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Crete

By Barge

By Barge

On the day of the surrender New Zealand, Australian, and British soldiers found an abandoned landing barge near Sfakia which they put out of sight in a sea cavern. They sailed the barge out of the cavern on the night of 1 June; the Germans nearby opened fire but no one was hit. An Australian, Private Harry Richards, was skipper and a New Zealander, Private A. H. Taylor (HQ NZ Div), was engineer. The following morning the barge was damaged when it ran ashore on Gavdhos Island but the damage was soon repaired. Richards appealed for volunteers to stay ashore and lighten the load and ten men stood aside.

When the petrol gave out the men put up a jury mast and sail. The wind dropped and the boat drifted. The food ration was cut down to a small drink of cocoa for breakfast, and even this was soon finished. The men became weak; nerves were on edge and outbursts of unreasoning temper added to their misery. Planes flew over but the soldiers dared not wave in case they were the enemy. On 8 June they saw land immediately to the south. The barge drifted, maddeningly slowly, on to a rocky beach near Sidi Barrani. The escapers stepped ashore right in the middle of a British camp and were given a great welcome.

About sixty were on the barge. The only other known New Zealanders were Drivers J. Chappell and A. G. Noonan (both ASC attached 5 Fd Amb).

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One hundred and thirty-seven men, mostly Marines under Major R. Garrett, RM, sailed an abandoned landing barge from Crete to Sidi Barrani. Two miles out on the first day, 1 June, they picked up a New Zealander, without any clothes, paddling along on a large plank.

This man was Private W. A. Hancox of 1 General Hospital. He and three other New Zealanders had missed the final embarkation by minutes. The following morning they saw a rowing boat drifting two miles off shore. Hancox stripped off and started swimming towards it but, three-quarters of the way out, saw the boat taken by other soldiers. It was then the barge picked him up; once on it, he could not go back to his friends on the shore.

Seven miles out the men saw bombers attacking the evacuation beach. Air attacks were dreaded but none came; the morning they set out another barge had been bombed and machine-gunned. Fuel ran out and blankets were rigged as sails; often the men had to jump into the water and push the nose of the heavy barge around so that the sails could catch the breeze. Food was rationed to half a tobacco tin of water and a teaspoonful of bully beef a day. During the voyage a British soldier died of exhaustion and a Palestinian committed suicide. On 9 June the barge drifted ashore 15 miles west of Sidi Barrani.

Private Hancox is the only New Zealander known by name to have been in this party. He said there were about eight others. A painting by Peter McIntyre, 2 NZEF Official Artist, illustrates this incident.