Appendix I — ‘Crete News’
From the first the troops on Crete were cut off from all the regular sources of information about events in the outer world. There were no newspapers, wirelesses were very few and, in any case, the BBC was difficult to get. Civilian sets found it easier to get German stations and the circumstances were ideal for Lord Haw-Haw's sardonic malice. Armies are at all times forcing-houses for rumour and the Greeks are adept at its propagation. Where facts are few and imaginations active the truth is at a disadvantage.
General Freyberg quickly realised that rumours, defeatist or wildly optimistic, were rife and dangerous. The best counter-attack, he decided, was a troops' newspaper. With the New Zealand Division was Second-Lieutenant G. S. Cox, an experienced journalist in civil life who had already become famous before the war as a foreign correspondent for leading London dailies. General Freyberg summoned him and gave him his orders. He was to produce a paper as close as possible in format and content to the newspapers with which the troops were familiar in peacetime and which they associated with facts and the respect for facts. The first number was to appear as soon as might be, preferably on Monday, 12 May. It was already Wednesday, 7 May, when the interview took place.
By ransacking Canea Cox found a Greek journalist, one Georges Zamaryas, who had a case of French type. It had been in Athens, where the French had intended to start a French propaganda newspaper, and Georges had brought it with him to Crete when evacuation took place. The next step was to find a press, paper and compositors. The proprietor of the Canea evening newspaper agreed to let Cox use his presses by night. Paper was promised by Prince Peter, then liaison officer between the Greek and British forces. And the Greek commanding officer promised the services of a Greek compositor, one Alexei, who was then with the Greek forces. Two New Zealand soldiers, Privates Barry Michael and A. Membry, who had been reporters in civil life, were next acquired and with Lieutenant Cox formed the editorial staff. And a third New Zealander, Private Alec Taylor, who had been a compositor and printer, rounded off the team.
An editorial office was established in a room at ‘Fernleaf House’, the HQ of more secret activities. The printing shop was a cellar-basement, staffed by an overworked Greek called Niko and two girls. None of the three spoke English. All the type had to be set up by hand and the presses operated by treadle.
The editorial office acquired a wireless and it was decided to rely on the BBC for news. The paper would be a single sheet, double-sided. A woodblock was cut for the title The Crete News. And an English schoolmaster page 466 from Chios, Mr. Graham, was brought in to teach the New Zealanders the rudiments of Greek.
On Tuesday, 13 May, the first issue was ready for press. It was to appear next day, only two days behind General Freyberg's original schedule. But now troubles began. The printing shop was found to be padlocked and the proprietor had departed with the key for an unknown destination. Apparently he had become jealous of the new eminence of Georges Zamaryas. Cox got some clues to his whereabouts, commandeered a truck, and located him in a Karatsos café. Here Zamaryas harangued, threatened, and cajoled until the key was produced. With it the truck returned to Canea only to face the task of finding Alexei who had also disappeared. He was soon run to earth in the Greek barracks and shanghaied back to the printing shop.
All hands now turned to. It soon appeared that there was a deficiency of the letter ‘w’. The problem was solved by using the Greek letter omega. By eight o'clock that night paged proofs were ready for correction by flashlight held over the type. This laborious process took two and a half hours. The paper was then ready for machining. The editorial staff took it to the presses and then went off to eat to the accompaniment of an air raid.
They returned to find only six copies printed and no printer. The raid had sent him to the hills and he did not return. Niko and the editors set to work printing the paper themselves. By two o'clock next morning it was ready for distribution.
For the second number three more New Zealanders—Privates I. Bryce, A. Brunton and J. Gould—were borrowed from 18 Battalion. The paper appeared on 19 May. By this time bombing raids were incessant. The invasion was obviously not very far away.
On 20 May it began. Lieutenant Cox decided further issues were impossible, took up duties with the Intelligence staff at Creforce HQ, and attached his men to the Defence Platoon. There was too much happening that day for anyone to think about newspapers.
But on 21 May the situation round Canea had become quiet and the journalists began to get bored. Two of them went back to their unit and the rest came to Cox to point out that they would be more usefully occupied in producing the paper than in doing nothing. He himself was unable to promise much help because there was much to be done at Creforce, but he agreed to the resumption of the paper. A staff of four New Zealanders went to work.
For this issue the BBC was not available. But the news of the world was now in ‘their own backyard’, and the destruction of the invasion fleet on the night of 21 May won the headlines of the third issue when it appeared on 22 May. Two notices which took the place of editorials may be quoted:
the eyes of the world are on us
The battle of Crete is being watched with the greatest possible interest by the outside world. Messages from Egypt yesterday indicated that the page 467 eyes of Great Britain, America and the whole Empire were fixed on our fighting. News of the invasion was flashed home to newspapers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom at once.
There is every indication that the Germans will press home the attack today but with the situation as solidly in hand as it was last night we can feel confident of the result. We cannot give further detail for obvious security reasons. Conditions in Canea, Retimo and Heraklion are normal.
The blunt fact is that by our hard fighting yesterday we knocked their first plan askew. We can do the same again to their second and any other they like to produce.
Crete News will continue publishing throughout the Blitz as long as the printing press remains undamaged. We cannot guarantee as prompt delivery as in earlier times. We print no news from the outside world because all radios were being used yesterday for the battle. Besides for the present in the outside world, the Battle for Crete is the news.
This number got to the front line by liaison officers, and beyond the front line—Lieutenant Cox was to find copies later in the pockets of enemy prisoners. The next number was planned for Saturday, 24 May. This was the day the enemy aircraft set about the methodical obliteration of Canea. By three o'clock in the afternoon the town was in flames. The composing room, fortunately, had by now been shifted into a cave. But there were worries enough. In the later afternoon when Cox made his way there through blazing streets he found Georges in a state of great anxiety. The paper shed had been hit. A truck was needed to rescue the paper. This problem dealt with, Cox went to his compositors.
The cave was full of sheltering civilians. The bombs kept raining down. But the compositors, including the two Greek girls, went calmly on, although they were at the open end of the cave and in considerable danger. By five o'clock they had the paper set up and the tray containing the type was carried through the streets to the presses. Cox then went back to his duties at Creforce.
Not long afterwards he learnt that Creforce was to move that night to Suda Bay. He set off to find his editorial staff and warn them. There were fires everywhere flaming through the dark. The street in which the presses were was burning from end to end and he could not reach them. There was nothing for it but to turn back. Both men and paper seemed lost.
Half an hour later his men arrived at Creforce. With them were 600 copies of the fourth and final issue. After these had been printed off the building was well alight; and as they left a bomb secured a direct hit on one of the presses. These 600 copies—except for two which are the only copies known to have survived—had to be dumped in the withdrawal when the truck that carried them had to be destroyed.