4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies
CHAPTER 3 — Greece
IT seemed the desert was saying goodbye to the men who knew it so well, a goodbye harsh with the violence of element-torn wadis and escarpments. The dust-storm swirled over Alexandria, blotting out the sun and bringing shipping to a standstill. Rough hands shielded tanned faces from wind-whipped particles of sand; the outlines of transports and ships of war faded and were lost. The storm, its strength displayed, slackened; the convoy crept to sea.
And now to the eyes once more the caress of green hills and far mountains, the gentle shades of green and blue beneath a kindly sun. ‘It could be home. It could be home.’
From the decks and holds of the Port Halifax truck after truck swung up and away and on to the dock at Piraeus. Vehicles and drivers of 4 RMT Company were landing to join the 2 NZEF's first stand against the enemy, the old foe, the German, now massing within Bulgaria for assault upon a sorely pressed Greece. The dock had to be cleared quickly, for further convoys were steaming towards the coast, bringing British aid under the Lustre Force plan.
Without delay, engines started up, vehicles moved into line, and the convoy, echoing and re-echoing through the cobbled streets of the grimy port, passed over a gentle hill to a joyful welcome in the great white city of Athens spread beneath the Parthenon. Crying and waving, the citizens pelted the moving vehicles with flowers, cigarettes, and sweets: a hero's welcome. Drivers, at first a bit puzzled at gestures, soon realised that the Greek way of waving goodbye is the opposite to ours, as though they were beckoning the men to come back again. Six miles from Athens, beneath the scented pines of Kifisia, the convoy dispersed and drivers prepared for the first evening in Greece. Grateful women begged to help by washing, ironing, and mending clothes. Children came forward to make friends and to share many a meal. Greeks, perturbed at New Zea- page 47 landers sampling wine without food, insisted on bringing bread and a little meat, although the war against the Italian invaders had clipped their rations cruelly. More aloof, a dapper civilian strolled through the lines, two dachshunds frisking behind him —a fantastic, almost contemptuous touch. No restrictions curbed the curiosity of the German ambassador — or his military attaché and staff.
Sleep was sound that night, the scent of the trees and the wild thyme seeping deep into many a memory.
Within four or five days the advance party left to collect the rest of the company, arriving on 21 March in HMS Fiona, a small merchantman from the Indian coast. One gun mounted at the stern had been fired twice, and each time the pumps had had to be manned until a rivetting job was done. Each time all the crockery had to be replaced.
‘Soldiers crowded everywhere, not much room to sleep, about two feet by four feet of space,’ wrote Driver Neale Weastell1 in his diary on the trip. ‘Had a few games of cards. Weather cold, feed not very plentiful.’
To keep the landing army properly fed, supplied, and armed, two enormous dumps had been made, one at the Athens racecourse, the other at Larisa, about 150 miles north by road and rail. To bring the supplies closer to the fighting positions, field supply depots had to be made. These depots, containing stores of food, oil, petrol, disinfectants, and medical comforts, plus ammunition nearby, were set at Livadhion, Servia, and Kozani—all beyond Larisa. From these depots branched handy field dumps at Katerini, Veroia, Edhessa and Amindaion. The first three field dumps were to hold 12,000, 36,000 and 24,000 rations each. Amindaion would be stocked when the others were filled.
RMT's job, apart from carrying troops when needed, was to help the ASC fill and keep full these dumps and depots. And Greece's roads were certainly poor, and the over-burdened railways not much better.
For a week the company worked around Athens, moving troops and supplies as they arrived. Arthur Pope2 found a full page 48 and promising looking barrel, whipped it back to camp, broached the keg before expectant comrades, and found it contained olive oil. Leave parties explored the blacked-out city, wandered awed or bored through the classical ruins, and brightened up in the thriving wineshops and cafés, echoing to the song hits of the day, ‘Oh what a Surprise for the Duce’ and ‘Woodpecker Song’. One punishing drink was ouzo. After a night on this, horrible indeed were Kifisia's green and woolly caterpillars hooking on to one another and forming long, mysterious ‘snakes’. That—and the mating of tortoises—caused much anxiety.
From the fields peasants looked up, smiling and waving, when the company, loaded with rations and petrol, left in convoy for Larisa on 28 March. At even the smallest village happy Greeks, giving the ‘thumbs up’ sign, pressed rosebuds and orange blossoms on the grinning drivers, and handed out wine and cheese and yet more garlands and olive twigs. Stan Shaw, 3 given a little Greek cross, tied it on to his braces, where it stayed until the day of invasion in Crete. During halts—and there were many, for ‘the convoy discipline was frankly terrible’ —tinned food was bartered for eggs, bread, wine, and money. Steve Tripp traded away a tin of axle grease. Just as the Greek reappeared, breathless and furious, the convoy moved off again in the nick of time.
‘We were put behind the artillery, and this was the worst convoy we were ever in,’ noted Driver Wan.4 ‘Sometimes we only did a chain without stopping; if we were lucky we might make 100 yards! Occasionally we belted along flat out. Some time in the early part of the night we stopped on a road going through a swamp, and we couldn't talk for the deafening noise made by thousands of frogs.’
‘The most striking things in the country were the amount of women toiling in the fields, and the primitive way they worked,’ wrote Driver Cumming.5 ‘In most places there was page 49 no ploughing. Instead a line of women would be swinging large three-cornered hoes, about the size of a spade, breaking up the ground to a depth of six to eight inches. In the “wealthier” farms a wooden plough was used, pulled by a mule or—more often—a donkey. Mules had long since been commandeered by the Army. We saw sheep and goats being milked within a circle of reeds and brushwood. Head and body are passed through the milker's legs, and the animals are milked through their own hind-legs. The milk is poured into a skin, and taken away to become either curd or cheese.’
After an overnight break near Lamia the convoy moved north in fits and starts to Nikaia, a small village just outside Larisa, where storks, birds of good luck, made welcome nests on the roofs. Greetings on the way were as friendly as ever, and the tossing of flowers and greenery continued. But by now some began to regret the enthusiasm; being clocked on the head by a substantial bunch of flowers or a chestnut bough when travelling at 30 miles an hour was no joke. At Nikaia Major Woods set up Company Headquarters and Workshops. A typical Greek peasant village, Nikaia was not much more than an inn, a few shops selling wine and groceries, and some white and grey stone houses of farmers who worked the surrounding country. A peaceful spot where a few geese or turkeys wandered about, always watched carefully by farmers or their children. When a turkey ended up in a foreign pot, most times it had been haggled over and paid for. War against the Italians had left the humble Greeks with little to offer, yet they made friends, gladly sharing cups of strong coffee with visiting drivers. Apart from this, entertainment was nil, except when a gipsy band appeared with a dancing bear, a sorrowful, shaggy beast blinking behind a stout muzzle.
With the company ready for field service, on the morning of 30 March a convoy of 100 trucks set out with full loads for the field supply depots sprouting near Servia and Kozani, about 65 miles away. Towards the cold and rugged north beyond the Thessaly Plain they drove, passing through Tirnavos and over the rolling hill country to Elasson, where Mount Olympus, rising beyond 9500 feet, stood sharply outlined in a covering of snow. Here was an even more abrupt change from driving page 50 over the trackless desert. Past Elasson, along rocky hills and valleys spattered with scrub, slippery roads twisted and looped for ten miles up the precipitous Servia Pass and down to the township of Servia.
By the roadside gangs of women and children attempted to keep the surface repaired and in good condition. The roads, metalled and narrow, bustling with army transport, were little better than New Zealand back-country roads, and the three-tonners needed steady hands and sharp eyes to guide them around hairpin bends and through the heavy traffic. Servia reached, the run through to Kozani was comfortable enough, and sections returned to Nikaia to move further supplies piling up from trains and trucks at Larisa. While the operating sections worked forward from Nikaia, Headquarters and Workshops stayed put. Repairs were mostly the result of accidents or war damage rather than general wear and tear, for more than half of the trucks were brand new. There was the inevitable stream of broken springs—not as bad as in the Desert—and these were handled by the section's three blacksmiths under Lance-Corporal Ruffel,6 a shrewd springsmith who, without any of the special tempering oils, made do with only old engine oil.
On the last day of March a casually handled pistol killed Driver ‘Aussie’ Osborne,7 the first divisional casualty in Greece. It was a tragic coincidence, for his namesake Driver G. R. Osborn was the first 2 NZEF soldier to die from thermosbomb wounds near Matruh the previous September Furthermore, Aussie (i.e., not G. R. Osborn) had been officially reported dead after the thermos-bomb raid, and even his base kit had been sent home. He was buried with full military honours in the Greek cemetery at Larisa, Padre Jamieson holding a simple service. Following the tragedy, Captain Broberg and Staff-Sergeant Hoare8 swooped on Workshops men when they were busily digging slit trenches and announced page 51 a thorough search of trucks and kits while the section remained on parade. A startling amount of prohibited stuff was found, including Italian hand grenades, some fully charged, automatic pistols, and cameras. Ces Weston's 9 private arsenal of 17 grenades was brought to light, not all of them entirely harmless. Asked why he had collected them, Ces replied that his many nephews and nieces in New Zealand might have liked them for souvenirs.
For a week the three-tonners were on the move day and night, shifting hundreds of tons of rations, ammunition, barbed wire, explosives, and petrol from Larisa to the field depots and dumps growing up behind the infantry and the gunners, who were wasting no time in digging in and making ready for the assault. The roads up through the mountains about Servia and Kozani were bad enough by day; by night they demanded a driver's utmost skill. No lights at all, not even tail lights, were allowed, no matter how rough, narrow or steep the road, yet not one truck came to grief or crashed over the edge into the black valleys below.10 The side roads were worse, and day by day over the northern front the patches of mud and potholes spread steadily.
Leaving the supply service for moving troops, 50 three-ton trucks under Captain McAlpine and Captain Good were ordered off on 4 April to the Veroia pass, east of Kozani. Here Greek troops were picked up from their hill positions and taken over some 70 miles to near Edhessa. This move transferred units of 12 Greek Division from its right flank to its left, strengthening the defence line in the Edhessa area. Australians took the place of the transferred Greeks. The trucks returned to Company Headquarters at Nikaia on 7 April. On this move Max Beaton shared a bagful of bread among Greek infantry and offered some M and V to a Greek officer. ‘He gesticulates with his hands,’ recalls Max, ‘and offers his most hearty thanks by saying “Merci, merci”. Being dumblike I think he means “No, no”, and calmly munch away at hot M & V and tomatoes.page 52
Next stop I got a sudden jolt as one of the boys explains. The Greek, a fine fellow, understands, and I fix him up. Later he gets out at a village and returns with a gift of a dozen eggs.’
By 5 April the New Zealand Division, apart from 5 Brigade preparing defensive positions back in the Olympus Pass, held forward positions on the Aliakmon line just north of Katerini and about 80 miles from Larisa. This line, running from the sea to the Yugoslav border, could be turned from the flank if the Germans attacked through Yugoslavia and advanced down a broad valley into Greece through the Monastir (or Florina) Gap. This weakness was not strongly defended. It was hoped Yugoslavia would join the Allies.
On the dismal wet morning of 6 April, while RMT men in their overcoats huddled round the cooks' trucks for breakfast, Germany attacked Yugoslavia and Greece. Next day the threat to the Aliakmon line from the rear became reality. Yugoslavia collapsed completely and the Germans advanced to the Monastir Gap. It was decided to pull back the New Zealand Division from the Aliakmon line to the Olympus Pass positions, part of a general move to draw in and tighten the defence of Greece. The Allied line would now run from the coast, across the Olympus passes to the Servia area, and would then swing north-west through Vevi, south of the Monastir Gap.
This meant pulling back not only the troops but also the advanced food, supply and ammunition dumps which were still being built up. With a grinding of gears, the army machine went into reverse. So back over the congested roads now rapidly churning into mud went the RMT lorries, helping the New Zealand Supply Column return the dumps to safer areas. It was a tedious and tiring task, to say the least, but in the end some 86,000 gallons of petrol and 300,000 rations around Katerini were evacuated by rail and road. Later, the Germans collected most of this.
A slender bridge sent twelve RMT trucks hurrying north from Larisa. British armour, facing a sudden threat of being overwhelmed by the invaders from Yugoslavia, would have to retreat west down the road to Grevena, crossing a bridge over the Aliakmon River gorge ten miles above the town. The bridge had to be reinforced to bear the tanks. Told of the page 53 predicament, engineers in Larisa handed a heap of long metal girders over to the RMT and told the drivers to get going. The safety of the tanks was in their hands.
Up over the Servia Pass and through the town the RMT drove to Kozani, where only a few days before the three-tonners had carted supplies for a dump. Now retreat was in the air, and beyond the dark hills ahead the German was moving down, how fast nobody knew. The girders, unwieldy loads, stuck out over the tailboards, making the going awkward, especially at corners. Plenty of trouble arrived with the dawn, when the convoy had passed Kozani. The roads now were choked with Greek soldiers moving from the high ground east of the Servia-Ptolemais road to the high ground west of the same road. It was unfortunate that the Greeks had to clutter up the lines of communication in this way, but it was all part of the withdrawal plan from the Aliakmon line. Some soldiers incorrectly thought the Greeks were bolting already, and condemned them unjustly. With little modern transport of their own, the Greeks toiled on laboriously, donkeys and even oxen hauling carts, ammunition limbers, and guns. Another army, led only by fear, began to take to the roads too at this time—the refugees.
The RMT lorries inched along in this crawling mass from the Monastir Gap. It took hours to cover the 15 miles to Siatista. The next problem was to get the girders down the choked, cork-screwing road to the bridge below. One by one the trucks were brought up to a curve overlooking the bridge 200 feet below, and from there the girders were tipped over the edge and manhandled down to the riverbed.
Meanwhile at Larisa the engineers determined to make doubly sure that the strategic bridge was reinforced. Within twenty-four hours a second girder-toting convoy, led by Captain Good, swung north over the same route, edged through the crowded traffic, and finally made Servia bridge. But here Australians, busy with demolition charges, refused to let the RMT go on.
‘Jerry's on the way, and our job's to blow the —– bridges,’ they said. They told the New Zealanders what they could do with their girders. Wearily, the second convoy returned the girders to their store in Larisa.page 54
And the strategic bridge? It was never used. The British tanks quietly found another crossing.
Ten miles north from Servia bridge, in the rough country near Kozani, Captain McAlpine with 33 trucks on 12 April searched in vain for Greek infantry to be moved to a new line south of the town. Making the best of a bad job, the lorries shifted ammunition left behind by the Greeks towards the new line of defence and returned through Kozani, packed with refugees, to evacuate the last of 19 Australian Brigade, withdrawing to the shorter line from the rearguard action at Vevi. Heavy fighting was going on in the hills, the valleys echoing and re-echoing with gunfire, as the drivers moved through mud and slush towards the rendezvous, a long dark ridge, where the infantry was expected to embus at midnight. Here it was found that only about half a dozen vehicles would be wanted after all, so the rest of the convoy turned back and made for Company Headquarters near Larisa. The remaining six, on making for Company Headquarters next day, would be among the last New Zealand vehicles to use Servia bridge, which was blown at 3.20 p.m. on 13 April.
Through the long night (12–13 April) of bitter cold and further snow, the small cluster of drivers waited within their lorries for the infantry to turn up. Every hour engines were started up and run for a few minutes to ensure easy starting in an emergency. Sometimes a lonely shell whined high over the area. Sometimes small-arms fire ricocheted nearby. Someone lit a fire in a small drum, and drivers huddled round until the captain sharply ordered them to put the fire out. The miserable night ended at last for Corporal Walker,11 Drivers Ray Richards,12 George Cowlin,13 Bill Walker,14 ‘Rusty’ Hammond,15 the Beaton brothers,16 Willis,17 Thornley,18 Spiers, page 55 Cherry,19 Keys,20 Bennett,21 and Christoffersen.22 Down from the hills straggled small parties of weary Australians, some without rifles and one or two even without boots, and one by one the vehicles filled and smartly moved off to Kteni, south of Kozani. At the last moment a stranded British tank crew was spotted in the distance and out to its rescue drove the Beaton brothers. As the last of the Tommies climbed in, German rifles opened up. Alf Beaton clung for dear life to the tailboard while his brother raced the truck out of immediate danger. The convoy pulled out under fire, Captain McAlpine's staff car at the rear receiving close attention from a machine gun. As the convoy passed through Kozani German bombers began attacking the town.
Another swarm of fighters and bombers droned high over the snowy Olympus range and made for Larisa, the sun glinting on their wings and bodies and sending shadows skimming like nightmarish fish along the fields below. A few Hurricanes rose in brief defiance before the aerodrome and its anti-aircraft defences rocked under the impact of high explosives. Soon black and yellow plumes of smoke mingled above unfortunate Larisa, doubly devastated by a recent earthquake and a subsequent raid by the Italian Air Force. Then from the armada came fighters to strafe streets, roads, and countryside and any signs of movement. The RMT area at Nikaia did not escape. Drivers Snell,23 Frayling,24 and Bruning25 turned their Bren guns on a low-flying fighter, and as if angered, it turned, attacking again at tree-top level. Enraged, ‘Battler’ Charlie page 56 Snell, a boxer in civilian life, kept blazing away, thumping his chest between bursts and shouting, ‘I'm Battler Snell, you bastard!’ The fire may have brought down the plane, which was found later in the vicinity.
By the night of 13 April all sections were drawing together again at Nikaia, A and D Sections helping to move two field dumps over Servia Pass to temporary safety. With 18 vehicles, Second-Lieutenant Pool26 joined about sixty British trucks bound for Ioannina, where Greek troops from the Albanian front were to join troops at Grevena. They travelled west through Trikkala and Kalabaka, climbing among ice and snow at night with lights on, to about 5000 feet over the Metso-von Pass in the Pindus Mountains. The Greeks, who were found before dawn trying to sleep on the frozen roadside, were picked up and taken to Kalabaka, where they were left to find their own way to Grevena. The RMT trucks returned for more Greeks, only to find that the troops wouldn't budge, preferring now to stay and fight in the mountains rather than to retreat, as they thought, to another front at Grevena. The detachment at Kalabaka, instead of heading north to Grevena, began marching back to rejoin its comrades, and to make matters worse an Australian brigadier ordered Lieutenant Pool to stand by ready to move his men. Pool says he ignored this order and told his drivers to escape from this mess by returning at once to Nikaia.
‘Around Trikkala,’ wrote Driver Wan, describing his trip up to the Greeks, ‘there are herds of cows the same as we see around New Zealand. The township seemed very pretty and quaint. On our way through it was beautiful and peaceful and the people waved and cheered us on our way…. Coming back Trikkala was a pitiful sight. The place had been twice bombed. With the first bombing, all the casualties were put in the church. The second bombing got the church. We never got any waves or cheers and I was filled with an infinite sadness. I still think of that beautiful spot and would like to visit it once more.’page 57
Despite air raid after air raid, trains kept a stream of ammunition, supplies and petrol flowing into Larisa, and company transport, principally D Section, commanded by Captain Veitch, helped RASC convoys spread these loads in dumps over the Thessaly Plain and as far west as Trikkala.
When a battalion of 17 Australian Brigade reached Larisa by train on 14 April, RMT trucks were called in to drive the troops to near Kalabaka, where the brigade was forming a rearguard. The drivers took them through Trikkala to their destination, a journey of about 70 miles, arriving at 3 a.m. on 15 April. ‘Big air battle over us about 8 a.m.,’ wrote Neale Weastell. ‘Three planes came down and burst into flames. Left there are 9.15, driving into bombing all the way down on different villages and on the road.’ The convoy reached Larisa at the height of a heavy air raid, Driver Weastell estimating that 64 planes were taking part in the attack. From the smashed town panic-stricken civilians were fleeing in all directions. The drivers stopped. They took on loads of terrified women and crying children. With bitter feelings they drove their pathetic passengers to safety in the countryside near Nikaia. ‘Being New Zealanders,’ Allan Christoffersen remembers, ‘we were only picking up women and children. As the Greek men were pushing them aside we were throwing them off again as fast as they got aboard. The men just couldn't make it out. They thought they came first. We thought different.’
Corporal Lloyd Hinchey27 and Cam Sawers28 were involved in a dead-end convoy when trucks with 25–pounder ammunition were switched from Trikkala to near Grevena, where Australian gunners were fighting a rearguard action. Sometimes the drivers had to clear donkey carts and refugees' belongings from the road ahead, and one bad stretch of ten miles took eight hours to cover. But the ammunition got through—just as the gunners were packing up, their last round fired. Still loaded, the convoy joined in the retreat.
About the only clear fact now was that a general retreat south was imminent. One indication came when A Section page 58 men with Captain Muller shifted an ammunition dump at Trikkala down to Lamia, 55 weary miles of more crowded roads. A second pointer was the evacuation by 4 RMT trucks of the staff of 1 New Zealand General Hospital at Farsala to the railway line nearby. The patients, about four hundred, had gone on by train to Athens the day before, 13 April. A third sign was the abrupt evacuation of Workshops Section to Athens, Staff-Sergeant Cooney29 rousing men from their sleep in the early hours of 15 April with Captain Broberg's orders to pack without delay. Headquarters Section soon followed them south. One night, after a paratroop scare (false), men from Headquarters had manned a highly unpopular road block on the Larisa-Athens road. Sergeant-Major Thomson had an English phrase ready for suspects to repeat: ‘Just what do you think this is?’ (‘Yust vat do you tink diss iss?’). He never tried it out, convinced by the first cries of ‘What the blasted hell do you stupid bastards think you're doing?’
No one at the time quite knew what was going on, but it added up to this: the British forces were too slender to hold the enemy advance. We were withdrawing to Thermopylae. Up to 13 April it had been hoped that the line from the Olympus passes to the south of Vevi could be held. All troop-moving was done with this in view. After 13 April the problem was to establish rearguards and extricate troops from the line in such a way that Larisa, the junction of all routes north, could be held until evacuation to Thermopylae was complete.
The operating sections took a last look at Nikaia, then on 16 April wound north about 30 miles to near Elasson, ready to help move part of the New Zealand Division back to the Thermopylae defences. Just outside Larisa a Naafi had been abandoned. The bottlenecks of nearby bridges were halting traffic for long periods. Bob Mitchell30 and a comrade during one long halt left their truck, seized a four-dozen crate of beer, and just failed to manhandle it up a bank between the Naafi and their truck. Mad with frustration, they saw the convoy begin to move again. Mitchell's truck was about to hold up page 59 those behind. Major Woods from the bank curtly ordered the struggling couple back to their truck. ‘When the truck drew up level with the abandoned crate the tailboard was conveniently down, the lorry crept very slowly, this time four of the boys swept out to tackle the crate, and Major Woods, acting the gentleman, looked the other way.’
Bright and clear dawned 18 April; birds preened and sang from trees and hedgerows where flowers of spring looked out to frail mists, rising to unveil the massive Olympus ranges. It seemed strange that this day, beginning with such beauty, should end with widespread violence and death.
First away from the company was A Section, just back from taking ammunition to Lamia and safely returning through a brisk air raid. The 20 trucks were to pick up 21 Battalion and some Australians, who were bitterly disputing the Pinios Gorge near Tempe village, about 20 miles towards the coast northeast of Larisa.
Led by Sergeant Bruce Crowley,31 the 20 trucks reached the rendezvous near the Vale of Tempe. Captain Muller and his driver, Tidman,32 bringing up the rear, ran into an air raid in Larisa and dived for cover in the town square. The trucks then went on about two miles to the embussing point near a bluff, where they dispersed just before a Stuka raid, and settled down to await men of 21 Battalion.
At the mouth of the gorge Muller was joined by Lieutenant Pool33 with two trucks. Here Major Harding,34 second-in-command of 21 Battalion, told the two RMT officers he did not favour returning his men through the bottleneck of Larisa, which was being bombed regularly. He himself had used an overland route, little more than a track, which dodged Larisa page 60 and led on to the Volos road. Along this road the trucks could go to their destination at Molos. Pool, taking a wrong turning at Larisa, had travelled over part of this short cut. Major Harding had ordered his transport officer to reconnoitre an overland route dodging congested Larisa, but the officer did not return. He was captured by an advance party of German soldiers. This independent enemy striking force, circling through the hills, had crossed the river behind the Vale of Tempe men, set up a stoutly manned road block, defied all comers, and had completely severed the Tempe-Larisa road by 7 p.m. Except for the overland track, Tempe was now bottled up, but no RMT drivers up with their lorries knew about this.
Most of these drivers spent four drab years as prisoners of war, and although each has his own version of the Vale of Tempe affair (and few accounts agree in detail), they are unanimous that ‘it was a damn bad show from start to finish’.page 61
Now troops outside the Vale of Tempe who were retreating fast past Larisa in the night saw fiery indications of the road block in the distance and started the false rumour that parachutists were advancing on (or were seizing) Larisa. The only attack by German parachutists in Greece was at Corinth Canal, and Larisa was not entered by German soldiers until 7.30 a.m. on 19 April.
Fighting raged in Tempe's hills until dusk. By then between 100 and 200 men, some from 21 Battalion, but mostly Australians, were gathered in waiting transport. Then the first party (a mixed lot with perhaps up to seven RMT lorries) left for the mouth of the gorge. Lieutenant Pool took over this convoy and with much difficulty (for the night was pitch black) crossed overland to the Volos road, eventually reaching Molos safely. ‘Infantry guides were posted at the turnoff, but apparently they did not remain,’ said the lieutenant. ‘Had the guides remained at their posts I'm sure the rest of A Section and many members of 21 Battalion would have escaped capture.’35
Soon after this first party left, the bulk of the RMT transport began to move. Drivers had sat watching others pulling out, and Driver Herbert Elliott36 writes: ‘It was a fair dinkum rout. There were guns and trucks and what-have-you going for their lives, and us still sitting there. When we started to move down the valley towards Larissa it was fairly dark and things were sticky. There were guns and trucks in the ditch. One gun was right across the road and we had to heave it off before we could get past. We finally got going up the road when everything in page 62 front stopped, and all the troops came running down the road.’ Drivers learned of the road block. ‘It was a case of ditch our trucks and take to the hills, and believe me we got out of that area smartly.’
Distinguishing himself in the mêlée was Driver John Snell,37 who won the DCM by crawling forward under fire to some apparently reluctant Bren carriers, gathering grenades and joining a charge on the road block. Snell, hurling grenades from the running-board of his lorry, silenced at least two enemy machine-gun or tommy-gun positions. His driver killed, he jumped into another truck and carried on with the attacking party until the road was hopelessly blocked.
No man could keep his trucks together under such conditions. Sergeant Crowley and some of his men grouped together in the hills. The party included Corporal Johnston,38 Frank Mead,39 Noel Callagher,40 Jim Ward,41 Jack Logie, Herb Elliott, and a B Section man, Cliff Bezar.42 In vain, twice using Greek schooners to evade the enemy, they made their way down the coast to Tolos, just south of Argos. The last landing craft was filled and the A Section drivers were left behind.
Referring to the RMT convoy later, Major Harding said: ‘They did a good job of work. They were up to time at the rendezvous I had arranged with Divisional Headquarters. The dispersion was quick and orderly and the convoy that pushed off at about 9 p.m. looked all set for Molos.’
Back near Elasson the remaining A Section trucks, together with B and C Sections, waited to join in 6 Brigade's move to the Thermopylae line. Noon came and went, then at 2 p.m. Captain McAlpine left to check details of the move with 6 Brigade Headquarters, a few miles south near Tirnavos.page 63
Beside McAlpine in the battered staff car sat his batman, ‘Ginger’ Wingham. Suddenly a flight of three Me 109s, hedgehopping across the fields, slashed at the car, severely wounding the officer in the chest and wounding Ginger in a leg. Nearby gunners came over to help. McAlpine insisted that 6 Brigade and 4 RMT Company should be told instantly they had failed to get through. This remained uppermost in his mind. An ambulance took the two to an RAP in an old orchard outside Tirnavos. The medical unit, ready to move, unpacked, put up a tent and began giving McAlpine a blood transfusion. It was too late. They buried him under the peaceful boughs of the fruit trees.43 Wingham could not believe their days together had ended. He thought of ‘Captain Mac’ over the last week, always on the move, never resting, a tin of beans or stew always heating on the car's manifold, ready for the two to share on the way. Then his mind went back to the Desert, and to Tummar West where they were taking the Indian Division. He remembered a British officer, red tape to the hilt, giving McAlpine strict orders to stay behind until sent for. He remembered ‘Captain Mac’ wandering round the car several times, kicking the sand, until he said: ‘Hop in. I feel sure he'll be lost and needing us by now.’ Wingham's sorrow grew.
When McAlpine did not return, Captain Good, with despatch rider Bert Barrington,44 left for Brigade Headquarters. Barrington returned with details of the move and broke the news of McAlpine's end to a shocked company. The sudden death of such a vigorous and adventurous personality seemed incredible. The commanding officer, Major Woods, realised he had lost his right-hand man.
Immediately, Lieutenant Coleman45 led a mixture of B and C Sections' trucks off to 24 Battalion to pick up the riflemen at 9.30 p.m. (Every RMT lorry carried cases of fruits, food and chocolate, and some carried beer, all seized from aban- page 64 doned dumps. This would be a most welcome surprise for the weary battalions when they boarded the trucks. ‘I can still hear the rattle of those empties going over the side of the old bus as those boys got stuck into our little treat for them.’) The black-crossed planes were coming over in droves. Drive a few hundred yards … halt … take cover … back … on. At Tirnavos a red-cap in British uniform misdirected some of the trucks onto the Larisa road, but the drivers soon realised the error and returned to the convoy. A strong rumour later said the MP was shot as a fifth columnist, but like most stories of the fifth column in Greece, no record can be found of it. The battalion aboard, the trucks, now led by Captain Good, drove south all night, passing a blazing Larisa and seeing firing going on past the airfield. ‘Parachutists,’ said rumours. It was the road block, spreading confusion among the hapless men escaping from the Vale of Tempe. Between Larisa and Volos General Freyberg loomed out of the darkness, shouting ‘Put on your lights and go like hell!’ They did, the lights disconcertingly revealing the perils of craters, rough detours and smashed vehicles. About 7 a.m. a weary convoy debussed 24 Battalion near Volos, the empty trucks going on south past Thermopylae and on about 35 miles further to the assembly point at Atalandi.
When the move to lift 24 Battalion began, the remaining 25 trucks (ten of them left-overs from A Section), with Major Woods, Second-Lieutenant Gilmore46 and Padre Jamieson, went west through Tirnavos, picking up 25 Battalion near Elasson just after dusk. Already stray German tanks were nosing into the neighbourhood, to be met with shells from 6 Field Regiment. Most of the trucks had moved off quietly and calmly by 9 p.m., passing safely down the thronged and torn roads to drop 25 Battalion at Molos. The six RMT trucks which had remained behind under Sergeant-Major Thomson to gather the last of 25 Battalion left as midnight approached. Behind them they heard the roar of bridges going up, first at Tirnavos, then at Larisa.
Jim Ward, running late in the night, took cover in a cemetery in Larisa. ‘I was crawling round miserably in the dark.page 65
A few were landing here and there. I had my head well down when I heard a voice. I couldn't see anything. I thought “What the hell?” and began to crawl on—faster. The same voice said: “Come here you silly b—-.” I looked up and saw an Aussie's head poking out of a crypt. “Safer in here Dig,” he said. In I went beside two Aussies and a Tommy who had scraped a skeleton into a corner. We pulled the concrete slab back in place. We were set.’
Describing the trip down that night, Driver Simpson47 says: ‘In the finish I was so tired of straining through the windscreen that I kicked the glass out of it. That helped no end, and the cold air kept me awake, and made Bill Peach48 beside me sleep sounder.’ A little later, misled by a heap of shingle on the side of the road, Simpson went over the bank and ended up wheels on top. ‘In the back I had about 15 or more men with unsheathed bayonets, and these had stuck in the ground when the canopy flattened out. Well, what a roar! They were kicking and swearing and all they had to do was crawl out, but the beggars wouldn't come out without their rifles.’
On the morning of 19 April, with 24 Battalion safely—and correctly, so it was thought—debussed near Volos, and the RMT trucks well on the way to Atalandi, Captain Good and Lieutenant Coleman, enjoying a bathe in a hot pool near Thermopylae, were abruptly interrupted by a terse despatch rider telling them 24 Battalion should have been left at Molos, not Volos—a difference of at least 80 miles. More angry than anxious, the battalion, stranded far above the Thermopylae line, was now marching south; would it have to march the whole way? Fortunately Captain Veitch, with D Section, was close to nearby Lamia. This section had been busy shifting ammunition south. Told at once, Veitch led D Section north, to meet 24 Battalion at Almiros at 6 p.m., the battle-weary infantry meanwhile having foot-slogged over 15 miles. This seeming confusion had been caused by a change in plan. Both 24 and 25 Battalions were to have stayed in the Volos area during daylight of 19 April. However, General Freyberg directed the brigade to move straight through to Molos, as the enemy page 66 made no air reconnaissance early on 19 April. While 25 Battalion's transport, under Major Woods, was still with the battalion, the transport with Good and Coleman, arriving at Volos earlier, had left 24 Battalion at the rearguard position before the change in plan.
The remaining trucks of 4 RMT Company began reassembling in olive groves near Atalandi all through the afternoon and night of 19 April and on through the next day, Hitler's birthday, when two Messerschmitts, striking at daylight, fatally wounded Driver Forbes49 and slightly wounded Driver O'Callaghan50 in the truck ahead.
Many familiar faces were missing; many a bullet-scarred truck told of the hairbreadth escapes. But Driver ‘Hori’ Martin,51 one of the three Maoris in the company, kept grinning away as cheerfully as ever. When his truck was hit, setting the load of ammunition on fire, Hori instantly jumped in and flung out ammunition until his truck was clear. Told that was a risky thing to do and that he could quite easily have been blown to bits, Hori replied: ‘I was too frightened to run away, eh?’
Orders began to come in again. Ten trucks reported to Athens for ordnance stores. On the way back they were bombed and three trucks were lost. Nobody wanted the stores on the seven remaining trucks, which were filled with boots, tires, and odds and ends the company had been wanting for weeks. Nothing could be done with them now. Fires would have attracted planes, so holes were ripped in bales and cases, and acid from truck batteries was dripped in.
A delayed signal summoning 30 trucks to report to 6 Brigade at Molos by 1 a.m. reached the company 40 minutes after midnight on 21 April. A convoy headed by Captain Veitch got away, struggling through traffic streaming south, to arrive before daylight, only to find trucks from the Divisional Ammunition Company had done the job. Back came the RMT trucks—empty—and they dispersed as yet another air raid broke overhead.page 67
No driver will forget his cat-and-mouse life in the last two weeks in Greece. ‘A living nightmare,’ sums up Driver Spiers, who writes:
It was impossible to drive safely during the day because of the strong German air force. Sleep during the day was impossible because of planes hovering above bombing and machine-gunning the slightest movement. At night we drove endless miles. The men were more like ghosts than men towards the end.
Some indication of the mental torture can be gained from this.
Towards the end when daylight driving was a necessity it was one continuous stop and start, in and out of the truck all the time. Stop and dive under the truck or into the ditch or trees if lucky enough to be near any. On one occasion I was carrying infantry. We were attacked by a very lowflying bomber and the men, so fed up not being able to fight back, debussed and kneeling on the road or sighting over the bonnet and mudguards blind to personal danger gave that Jerrie hell. He soon left but what was the use as there was always another to take his place.
On another occasion when my second driver in the crow's nest above gave the signal to bail out I kept going, scared and fed up, hoping against hope that I'd be hit and finish it all but no such luck—on to the bitter end.
Lieutenant Coleman left the company dispersal area at Atalandi on 22 April to help move 4 Infantry Brigade52 back towards the evacuation beaches. Over the next few confused days drivers became split up among the battalions and embarked at Porto Rafti with the units they had been carrying. Coleman, moving with 20 Battalion, gathered together thirty RMT men and embarked in the destroyer Kingston for Crete.53 Corporal page 68 Gray,54 setting out originally with this convoy, took six trucks to the Corinth area with reserve supplies for infantry detachments. At Corinth enemy planes systematically swept the countryside in preparation for a parachute landing. Caught broadside on, one truck containing Drivers Turnbull55 and Pool56 was set blazing, and it is believed that here Turnbull lost his life.
Four RMT drivers (Lance-Corporal Thompson,57 Drivers ‘Bunny’ Penny,58 Spiers, and Cherry) were with a detachment with 19 Battalion which was guarding areas about Corinth Canal. On 25 April the area was bombed and strafed continuously. Everyone lay doggo. Spiers writes:
At dawn on 26 April we were awakened by a terrific drone which filled the whole air, and on going to the edge of the woods and looking over the harbour the prettiest and most frightening sight I'd seen throughout my active days appeared before me. Our hilltop was about 500 ft above sea level, overlooking the harbour on one side and higher mountains on the other. Roaring majestically up the harbour not more than 50 ft above sea level and towing gliders were about 70 three-engined German transports. All were not towing gliders. We looked right down upon them although they were about half a mile distant. Just before reaching the open ground west of the town the planes rose sharply and began spewing out paratroops. Red, green and white ‘chutes were prominent. Fierce fighting immediately started. It was during this operation that the bridge was blown, but whether the English blew it to save having it taken intact or not I can't say.
Penny and Spiers captured a German on a BSA motorcycle. They sheltered with others in a cave. Two Greek policemen appeared with white flags on poles and told the party that if it did not surrender it would be blasted out. Ill equipped and with practically no ammunition left, the party surrendered. ‘Our prisoner of one day was now our captor.’page break page 69
Back at the company dispersal area near Atalandi (where some firmly believed sheep bells were being used for signalling by enemy agents), in the evening of 22 April all trucks except five were ordered to be destroyed. Many a driver felt a lump in his throat as he set about his work, perhaps consoling himself by saying, ‘Anyhow, Jerry won't get the old bus.’ Most remarks were unprintable. Drivers got the business over as quickly as possible. They tried to turn aside thoughts of victorious motors pressing west into the far desert. They tried to close their ears to the smash-up going on under the olive trees of Atalandi. Picks and crowbars crashed down into faithful engines. Holes gaped in radiators and petrol tanks. Tires were slashed. Some men drained away the oil and left the motor running, the accelerator weighed down with a stone. These engines died painfully, reproachfully. Then through the night wound this five-truck ghost of a company, some 120 silent RMT men aboard, to reach the outskirts of Athens, where Headquarters Section was camped with a few worn trucks. There they waited until 24 April, when the men left for the lying-up area near D Beach, at Porto Rafti.
Above Athens the Parthenon looked down on just another beaten army passing by.
On the night of 26-27 April the company came out from its hiding places beneath the trees, marched to the beach, and divided into different parties. About 120 men were taken to a Crete-bound destroyer, the Kandahar, 66 of them later moving to the troopship Salween for Egypt. This party included Major Woods, Captain Good, Second-Lieutenant Surgenor,59 Sergeant-Major Beer,60 and Staff-Sergeant Upton. A few other RMT men were evacuated in the Carlisle, an anti-aircraft cruiser. In the Glengyle,61 destined for Crete, on the previous page 70 night were four RMT men: Corporal Stan Shaw, Drivers Liddle62 and Arthur Pope, and another. Attached to 6 Field Ambulance at Tirnavos, they had carried wounded until the evacuation. Pope and a padre, just before leaving, found a Humber-Snipe staff car undamaged among wrecked vehicles. Remarking sarcastically about brass hats going off first and leaving good cars for Jerry, the two wrecked it thoroughly, to the speechless fury of a brigadier, returning to his car after a brief but fatal absence of five minutes.63
Far to the south, at Kalamata, Driver Sutherland saw the last rescue ship disappear in the darkness. He joined a party of Australians, and hope rose again when they found a small fishing smack abandoned off the coast. Swimming out and climbing aboard, they tried to start the engine, for two days hauling uselessly at a rope around the flywheel. Finally they hoisted the sails, pointed the boat in the general direction of Crete, and set off. Although they carefully rationed a tiny store of water, white bread, and goats' cheese, they were starving when they landed at Canea six days later. Sutherland refused hospital treatment and joined Second-Lieutenant Hope Gibbons'64 platoon.
Near Corinth Captain Muller and Driver Tidman waited and hoped. From their dressing station at Volos after the Vale of Tempe escape the two had been taken to hospital in Athens, and from there by train to just north of the canal. Tidman's luck held good, but Muller, left behind, was picked up by a German patrol. The two, now separated, had been together continuously since they entered Ngaruawahia Camp.
Workshops Section had reached Athens from Nikaia on 19 April to become the Heavy Repairs Section of 4 Advanced Maintenance Depot, a British Army unit. The RMT men started work again at full pressure in a large motor works in Athens. Before them lay a shop piled with vehicles of all kinds page 71 and sizes with one common complaint: they wouldn't go. From senior NCOs to cooks, the men went to work with a will. Under three key men, Staff-Sergeants Wilson, Hoare and Cooney, they worked round the clock. Fitters, electricians, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, carpenters, other tradesmen and storemen, all helped one another out. A storeman-clerk, who previously had handled only a carpenter's hammer, could be seen striking for the blacksmiths to get a set of springs out in a hurry. Within three days, by stripping a few vehicles, exchanging or making parts, the men had 80 per cent of the vehicles running and back in service again. One persistent task was repairing a British blood-wagon, which three times set out with blood for the front and three times was towed back, riddled by aircraft fire despite its red crosses.
As the motors returned to life the latrines failed, and a Greek contractor agreed to end the trouble in the septic tank for 200 drachmae. Next day, when the price had risen to 1400 drachmae, Captain Broberg persuaded the Greek to return for payment on a date when the New Zealanders would be far from Athens.
Before moving, everything of possible use to the enemy had to be smashed and ruined, a bitter order for the workshops men who took such pride in their equipment. Engines were ruined methodically; 100 spare truck tires were put through a bandsaw and neatly stacked together again. Into the wreckage went superbly stocked Thornycroft technical vehicles, their contents sufficient to start a medium-sized garage. Jimmie Sellars65 painted and left a big sign among the destruction: ‘Fix this, Adolf!’ Just as Workshops began moving off to Piraeus in the early afternoon of 24 April, Captain Broberg remembered that Staff-Sergeant Wilson had been given a mass of small parts and dozens of different tools to hide or destroy. Had this been done? With the characteristic Wilson grin came the reply, ‘Sure. They're in the —— septic tank.’ Workshops men gave away all personal gear before leaving. Johnny Boag66 handed his blankets to an elderly couple; with tears of gratitude page 72 runningdown her face the old lady smothered Johnny with kisses.
Workshops joined the hundreds crowded into the Hellas, a royal yacht at Piraeus. All sorts were packed aboard: British, dumpy and philosophical, weary Australians, despondent civilians, merchant seamen, and patient-eyed wounded. The Greek skipper and a large part of his crew slipped away in the crowds, but the merchant seamen took their places.
Then, just before sunset, just before sailing time for Egypt, there was a drone in the distance and half a dozen Stukas came in, flying low and fast. The ship carried guns fore and aft and was a legitimate target.
Five bombs struck the crowded Hellas; three burst alongside on the wharf. In a few minutes flames seemed to be everywhere. Surrounded by the wounded, the dead, and the panicstricken, Staff-Sergeants Wilson and Cooney worked valiantly in a race against the fires, quietly organising rescue parties to sort the wounded from the dead.
Diving overboard, Drivers Cliff Lockyer,67 Thornton,68 and ‘Scotty’ McIntyre69 set off to swim across the harbour away from the burning ship. Lockyer, struggling across the quartermile of sea, reached the shore to find McIntyre, black with oil. ‘It was serious, but we couldn't help laughing at ourselves, all dirty, all nude.’ Driver Ramsay,70 among those who made for the shattered docks, badly burned his hands and legs on the scorching bolts and staples in the smouldering piles.
Driver ‘Ginger’ Wingham, helpless from the strafing which had killed Captain McAlpine six days ago, was helped by Ian Cooney and another driver to mooring ropes still intact, down which he slid to safety. Staff-Sergeant Hoare, suffering from concussion and a broken arm and jaw, was a pitiful sight with face and legs blackened and clothing ripped and torn. Sergeants Mellsop71 and Delaney72 were found among the dead, page 73 together with five others, Drivers Thurlow,73 Hook,74 Austin,75 Allanson,76 and Patrick.77 Few, if any, escaped from the shambles of the once luxurious smoke-room.78
Not until paint began peeling from the Grecian figurehead did the rescue parties stumble ashore. The wounded rescued — they included Corporal Sinclair,79 Lance-Corporal Ruffell, Drivers Pistor,80 Saunders,81 Housham,82 Stringer83 and Potter84—were sent in commandeered trucks to hospital in Athens. Most of them were taken prisoner later, including Driver Stevens,85 who was on the gangplank of the ship when the first bomb fell. He was pleased to find his tremendous moustache undamaged. Although wounded, Tim Armstrong,86 one of the drivers who refused hospital treatment, drove survivors to Daphni Camp, the stragglers' collecting point. There Captain Broberg, wounded in the back during the attack, found page 74 that his uninjured men totalled only about twenty. Next day they crossed the Corinth Canal and sheltered from hostile skies in the Argos area, stragglers bringing the Workshops total up to about twenty-five. A landing craft took them to a destroyer, HMAS Stuart, from which they were bundled on to HMS Orion, which landed them next day (27 April) in Suda Bay, Crete. Of Workshops' 75 men, 31 remained; only seven of them rejoined the section in Egypt after the campaign in Crete. Virtually wiped out, the section had suffered over 90 per cent permanent casualties.
The 4th RMT Company, which had gone to Greece 419 strong, sailed away totalling 356. The company's casualties in Greece were: one officer and ten other ranks killed or died of wounds; one officer and four other ranks wounded; one officer and 51 other ranks captured (of whom the officer and ten other ranks were wounded).
Captured in Greece, one RMT man, Sergeant Charlie Mutch,87 escaped and eventually joined the guerrillas. He made contact with British and New Zealand specialists and for eight months was kept busy running a mule train. ‘If I wasn't carting explosives I had gold sovereigns or else wireless sets.’ He saw many sad and strange things. ‘On one trip I looked over the escarpment above Delphi and saw a company of Ites pull in. After they had gone I went down. The town was in tears. The Ites had taken the statue—and how would they get the tourists after the war?’
He took part in many activities, one of them the blowing up of the Asopos viaduct, protected by pillboxes and a guard of 240 men. Local Greeks said it was impossible to get down the gorge to the viaduct, which was three miles north-west of Brallos and some ten miles south of Lamia.
Two New Zealanders, Don Stott88 and Bob Morton89 (both formerly of 5 Field Regiment), and six others spent five days getting about two-thirds of the way down with the explosives page 75 —crawling along the sides of the cliffs, over waterfalls, and swimming below the falls until they came to the main waterfall: a sheer drop of 40 feet and about 15 feet wide, the side walls perpendicular and like glass. There the party ran out of rope, had to give up, and returned to camp. A few days later Don Stott begged permission for another go at the viaduct. He got Charlie Mutch and a Palestinian sergeant, a tough chap as hard as nails, to go with him. Stott's biggest disappointment was not having Bob Morton, who had been sent to Athens the day before to organise a sabotage group. Bulldog Drummond and Company, said Charlie, had nothing on these two.
Charlie describes what happened:
Our first day was spent in felling a tree about half a mile back and floating and pushing it down the river. The roar of a fall stopped the sound of the axe. With branches about every three or four feet, this tree was about 70 feet long. After having it well tied back it was let over. To our joy it reached the bottom with about three feet to spare at the top. The next day we swam the pool below the fall and got another 400 yards on. The next day Don Stott, about a chain in front, came back and said we had made it. The bridge was only another 100 yards in front. He sent me off straight away to get two sappers and an officer who came originally from Kenya.
We arrived back three days later. We had three hours to wait for darkness. The cold was terrible. All we had on was a pair of shorts and sandshoes. There was a track made down under the bridge from the guardhouse to the water. We could hear the mumble of talk from the guardroom about 30 yards away. Then one man came down the track smoking a cigarette. The Kenya major in front knocked him over the cliff with a lump of wood. We then set to work getting the charges out to the four main girders. Then the Palestinian and I made back to get the two mules ready for a quick getaway while the others fixed the wiring and time fuses. What a mad scramble it was, swimming and climbing ropes. While going up one rope ladder my arms gave out on me and I fell back about 25 feet and knocked myself out and got a bad knock on the shin. I came to about 15 minutes later hearing the other chap calling to me from the top in the darkness. After another couple of attempts I made it. By the time we had got the mules loaded up the others had arrived and we made off. We were so tired it took two days to get back to Headquarters instead of one.
The viaduct? Oh yes. It went up all right.90
10 British officers, congratulating Maj Woods on his company's performance, said they fully expected 4 RMT to make good after the reports they had had from 7 Armd Div in the Desert.
25 Sgt J. P. Bruning, MM; Westport; born Westport, 17 Jan 1913; factory hand; p.w. 1 Jun 1941. When a call was made for drivers at Moosburg prisoner-of-war camp in February 1945, Bruning drove under the International Red Cross. In one load he took 26 Russian generals and one field marshal from the prisoner-of-war camp to an airfield, a distance of 50 miles.
33 After the abortive attempt to lift Greeks near the Albanian border, Pool had returned to Nikaia. Most of his trucks had gone on to the new company area at Elasson. From Nikaia Pool had followed on towards Tempe ‘with four trucks, losing one before reaching Larisa and, shortly afterwards, having my own vehicle shot up and burnt’.
35 ‘There was no need to post guides: the traffic lane was firmly established by this time—about 9 pm,’ comments Capt Muller. At the mouth of the gorge the Captain, concerned about the remaining RMT trucks, vainly attempted to move forward against the roaring tide of scurrying (not to say panic-stricken) vehicles and guns. Then a report arrived that the Germans had established a road block between Tempe and Larisa. (This was the road block established by the overland enemy party four miles from Larisa at 7 p.m. that day, 18 April.) The only news Muller could gather was, ‘The line's broken; everything's clearing out.’ Three RMT trucks with Australians arrived at 9 p.m.; with them Capt Muller and Dvr Tidman took the dirt road, now axle-deep to wheel-deep in mud. One truck bogged down. The rest went back to test the rumoured road block, finding it very much alive when mortars burst among them. Returning on foot to the dirt road, the RMT men became separated. Muller and Tidman got a lift and were both injured when the truck overturned. They landed up in a dressing-station at Volos.
39 L-Cpl F. D. Mead; Taneatua; born Auckland, 21 Jul 1918; lorry driver; wounded 28 Apr 1941; p.w. 30 Apr 1941; escaped 7 Jun 1941; recaptured 28 Jan 1942; escaped Feb 1945; with 30 (US) Div until Apr 1945.
50 Cpl D. W. O'Callaghan; Culverden; born Southbridge, 6 Apr 1914; lorry driver; wounded 20 Apr 1941; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.
52 ‘4 I.B. was near Thebes Pass (60 miles north of Athens). We were there a total of five days,’ writes Dvr Wan. ‘Every day the reccie. plane would be over two or three times and he would circle round and round until we began to think he would never go away. The tension was really nervewracking. We were among trees on a small ridge and the Jerry would fly so low we could look down into his cockpit. His goggles didn't fit too well. He was all the time adjusting them. Now and then he'd give a burst with his cannon, hoping for movement. But the order of the day was camouflage and no movement, and we got away with it.’
53 ‘I remember saying “Thank God for the British Navy”,’ writes Dvr Christoffersen. ‘They gave us each a cup of cocoa or tea, one of the best I had ever tasted—and then we just fell asleep sitting down.’ Lt Coleman, before embarking, remembers someone setting up a gramophone and smashing all records except one, which was left on the turntable ready for the first German to play. The record was ‘There'll Always be an England’.
61 Lying asleep alongside a Maori, these RMT men awoke on the mess-deck floor of the Glengyle to find a heavy sleeper (about 15 stone) lying across their feet. Unable to shift the heavy form, the Maori drew his bayonet and jabbed where the figure was plumpest. ‘There was a feminine shriek, and up flew a bonny piece of Greek womanhood, hands clutching behind her. Then came bellows from an irate Tommy. Explanations that our intentions were honourable to his bride (whom he had smuggled off in battle dress one night) were accepted with bad grace.’
63 The 12th (German) Army Quartermaster-General, reporting on 11 May 1941 the British destruction of abandoned trucks and guns, wrote: ‘The most that can possibly be repaired is 5%.’
78 Detailed to pick up rations at Athens racecourse for the ship, Dvrs Doug Shaw, Alf (‘Snowy’) Creed, and Jack Boag missed the bombing, drove in convoy to Corinth, Boag disappearing without a trace on the way. At Athens racecourse Shaw and Creed had taken good care to load Naafi goods too, and the couple threw a party before embarking in HMS Havock for Crete. Alf still remembers the parting words of a rejoicing British major: ‘You Kiwis would find rations and drink in hell.’