in the village. In an attempt to get their clothes dry, the troops lit fires in the school and the houses into which they crowded. page 43 Their pleasure at arriving at the village and at the prospect of the first rest in dry conditions for some days was cut short when firing broke out about 7 a.m. and A Company engaged the first of the enemy to arrive.
The armoured division of the German corps which had attacked up the Olympus Pass road without success sent its infantry battalion round via Vrondou and Kokkinoplos to open up the pass road by a threat from the south-east. These German companies under a Captain Baacke34 were prevented by the 23rd's stand, in what the Germans described as their ‘well situated and fortified hill positions’, at Olympus and again at Kokkinoplos, from interfering with 5 Brigade's withdrawal programme. Nevertheless, these Germans were able to approach the A Company positions under cover of the mists and open fire without giving any warning of their approach.35 They attempted first to shoot up the company headquarters, which was placed alongside the track with a platoon on either flank. Captain Carl Watson found himself under fire from two directions at once and escaped only by wriggling out of his unbuttoned greatcoat and web gear and rolling downhill out of range.
Some of the A Company forward posts were forced to withdraw before reinforcements from other companies arrived. Of these, 10 Platoon under Fergus Begg was the first on the scene and rendered effective aid by driving off the enemy on the flank, where they had threatened to cut off A Company from the village. Part of D Company also assisted.
The exchanges of fire at Kokkinoplos went in favour of the defenders. Sergeant Brian Walsh36 of No. 9 Platoon was killed by one of the first bursts of machine-gun fire. Others were wounded then or later but the Germans suffered the greater page 44 casualties. When Sergeant ‘Mick’ Mulhern37 and Private ‘Shorty’ Brook38 of 7 Platoon called at Company Headquarters, they were surprised to find it occupied by Germans. Mulhern promptly shot two German machine-gunners before returning to his own platoon. Here he found that his men, with the exception of Corporal Roy Cherry,39 Private McGoverne40 and a man from B Company, had pulled back under the enemy fire and the threat of being outflanked. A grenade thrown into the bushes, where the lifting of the mist revealed movement, temporarily halted the Germans but they soon returned to the attack. Hit in the chest by a rifle bullet, Mulhern was left for dead, but he was able to observe the enemy burying their dead. When captured, he was told by an English-speaking German officer that the defending company ‘had accounted for many of his men’ and ‘that besides having many wounded, he had buried 25 men’.41
The individual is only occasionally typical. Usually, he can speak only for himself, but in his description of his reactions to his first contact with the enemy, as he wrote it up soon after this Kokkinoplos engagement, Private Minson42 of 8 Platoon, A Company, described the reasonably common experience of discovering that shooting at a human target was simply a degree or so more exciting than shooting at any other target:
‘We had been ordered many times to lie down in our positions and stay there, but we were too wet and hungry to sit still, and had to walk round to keep warm. Suddenly at 9.30 a.m. there was a terrific roar of machine guns, tommy guns and rifles; bullets whistled in all directions. Fortunately, I was near a slit trench, talking to a couple of other chaps, and I swear that the bullets went in between us. We made one dive and landed in the mud and slush of the slit trench. The bullets were still hitting the parapet, but luckily it was a good one. I could not understand why they kept firing at our trench page 45 because I thought it was well hidden until suddenly it dawned on me that it might be my pipe: I was sucking so hard on it that it was sending up enough smoke for a chimney. It was here I shot my first Jerry. I shall never forget the feeling. I watched him come over a rise and walk straight at me. I could not believe my eyes, so I asked my cobber what I should do. All he could say was “Shoot the bastard! Shoot the bastard!”, and shoot the bastard I did. And to tell you the truth I was as excited as a boy rabbiting.’
While this engagement was being fought, Colonel Falconer was at Brigade Headquarters reporting on his unit's withdrawal. General Freyberg arrived at 5 Brigade Headquarters and, on hearing that the 23rd rearguard was in contact with the enemy, ordered an immediate withdrawal from Kokkinoplos to the plain below, where transport was waiting to convey the troops farther south. He explained that the small number of Imperial troops in Greece and the serious danger of the Anzac Corps's being outflanked on the west necessitated further withdrawal and the taking up of a much shorter line in southern Greece.
The 5 Brigade operation order issued later in the day also mentioned that 21 Battalion had been forced back in the Platamon tunnel area: the threat to the rear was likely to come from both east and west. This order stated: ‘The N.Z. Div is disengaging and withdrawing to the area Volos as a preliminary to the subsequent withdrawal to the Thermopylai line. 5 Inf Bde is carrying out a preliminary withdrawal to the Volestinon-Almiros area near Volos’. The 23rd was to be the leading unit in the convoy, which was directed to follow the route Elasson-Dhomenikon-Larisa.
Under cover of the heavy mist, Colonel Falconer successfully withdrew the 23rd from Kokkinoplos. C Company acted as a rearguard and 14 and 15 Platoons beat back a last-minute sortie by the more daring of the enemy. At Pithion, before embussing on RMT trucks, the men enjoyed their first proper meal for over twenty-four hours. Food and hot tea gave new life to the troops, but no sooner were they crowded on the trucks than most of them dropped off to sleep. Fortunately, no enemy aircraft disturbed them, because although the enemy had undisputed superiority in the air, the mists and low cloud provided welcome cover on the journey south on 17 April. Something of the spirit of the private soldier at this time is seen in J. R. Johnston's diary entry for that day: ‘We are all in a hell of a mess. Wet through to the skin and covered in page 46 mud, but we are as happy as Larry. Travelled all night in transport, each truck holding 32.’
The journey south was slow and tiring but not without incident. Moving off soon after 1.30 p.m., the convoy halted at 3 p.m. with the 23rd's trucks conveniently near a ration dump. Here, tinned black currants and other delicacies were quickly seized and, as one soldier put it, ‘we made gluttons of ourselves with tinned fruit and loaded some on to the trucks’. After this halt, word arrived that the Larisa-Volos road was impassable and that the convoy was to proceed on the Larisa-Pharsala-Lamia road until directed to turn off. Following the main road, the 23rd passed through the covering positions held by 6 Brigade south of Elasson in the late afternoon, and later still through Larisa. This town had been damaged, first by earthquake, and then by enemy bombers. Dead Greeks, dead Australians, dead mules and other animals lay where they had fallen. Overturned and burnt-out trucks were seen on the roadside near Pharsala. Although orders arrived to proceed due east to Almiros from Pharsala, this route proved impassable and Colonel Falconer ordered the unit convoy to proceed direct south over the pass from Pharsala. As he himself recorded that night: ‘On this pass route the utmost confusion prevailed. Orders and counter orders were given by various Staff officers, and vehicles were turned about and turned about again on the two way road.’
By dawn on 18 April the battalion halted near Dhomokos while the CO sought definite information or orders as to the route. He found none and the convoy moved on towards Lamia. As the coastal route towards Almiros and Volos looked in a bad state, he ordered another halt while he went back up the road towards Pharsala in the hope of finding 5 Brigade Headquarters. He met Brigadier Hargest and together they decided to proceed via the Lamia-Stilis road towards the original destination near Volos, but to go into hiding from enemy air attacks if the road did not permit of a speedy move. The wreckage on the side of the road indicated how successful earlier Stuka and other bombing raids had been.
The 23rd now passed through Lamia, where rations were drawn, and then turned east towards Stilis. While it was halted for lunch very shortly afterwards, Lamia was heavily bombed and columns of smoke arose from the town and adjacent roads. The unit had just escaped being in the bombing area. Soon afterwards the move was recommenced, and when near Stilis page 47 Major Heal,43 Brigade Major of 5 Brigade, met Colonel Falconer and told him that the move to Almiros had been cancelled and that the 23rd now was to move to the area of Molos, south-east of Lamia. Some members of the battalion thought that careless transposition of the initial letters of Volos and Molos had led to their being given the wrong destination in the first place, but the brigade order quoted above makes the original intention clear and the resemblance in names was only coincidental. In any case, after skirting Lamia by a dusty side-road and being held up in a huge traffic jam at the bridge about six miles south of Lamia, the 23rd eventually reached its dispersal area in a riverbed near Molos. Here, after nearly thirty hours in the crowded trucks, the men were quickly settled into company bivouac areas for the night.
On the following day, 19 April, orders were received to take up defensive positions east and west of the coast road through Molos. Before the officers had completely reconnoitred these positions, fresh orders were received to move to the foothills south of the eastern bridge over the Sperkhios River, the bridge about six miles south of Lamia. There the battalion was to take its place in the Thermopylae line, a name which recalled the gallant efforts of Leonidas and his Spartans when they were overwhelmed in that same sector by the Persians in 480 BC. In the 1941 Thermopylae positions the New Zealand Division, on the right, covered the coast road between the sea and the hills and 6 Australian Division, on the left, was responsible for the Brallos Pass and the main road to Athens which runs through that pass. In the New Zealand sector 6 Brigade was on the right watching the actual coast, 4 Brigade was in reserve in the rear, while 5 Brigade was forward and slightly to the left of 6 Brigade, with the role of covering the most likely crossings of the Sperkhios. In 5 Brigade, the 22nd was on the right, the 28th in the centre and the 23rd on the left, and therefore responsible for making contact with the Australians.
On 20 April the 23rd companies were disposed as follows: B Company was forward covering the bridge, A Company occupied a spur overlooking the bridge, while C and D Companies were disposed across the coast road and south-east of B Company. During the afternoon General Freyberg, Brigadier Hargest and Colonel Falconer examined the front and the disposition of the companies was improved. D Company was therefore moved to the high ground in left rear of B Company, while page 48 C Company was also ordered from its position on the flat up on to the higher ground while the Maoris took over their positions on the coast road. D Company moved in trucks in time to reach its new sector at dusk. The Colonel heard that the blowing of the bridges would sever D Company's road communications and therefore rushed a truckload of barbed wire and tools to this company.
C Company, most of HQ Company and Battalion Headquarters all had to move to their new positions on foot. Many men of these companies found the manhandling of their arms, equipment and general stores up the high steep slopes very exhausting—they were no longer as fit and fresh as they had been on the slopes of Olympus.
Lieutenant Dick Connolly from D Company and Second-Lieutenant Sandy Thomas from C Company made contact with the Australians of ? Battalion on their left. Thomas found that the Australians had no clear idea of the whereabouts of the New Zealanders and, indeed, had a 3-inch mortar trained on the gully where 23 Battalion's headquarters was situated. Connolly's description of being taken to the Australian brigade headquarters is typically entertaining: ‘It was up near the top of the high pass and we swapped pass words. Ours was “Oamaru-Timaru-Waipukurau” with reply “Hi Ha Blowflies”. This annoyed the Aussies as they had difficulty with the challenge part. Their Brigadier said “Our challenge is ‘Sydney’.” I said “Reply ‘Harbour Bridge’.” In horror they asked me how I knew it.’
Next day the Australians took over a large portion of D Company's position. This made the 23rd's sector more compact and enabled it to have a company in reserve for the first and only time in the Greek campaign. During the afternoon the Bren-carrier patrol, under Lieutenant Max Coop, shot up a German motor-cyclist and side-car reconnoitring the bridge and ground to the east of it: one German was killed and another taken prisoner. The latter said that the German air reconnaissance had reported the forward British area free of troops—an unexpected tribute to the battalion camouflage.
The activity in the air was more marked at this time than at any other during the battalion's stay in Greece. Enemy planes were over the area at various times: with machine-gun fire, the fighters and fighter-bombers would search out likely scrub and other cover and, on spotting sufficient movement to warrant it, page 49 would call up the two-engined bombers. On 20 April six Hurricanes unexpectedly arrived and shot down a bomber. ‘The hillside was a sea of tin hats thrown in the air and it echoed to loud cheering,’ reported Connolly. For the most part, however, the enemy planes were free to bomb and machine-gun as they pleased and the battalion's rear areas came in for marked attention.
Artillery duels went on for most of 21 April, mainly between German and Australian guns. D Company had a grandstand view of the enemy guns sited in trees and scrub in front of Lamia. The arrival of a section of Vickers guns meant that B Company men had to work till 1.30 a.m. carrying ammunition, wire and supplies up a steep cliff-like face to their positions. Some extremely hard work went into improving the defences generally as it was understood that a ‘last man, last round’ stand was to be made on this line.
At noon on 22 April, however, the Colonel was informed that the Greeks were about to capitulate, that continued resistance might simply increase the devastation of the country, and that the Imperial troops were again threatened with being outflanked. They were therefore to evacuate Greece. In the New Zealand Division, 5 Brigade was to withdraw first to the point of embarkation: it was to move along the coast to Ayia Konstandinos on the night of 22 - 23 April and to the beaches at Marathon on the following night.
Colonel Falconer was distressed to learn that the two forward platoons of B Company, Nos. 10 and 12, commanded respectively by Second-Lieutenants Fergus Begg and Alan McPhail,44 were to be left in position to defend the vital ground around the demolished bridge and to bluff the enemy into thinking that a determined stand, and not a withdrawal, was being made. Under the company second-in-command, Captain Jock Worsnop,45 this small detachment formed part of a 5 Brigade force, completed by two platoons from 22 Battalion and the Bren carriers of 22 and 28 Battalions, which had the responsibility of covering the bridge site and providing some link between 6 Brigade and the Australians until 9 p.m. on 24 April.page 50
Although the 23rd's B Echelon had been strafed and bombed during the afternoon, Lieutenant McGregor, the transport officer, had his trucks ready behind the forward positions by 8.30 p.m. on 22 April. At the same hour, the forward companies withdrew and began their march back to the trucks. Their movement was not detected by the enemy. The Colonel and B Company headquarters took a regretful farewell of Captain Worsnop and his detachment: few thought it likely they would ever see 10 and 12 Platoons again. The convoy made slow progress back through the 6 Brigade positions at Molos to Ayia Konstandinos. Dawn was breaking on 23 April before the battalion's last vehicle was safely concealed in the trees. The German ‘recce’ planes were over shortly afterwards and later their fighter-bombers took up their task of bombing and strafing all likely targets in the rear areas. The 23rd was either well concealed or singularly fortunate: no enemy aircraft troubled it that day.
In the late afternoon of 23 April, orders arrived from 5 Brigade for the withdrawal to be continued that night, with Marathon as the destination. The route was to be via Livanatais and Atalandi and the main central road to Athens, where an authority entitled ‘Movement Control’ was to give further directions. At 9 p.m., in 3-ton trucks of the Divisional Ammunition Company and its own remaining trucks, the 23rd set out on its 150-mile journey. As far as Livanatais, side-lights only were used but thereafter the headlights were turned full on. This enabled the trucks to travel at high speed and, as the Germans were doing practically no night flying at that time, the risks were not increased. This was the fastest road move made by the 23rd in Greece. ‘We travelled like the hammers of hell all night,’ says Private Johnston in his diary. In places the road wound up and down steep hills and over many dangerous sections, and yet speed was essential if vehicles were to be off the roads before sunrise. The sight of miles and miles of vehicles with headlights blazing moving round the side of the mountains was one to be remembered. Only one vehicle belonging to the battalion was lost over a bank. It carried some 3-inch mortars which had to be abandoned with the truck.
The 5 Brigade convoy reached Athens just before dawn. Precious time was spent in discovering which beach was to be used by the different units. Eventually, some definite ruling was obtained and the 23rd moved down the Athens-Marathon road to its place of hiding among some pine trees. Every page break page 51 vehicle was again hidden before ‘Egbert’ and the other ‘recce’ planes came over. The day was spent resting in concealment. ‘Am beginning to feel a bit weary of things,’ wrote the normally cheerful Johnston in his diary.
At 9 p.m., 24 April, the 23rd embussed again and moved another 20 miles to an assembly area whence it was to march to D Beach, Porto Rafti. Some vehicles had been destroyed at Marathon and the remainder were either left with sumps drained and engines running or were sabotaged with hammer and hacksaw. Some confusion prevailed as contradictory orders were passed along in the dark, but eventually the troops marched to the correct beach, waded into the sea, boarded the barges and were embarked on the Glengyle, the Calcutta or, in a few cases, the Phoebe. Some embarkation officers, strictly obeying an instruction that no heavy equipment was to be embarked, ordered picks and shovels and heavier weapons to be dumped. Some tools were dropped but all Bren guns and other weapons were taken. The ‘scramble nets’ and ladders enabled the men to climb the steep sides of the ships without unnecessary delay.
The battalion completed embarkation soon after 2 a.m. on 25 April. ‘Thank God we have a Navy!’ This expressed the feelings of the great majority as they got on board. ‘We were greeted with the most wonderful kindness and the most wonderful cups of cocoa,’ says R. D. Minson of A Company. As around 3 a.m. the ships weighed anchor for Crete, those nearest him heard Major Thomason remark: ‘To think that just twenty-six years ago today, I was sailing the opposite way!’ It was Anzac Day and, almost to the hour, the anniversary of the original Anzac landing at Gallipoli.
On the Glengyle Bren guns had to be mounted in an antiaircraft role. ‘The alacrity with which our fellows volunteered for this job was an inspiration,’ wrote Colonel Falconer at the time. Low cloud and some fog, combined with the fire of the various guns, prevented the enemy bombers from doing any serious damage to the ships in which the battalion made the crossing to Crete. Indeed, two German bombers were shot down, much to the delight of those who saw them fall. In the late afternoon, the 23rd arrived safely at Suda Bay in Crete. For it the Greek campaign was over.
In the meantime, the rearguard party under Captain Worsnop had passed under the command of 6 Brigade. Platoon disposi- page 52 tions were altered and improved. No. 10 occupied the more important forward positions previously held by A Company, while 12 Platoon made some changes to ensure that the vital ground covered by B Company was still adequately safeguarded. The night of 22-23 April passed quietly. The following morning was reasonably quiet: several enemy fighter-bombers appeared but concentrated on gun positions; the rival artilleries shelled vehicles or other indications of activity.
About 4.30 p.m., however, enemy machine guns opened fire on the B Company positions nearest to the river. Under cover of this fire a party of eighteen Germans dashed up to the bridge site on motor-cycles and attempted to cross the river. Captain Worsnop immediately instructed Second-Lieutenant McPhail to take a patrol out on the right flank to cut off the Germans who crossed the river. He himself dashed off to get Second-Lieutenant Begg to do the same on the left flank, but he had not gone very far when he saw McPhail in trouble under heavy machine-gun fire. He helped him by getting a 10 Platoon Bren, sited on the bluff due south of the bridge, to shoot up the principal enemy machine-gun post. This was done successfully and McPhail was able to proceed, although he was unable to get into his own section posts which remained under fire.
McPhail now proceeded to carry out the task of the patrol alone. Armed with a tommy gun, he moved beyond the wire and between the road and the river until he was able to attack the enemy from a flank. Ten more of the enemy were just about to cross the river when McPhail opened fire: two Germans were hit and fell into the river, the others withdrew. Taking up a covered position from which he could bring aimed fire on to the blown bridge, McPhail remained there until he had only one magazine left. His fire deterred the enemy from further attempts to cross. Returning to his platoon at approximately 8.30 p.m., he ran into two of the enemy who had crossed the bridge when the first attempt was made. He shot one of these but the other escaped. So successful were his attempts to discourage the enemy from penetrating into a sector held by the merest handful of New Zealanders that the Germans did not renew their attempts to cross the river until 10 a.m. next day.
When McPhail got back to his platoon, he found that orders to withdraw at nine o'clock that night had been received. Although their area was shelled rather heavily after the machinegunning ceased, the two platoons of B Company withdrew successfully and without casualties. Withdrawal would certainly page 53 have been rendered difficult, if not impossible, if the enemy had managed to get a strong foothold south of the river. Nos. 10 and 12 Platoons reached Molos in the early hours of 24 April. The trucks which were to have carried them to rejoin 5 Brigade did not arrive, and consequently they had to wait and travel out with 6 Brigade, which left this area about 10 p.m. At first they followed the same route as the rest of the battalion to the south, but instead of going through Athens to the beaches to the east, they crossed the Corinth Canal and moved by stages to Monemvasia, where they embarked on HMS Hotspur on the night of 28-29 April. As 6 Brigade did not disembark in Crete, 10 and 12 Platoons continued their voyage, after transfer to the Comliebank in Suda Bay, to Port Said.
Two other parties of the 23rd must also be mentioned here. The 1st Reinforcements had trained with the 23rd in New Zealand, England and Egypt. Captains Scoular46 and Caldwell,47 Lieutenants Simmonds,48 Grant,49 McKinlay,50 Deans51 and A. W. Moodie represented the 23rd in the reinforcement camp at Voula. Of these, McKinlay and Deans did guard duty at the Hasani aerodrome before being evacuated in the night of 26–27 April. Captain Caldwell and Lieutenant Simmonds participated in the fighting at Kalamata on the night of 28–29 April. Most other ranks in the 1st Reinforcements had been absorbed into the battalion before it left Egypt, but a number who had been sent back when sick or who had been separated from the unit for some other reason were in the New Zealand Composite Battalion at Kalamata. Unfortunately, like the officers named, they were taken prisoner when the plans for evacuation broke down.
Major Kelly, Lieutenant Bassett, Lance-Corporal Bowers,52 Privates C. Pankhurst and Ludke53 preceded the main body of page 54 the 23rd to Athens and were given special duties in embarking troops from C Beach at Rafina. They did not rejoin the unit till 29 April, by which time they had been placed on the ‘not accounted for’ list. They were among the last to embark from their beach and narrowly escaped capture.
The 23rd had not been committed to any attack in Greece nor had it been attacked in force. Its casualties were therefore moderately light: 9 were killed or died of wounds, 8 were wounded, and 36 (6 of whom had first been wounded) were prisoners. The battalion remained a well-organised fighting force.
Its men now had a better understanding than before of what war meant. What had previously been vaguely understood was now a reality and a matter of poignant regret. ‘As we left this beautiful country, we felt like traitors to think we were leaving these good people to the scant mercy of the Huns,’ wrote one private.
Their first campaign had been short but trying. They had at times been so exhausted that they had needed all their stamina to carry on under the difficulties, but they had proved themselves to one another and the unit was the better for its experience of action: officers trusted men and men trusted their officers as they would never have done in years of training. Some practical lessons had been learned, especially on concealment and camouflage and on the way to deal with enemy infantry. Most men also took pride in having participated in the battalion's first actions and in knowing that, despite being completely outnumbered and lacking adequate air support, they had never been forced from a position before the time ordered for withdrawal. They knew, too, that despite difficult night withdrawals and confused convoy moves, the battalion had never been seriously disorganised but had continued, as it had begun, a compact fighting unit. As with most other units, officers and men of the 23rd held that man for man they were superior to the Germans and that, supported in the air and on the ground with machines comparable in quality and quantity with those used by the Germans, they could go on to win. When the 23rd left Greece, there was nothing wrong with the unit that a short period of rest and some good food could not remedy. The spirit to continue the fight was strong.
The unit's official war diary, as written by Lieutenant Bassett, summarised the battalion's experiences in Greece with apt brevity. ‘In Greece we lived amongst the gods at Olympos, held the Pass at Thermopylae and ran for Marathon.’
8 2 Lt N. Trewby, DCM; Dunedin; born NZ 18 Sep 1901; insurance manager.
9 The food and clothing thus destroyed would have been of little use to the well equipped Germans and might well have been left for the Greeks.
29 The fortunes of 13 Platoon on Mount Olympus, as seen through the eyes of a novelist who was himself the platoon commander, are fully described in Chapters 2 and 3 of Davin's novel For the Rest of Our Lives. Practically all the characters are easily recognised, although names are changed, for example, ‘Congo’ Smith becomes ‘Jungle Jones’.
30 Lt-Col W. B. Thomas, DSO, MC and bar, m.i.d., Silver Star (US); London; born Nelson, 29 Jun 1918; bank officer; CO 23 Bn Jun-Aug 1944, Oct 1944-May 1945; 22 Bn (Japan) Oct 1945-Nov 1946; wounded and p.w. 25 May 1941; escaped Nov 1941; returned to unit May 1942; twice wounded; Hampshire Regt, 1947-.
34 Gebirgsjager in Griechenland und auf Kreta gives a brief account of this effort from the German standpoint.
35 The prevailing conviction that the Germans were using all kinds of tricks of deception is reflected in the 23rd's official unit war diary for 17 April: ‘Enemy party … presumably Alpine troops … wearing battledress and some N.Z. patches, some shouting in English…. When Sgt. Mulhern killed by S.M.G. by enemy in N.Z. battledress’. Actually Mulhern was not killed and he had every opportunity for observing the enemy. He subsequently wrote to the author: ‘The enemy were not wearing battledress…. They were Austrian Gebirgsjager and wore the usual German uniform, with the edelweiss flower on their side-caps when they were not wearing helmets.’
45 Lt-Col J. A. Worsnop, MBE; born Makotuku, 31 Jan 1909; Regular soldier; 1 Army Tk Bn 1942-43; CO Div Cav, Japan, 1946; wounded 22 Jul 1944; Area Officer, Christchurch; died Christchurch, 24 Jul 1957.