After being captured in Crete and escaping from Kokkinia Prison near Athens, Lieutenants R. B. Sinclair (22 Bn) and Roy Farran (3 Hussars) were given berths on a caique bound for Alexandria with ten Greeks and three other soldiers. It was a small diesel vessel about thirty feet long with no mast. The Greek skipper had four days' fuel, just enough to reach Alexandria if everything went well. The chart was a school atlas and their only provisions a sack of crusts and a few onions.
The second night out the relief man at the tiller took the boat well away from its planned course, a serious error when there was so little fuel. Then it was found that someone on shore had stolen three full tins. The course was corrected and on the fourth morning they pulled into an island for fresh water. The same night, while they were going through the straits between Crete and Rhodes, a sudden storm blew up and for a day and a half the tiny craft battled against the mountainous waves. Thanks to the skill of the skipper the boat rode out the storm. All the fuel had gone, the food also and nearly all the water, which was now rationed to one third of a jam tin a man each day. Makeshift sails were erected but were not much help. Paddling with planks was tried but the men were far too weak. On the seventh day the water gave out. A British seaplane dived over the caique and flew away; everyone was happy, but no rescuing boat came.
By the ninth day the situation was desperate. The men could hardly move, and to speak, at best a croak, was agony. Spirits picked up when the engine was converted to distil fresh water from sea water, bits of wood and oily rags being used for fuel. In an hour enough water dripped through for each to have three mouthfuls. At night they heard ships' engines and lit flares. Three British destroyers approached; the last one edged alongside, and sailors came aboard and carried the men up the gangway. They reached Alexandria on 10 September 1941. Sinclair was mentioned in despatches.page 493
After capture in Crete, escape in Greece and sundry adventures, Second-Lieutenants J. W. C. Craig (22 Bn) and E. F. Cooper (LAD attached 5 Fd Regt) and Corporal F. B. Haycock (22 Bn) obtained an unauthorised passage in a caique which had been licensed by the Germans to carry 45 liberated Cretan prisoners to their homes in Crete. Once the skipper had cleared the port of Piraeus (on 26 October 1941) with the approved passengers, he pulled into the bay to pick up the others. The course went past the control point on Chios Island and on to Antiparos, where ships had to stop for examination. The skipper slipped around the point and landed his secret passengers at the house of his fiancée's family. In four days the check was over, the contraband passengers were picked up and finally the boat reached Candia Bay, where the owner's family lived. The shipping check was easily circumvented once more.
The owner, Gramatakikis, after changing the crew and picking up some new passengers—there were now three New Zealanders, three Englishmen, and nine Greeks on board—sent the boat away in the early hours of one morning on its four and a half days' voyage to Alexandria. Not far out, the engine broke down and, when fixed, went only on quarter power. Food, water, and fuel were very low.
By evening on 7 November Alexandria was in sight, and soon they were at the harbour's entrance after extricating themselves from a minefield. At the port control ship they reported who they were and where they came from, but they were rebuffed by a voice, ‘Oh, you will have to wait a while as we have other shipping to attend to.’ Cooper tells what happened then: ‘We were depressed and the comments were terse. However, the Navy arrived—it looked like the lot of it—led by HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, then en route to Singapore, followed by cruisers and destroyers. Bert Haycock semaphored the leading ship, using our singlets as flags, and explained that we were prisoners escaping from Greece. The signal came back, “Welcome”. We asked permission to follow the Navy through the boom into the port; again the signal was “Welcome”. We pulled into line astern of the Prince of Wales and ahead of the Repulse and with this imposing escort chugged into Alexandria harbour.’
Craig, who later joined Military Intelligence and went on special service operations in Greece and Italy, was awarded the MC and later won a bar to it. Cooper and Haycock were mentioned in despatches.
Sergeant J. A. Redpath (19 A Tps Coy), after several vain efforts to get a boat in Crete, led a party over to Greece where he thought he would have a better chance of escape. The party landed in Greece on 13 August 1941 near a lighthouse, which unknown to them was occupied by Italians. Fortunately, the enemy opened fire too soon at long range and the escapers were able to take to the hills safely.
Redpath bargained with a Greek for a caique, but the arrival of Italian troops scared the owner, already under suspicion, so much that he refused to have anything to do with the party. After interminable haggling with another boat owner and some forceful persuasion another boat was obtained. Just before the date arranged for departure the owner tried to inform on them but friends came to Redpath's help.page 494
Three days later, on 9 October, the party stole a caique and put to sea in it. The voyage was well planned and conducted. The men were capable, resolute and used to hard conditions, and Redpath was a good leader. On the morning of 11 October two British planes came in low and each dropped a bomb within twenty feet of the boat. Luckily neither bomb exploded. Two days later a German plane bombed and machine-gunned the boat until it ran out of ammunition. The plane came back, but a sandstorm off the land hid the caique completely.
When the North African coast was reached, Redpath went ashore in a dinghy to obtain diesel fuel. The caique berthed at Mersa Matruh and from there Redpath took it along the coast to Alexandria. There were ten Australians, one Englishman, and seven New Zealanders in this party. Besides Redpath, the New Zealanders were Sergeants R. R. Witting (19 A Tps Coy), A. H. Empson and W. H. Bristow (both 18 Bn), Gunner G. E. Voyce (5 Fd Regt), Driver R. S. Barrow (Div Amn Coy), and Private T. Shearer (20 Bn). Redpath and Empson went back to Greece on special service. Redpath was awarded the DCM and later the MM. Empson, who was awarded the MM, died of sickness in Greece in 1946.