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By Naval Craft

By Naval Craft

On 25 November 1941 a caique officered by the Navy and manned by commandos rescued 86 soldiers from Crete. There were 28 New Zealanders in the party.

page 500

Soldiers came to Staff-Sergeant W. G. Penney (17 LAD) in the prison camp at Galatas and talked over their escape plans with him. Penney himself was keen to escape but first he had to help his comrades. His self-imposed task of escape organiser came to an end and then he was free to go himself. He and three other New Zealanders hid in a cart carrying wood from Galatas to the hospital. They got clear of the camp but the three others were captured soon afterwards in a wineshop.

Penney's life now was just like that of the rest of the escaped soldiers on Crete, moving from village to village and hoping to find a way off the island. He was in the party of 140 hiding in the rocks at Treis Ekklisies (Three Churches) waiting for the boat that never turned up.1 After this he and eight New Zealanders moved around the country as a party.

The other men also had hard and varying experiences and all had to endure the bitter winter in the hills. One had escaped from the last lot of prisoners to be moved from Galatas camp for shipment to Italy. Another was captured three times before making his final escape on Christmas Eve 1941.

In May 1942 they stole a boat and were picked up by a naval patrol vessel out at sea. They were landed at Bardia on 25 May. Penney was awarded the MM.

On 6 June 1942 nineteen soldiers, including eight New Zealanders, left Crete in a small boat and were picked up by a warship in the Mediterranean. They were put ashore at Bardia on 8 June.

Sergeant D. Nicholls (4 RMT) was free in Crete for two years. On his return to Egypt in June 1943 he became a special service agent and worked in the Balkans and Italy. Nicholls was mentioned in despatches.

The people in the second village where Drivers W. H. Swinburne and F. P. H. McCoy (both Div Pet Coy) stayed became very nervous when the Germans started rounding up escaped soldiers and wanted them to move on. A polite but pointed eviction notice was served on the two New Zealanders and also on an Australian. The local policeman escorted them to the boundary, and apologising for his action, shook hands and wished them a successful escape. At the next stop McCoy became ill with jaundice and had to give himself up for treatment. The other two joined four British soldiers who had news of a coming boat. One was a doctor, an elderly man failing badly in health, and it was clear he had not long to live. He rode on a donkey and was cared for by a batman. After a break of a few weeks during which the doctor died, the party worked its way east across the Mesara Plain and eventually went down the coast to Treis Ekklisies.

page 501

The second day at Treis Ekklisies, a hundred and more escaped soldiers arrived under a guerrilla escort. Here a British agent, Captain ‘Monty’, had fixed a rendezvous for a boat to pick them up early in January 1942, but bad weather and leakage of the news resulted in the evacuation being called off. In the sorting of the men into travelling parties Swinburne had a Scotsman as a companion. The two went north and settled in the village of Episkopi Pediada, about 20 miles from Heraklion, where a small group of families looked after them until September 1942. Traitors informed on the Scotsman, and the police, great friends of the two, though much distressed were obliged to arrest him. Swinburne, living in another house, was warned in time to get away.

For the next nine months Swinburne and an Australian hid in caves near a river on the south coast. Again a few families in the neighbourhood made themselves responsible for their welfare. In May 1943 the two walked east to the headquarters of a guerrilla band in the Lasithi Mountains. They became members, and although there was no fighting at the time, they did their share of guards, patrols and other work.

At the end of August 1943 Swinburne and 20 others, mostly Greeks, left Crete in a motor torpedo boat early one morning. At six that evening Swinburne was safe in Mersa Matruh.

1 See p. 501.