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Moir and Perkins

Moir and Perkins

Staff-Sergeant T. Moir and Gunner D. C. Perkins (4 Fd Regt) escaped from the Galatas prison camp and spent weeks searching the coast for boats. They headed inland, there to find the mountain villages swarming with escaped soldiers. They knew the Germans would soon raid the locality, so they headed for the rugged and sparsely populated west coast. The village folk, though poor, were most hospitable. Moir gives an instance: ‘On one occasion, when they discovered us, sleeping off the effects of several liberal draughts of wine taken during the heat of the day, under a grove of olive trees not very far from a village, we were plied with so much food and wine that after three days we managed to continue on our way only by sneaking off during the dead of night during a lull in hospitality. We carefully avoided villages during the next three days until our supply of food ran out.’ They roamed the hills for weeks to get the lie of the country, then settled and became attached to two or three villages in a small area.

Moir and Perkins were always on the watch for boats, and many times they set out only to be forced back again by the weather, or by the many reefs on the coast or the wretched condition of their craft. Once they were lucky to escape drowning. The escapers moved freely around the western end of the island and were often chased by the Germans. In one German drive they were machine-gunned from a range of 200 yards and had a hectic game of hide-and-seek with a patrol of eight Germans for the rest of the day.

In April 1942 (not many soldiers were then still free in Crete) Moir and Perkins followed up separate leads on likely boats. At Mesara Bay there were 14 boats under German guard. Accessories such as oars and sails were kept in a locked shed; the owners slept in the boats but the page 495 German guard was away at the entrance to the bay. Moir planned to steal one of these boats. Perkins was then haggling with a man for the hire of a boat and had reasonable prospects of getting it. Moir continued with his plan and Perkins arranged to meet him with his boat in a familiar cove. If Perkins' deal fell through he intended to join Moir's party.

The appointed night was so pitch black that the soldiers lost their way. Next night they met and, amidst much shouting and waving of arms by the owners, selected a good boat and sailed it unchallenged past the German post. By morning they were snug in the cove waiting for Perkins. They waited two days but he did not turn up. They searched all his usual haunts but he could not be found. The wind changed to north-west and to delay longer would be dangerous. The high wind and rough sea gave natural protection from nosing aircraft, and several planes, German and British, flew over them. On the late afternoon of the fourth day, after sailing 300 miles, the party landed on a small beach a few miles west of Sidi Barrani.

Three months later Moir met Perkins in Cairo and heard his story. Perkins went down on the night arranged, saw no one and thought Moir had got away. He then returned inland and heard when it was too late of the party's departure on the following night. A short time afterwards Cretan friends told Perkins that there were Germans in British uniforms wandering around the district. Perkins traced the men and found, as he had suspected, that they were commandos off a Greek submarine. Perkins and other soldiers on the spot were given a passage in the submarine to Egypt.

There were five New Zealanders, two Australians, and one Englishman in Moir's party. The New Zealanders were Staff-Sergeant Moir, Lance-Bombardier B. W. Johnston (5 Fd Regt), Privates G. G. Collins (20 Bn) and H. W. Gill (18 Bn), and Driver R. W. Rolfe (4 RMT).

Moir went back to Crete on special service and was captured. Perkins went back also, became a guerrilla leader and was killed in an ambush. Moir was awarded the DCM, Johnston the MM, and Collins a mention in despatches. Moir was later awarded the MM for his special service work.

After his escape Moir worked for Military Intelligence. He went on several special service operations and in February 1943 volunteered to go back to Crete to collect soldiers in hiding. By May 1943 he was in touch with 51 soldiers and had arranged their escape, but the evacuation date was altered and he had the worry of keeping a large body of men in one place for over a week. The Germans heard of this party, and although the 51 men were taken off, Moir walked into a police patrol containing an interpreter who was not deceived by his Greek as the usual German patrol would have been. There were 14 New Zealanders in the party which Moir organised and all were mentioned in despatches for their courage and determination in not submitting to captivity. This was one of the final rescue operations from Crete.

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After interrogation, Moir was sent off to Germany, marked as a dangerous prisoner. He was cooped up with three other ‘bad’ prisoners for 32 days in a small cell in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp. They forced the door and an outer window but were caught in the act of getting through the three sets of double barbed-wire fences around the camp. They were then placed in the punishment cells without boots or bedding and allowed only one pair of underpants and a singlet each.

In the next camp Moir and another New Zealander, Bombardier M. J. C. Robinson (4 Fd Regt), volunteered to go to a working camp within striking distance of the Hermagor Pass into Italy. The two broke camp in June 1944 and headed for the coast, hoping to find a boat to take them to southern Italy. When they reached the mountains where the partisans were fighting, the place became alive with German troops. On the seventh night out the escapers were caught while trying to cross a bridge. The river was wide and swift and the bridge had appeared to be unguarded. They were sentenced to solitary confinement and then sent back to the ordinary prison camp.

After a month of near starvation in Galatas prison camp, Lance-Sergeant G. M. Davis and Signalman M. F. Knight (Div Sigs) broke camp and spent a day foraging for food. The Cretans were so friendly that the night after their return to camp they went through the wire again, this time for good. The first few days were spent with their newfound friends; they then moved to the village of Lakkoi, where great numbers of escapers were hiding in a nearby gorge. The two New Zealanders heard that they were waiting for sea transport to pick them up. This was not true, and as the villagers were finding it hard to feed the men, Davis and Knight moved on to the village of Meskla. An English-speaking Cretan took them into his home and they lived there for the next ten months. Within a few weeks the Germans put in their first big sweep to capture escaped prisoners, but the family hid the two safely in a small gully.

In April 1942 they joined three other New Zealanders—Privates R. Huston and C. J. Ratcliffe (19 Bn) and Driver J. Symes (Div Pet Coy)— and an Australian in a hideout in caves half-way to Canea, where they lived for a year. Friendly villagers supplied them with food. At times they were forced to raid gardens under the guidance of a Cretan, who directed them to homes of German sympathisers or of people who had plenty. In April 1943 the Germans swooped down on one of the caves just after dawn. Somebody had betrayed them. Davis, Huston, and Ratcliffe1 were caught and were sent to prison camps in Germany. The Germans knew that there were six soldiers altogether but they missed the two caves where the other three were hiding.

At that time Moir was going over the island collecting soldiers still in hiding, and shortly after the German raid he located the three survivors. They left Crete in May 1943.

After a course in sabotage and guerrilla warfare Perkins was landed in July 1943 near Koustoyerako to act as second-in-command to another page 497 British agent, Major A. Fielding. He spent some time becoming familiar with the White Mountains area and set up his headquarters in Selino, on the south-west corner of the range. At this time (September 1943) there was widespread unrest among the Cretans, culminating in the abortive and expensive revolt led by Mandli Bandervas, who retreated from the east end of the island to the west. The Germans then carried out large-scale reprisals all over Crete. Koustoyerako suffered severely, being burnt out on 2 October. The villagers took to the hills and Perkins, better known to the Cretans as Kapitan Vassilios, formed them into a well-armed organised force about 100 to 120 strong. This force held the area above Koustoyerako while the Germans occupied the area below.

Perkins arranged air drops of supplies and arms from Allied planes. He was especially active in carrying out night raids on German positions, aimed usually at recovering sheep and cattle which had been taken by the Germans. The Germans often sent patrols up into the hills to find out the strength of the guerrillas. On one of these occasions Perkins lured a patrol of twenty men up to Alladha and surrounded them in a stone hut. He crept up, threw a hand grenade in and killed ten. The rest were taken prisoner and shot. In this fight Perkins was wounded, the bullet hitting him in the neck and travelling down his back. A Cretan butcher traced the bullet with his knife and cut it out. He continued his work of organising other bands of guerrillas, all of which took their orders from him. During this time he was promoted to the rank of staff-sergeant.

He received orders in February 1944 to go to the village of Asigonia and join Major Denis Ciclitiras, another British agent. On the first day of the journey Perkins and his party of four Cretans fell into a German ambush. Perkins, in the lead, was killed instantly. One of the Cretans, Andreas Vantoulakes, was also killed outright, while the two brothers Seirantonakes, both wounded, threw themselves over a steep cliff and hid at the bottom. The remaining Cretan, Zabiakes, was badly wounded; lying in the open, he held the fifty Germans in the patrol back for three hours until darkness, when he managed to escape and join the other two Cretans.

The Germans took Perkins' body to Lakkoi and buried it just outside their barracks. By his kindness and help to the Cretans and by his daring exploits against the Germans, Perkins was well known throughout the island. The Cretans kept his grave covered with flowers. Captain John Stanley (Royal Signals), who was also in Crete on special service, tells of the admiration the Cretans had for Perkins: ‘No other member of an Allied Mission was loved, respected and admired as was Kiwi (Perkins). I know the people in the area that he covered, intimately, and even now when they are talking of the war years his is the first name that comes up —he has grown into a legend that will never be forgotten.’ A photograph received from Crete in April 1951 shows a small girl about to lay a wreath of flowers on Perkins' grave. The following was written on the photograph: ‘Grave of the most fearless of fighters ever to leave New Zealand, known to all Cretans as the famous Kapitan Vassilios. Killed over 100 Germans single handed during the occupation. Led a guerrilla band, and page 498 fell from machine gun fire in February 1944, near Lakkoi—the last gallant Kiwi killed in Crete. This man is honoured by all Cretans.’ Perkins was awarded posthumous mention in despatches.

Acknowledgment: Auckland Weekly News—article by N. C. R., 2 May 1951, and one by J. W. Bain, 11 Jul 1951.

1 Ratcliffe escaped later and was reported safe with the Allied Forces on 28 Sep 1944.