As far as is known the largest number of New Zealanders to come off Crete at one time was in the submarine Torbay on 20 August 1941. Sixty two New Zealanders were in the party of 125. A New Zealander who escaped on the Torbay wrote the following account of his final days on the island:
‘Eventually, through the Greeks, we learned of the plan to evacuate as many as possible per submarine. For a while we remained in one place while others joined until there were about 22 in the group. On the night of the 18th August the party was led helter skelter to the rendezvous. The day of the 19th was one of many rumours and anxiety as to when the submarine would arrive. In the early hours of the morning we went aboard the Torbay. Just before dawn the submarine submerged out from the coast and remained under water till night. It was a hard day and with so many extra on board, the atmosphere by evening was very sticky and everyone was very weak and limp. The remainder came on board that night. After a good surface crossing we arrived at Alexandria on the 22nd August 1941.’
Sixty-seven soldiers were waiting for the submarine Thrasher when it appeared off Crete on 28 July 1941. A lifeline through the heavy seas helped the men, and when all were on board the submarine turned around for Alexandria, arriving there on 31 July. Three New Zealanders, Sergeant F. Davis and Corporal S. B. Onyon (18 Bn), and Gunner J. Reid (5 Fd Regt), were in the party. Reid was killed in action in the Western Desert on 1 December 1941.
Early in June 1942 some New Zealanders hiding in a Cretan village were astonished to see four heavily armed British soldiers walking along the street. They soon found out that they were commandos landed on a patrol from a Greek submarine. On 15 June they and other soldiers were taken on board the submarine (Papanicolas) and four days later were safe in Alexandria.
‘I got to hear of a boat,’ writes Driver J. F. Kerr (ASC), ‘and the five of us in the party managed to get enough money to buy it. One fine evening, loaded with water and provisions, we set sail with a good following wind. We were well on our way to Gavdhos Island when the sea became page 499 very choppy, and as luck would have it a plank gave way in the boat. As Gavdhos was a fortified island I decided it was best to start and row back to Crete. There was a bit of panicking about throwing everything overboard. Only the Australian and I could row—we were used to the sea— and it was over to us to put a stop to all this panic. After many hours of hard rowing, including bailing, we got ourselves back to Crete and while returning the boat to the owner we narrowly missed a patrol boat.
‘From here there were only four in the party and we made our way westward to Vauta. After spending many days in this area a Greek known to us as Manos told us he knew where there was a transmitter and receiver. This outfit was carried to an unpopulated hilltop on one of the darkest nights, myself and Ken Payne [Gunner K. J. Payne, 5 Fd Regt] being the only ones allowed to go with it. We weren't even allowed to see it prior to leaving. On arriving at the hilltop I found that it was a German set and, if the batteries had been up, was only capable at the most of sending signals about seventy-five miles.
‘We were told about the boats smuggling supplies from the Greek mainland to Crete. Ken Payne and the two Australians were very keen to try their luck on the mainland either by getting a boat or travelling around and down through Turkey. The scheme did not appeal to me but I offered to go and see them off. On arriving at the place we found hundreds of civilians and soldiers waiting for boats, so we climbed up on the ridge to see what was on the other side. Below in a bay we could see at least two boats and it was here that I said goodbye to the three before they left for Greece.
‘I returned back in stages to Vauta and on arriving I was, unbeknown to me, politely held prisoner by the Cretans as they thought I was a German spy and had handed over Ken Payne and the two Australians to the German authorities. It was arranged for a New Zealand signaller to sit concealed on a track while I passed by with some Cretans. If he knew me he was to break cover and shake hands; if not, he was to stay where he was. I found out later that all of Crete knew of this little scheme except myself.
‘As it was coming winter I made this area a sort of headquarters and spent my time looking around the coast and meeting other New Zealanders. All these I knew quite well but as the Germans were making it so hard for us, everyone was called by a Greek name. At this time I met Tom Moir who told me that Dudley Perkins was at another village very sick with yellow jaundice. I decided to go and see him and we became close friends as he got better. We collected some money to buy a boat. It was gladly given by the Cretans and came to about 380,000 drachmae. A few days after Tom Moir's party had left Crete, we learnt that a submarine [Papanicolas] had landed some commandos and we set off to find it, which we did and we were taken to Egypt.’