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To Greece

The Evacuation from Megara, night 25–26 and day 26 April

The Evacuation from Megara, night 25–26 and day 26 April

On the morning of 24 April Allen Group (16–17 Brigades) had halted near Elevsis, taking advantage of the olive groves and waiting to embark that night from the beaches at Megara. During the day, however, the overall plan had to be changed:1 the brigades would move across the Corinth Canal to the Argos area and probably from there to Kalamata. Nineteenth Brigade Group, the rearguard which was to come south that night, 24–25 April, from the Thermopylae line, would take cover near Megara on 25 April and embark from there on the night of 25–26 April.

As there were several groups already in that area, among them the New Zealanders from Voula, it was doubtful if all the troops could be embarked that night. Orders were therefore sent from General Wilson's headquarters instructing Brigadier Vasey to retain sufficient vehicles to transport the surplus to the Marathon beaches, from which they could be evacuated on the night of 26–27 April. Unfortunately, when the orders were received most of the vehicles had been wrecked, those remaining being sufficient for only 300 men.

1 See p. 4001.

page 409

For those troops who had been several days in the area, 25 April was a difficult day. German aircraft were over in still greater strength and in the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital group some patients were inclined to be hysterical. However, the long-expected orders came through for embarkation, vehicles were wrecked and at 9 p.m. the men in groups of fifty walked out to join the British and Australian columns assembling on the two beaches. The convoy waited half a mile off shore, boats glided in to the beaches and the long columns slowly shuffled forward. Nineteenth Australian Brigade Group embarked successfully from one beach but the sick, the wounded and the miscellaneous companies from the other beach were less fortunate. On the orders of Brigadier Vasey all fit soldiers had been taken off first. The worst cases of the wounded had then been moved but the breakdown of an LCT so delayed operations that by 2.30 a.m., when the last boat moved out, some 500 men, including the majority of the New Zealand group, were still on the beach. As all subsequent embarkation would be from the Peloponnese, they were advised to make their way as quickly as possible across the Corinth Canal.

Using twelve vehicles, including some of 4 Light Field Ambulance, RAMC, Captain A. N. Slater sent on some 200 of his patients. They were over the Corinth Canal by seven o'clock next morning but, unfortunately, their arrival coincided with the German parachute attack. Some of the ambulances were wrecked, others were driven south to safety, but the majority of the group were captured.

The walking wounded, hospital staff, dental group and base unit personnel—some 300 all told—left about 4.30 a.m., walking towards Corinth and hoping to be picked up later in the day by the returning vehicles. Major J. A. S. Mackenzie, Captain Kirk,1 Lieutenants Borrie2 and McDonald3 were with the wounded, Captain Slater and Lieutenant Foreman remaining to assist any patients who had not got away.4 When daylight came the column was strung out along the highway, with the forward group beyond the cliff road and overlooking the olive groves on the long narrow coastal strip leading to the canal. Aircraft were then racing low over-

1 Lt-Col G. R. Kirk, OBE, m.i.d.; born Gisborne, 18 Jun 1907; physician; RMO 20 Bn 1939–40; physician 1 Gen Hosp 1940–41; 1 Mob CCS 1942; in charge medical division 1 Gen Hosp, Sep 1942–Jan 1945; died Dunedin, 31 Aug 1956

2 Capt J. Borrie, MBE; Dunedin; born Port Chalmers, 22 Jan 1915; medical officer, Dunedin Hospital; medical officer 1 Gen Hosp Feb–Apr 1941; p.w. 26 Apr 1941.

3 Capt P. N. R. McDonald; New Plymouth; born Oamaru, 11 Sep 1897; accountant; 1 NZEF 1917–18 (Private, MG Corps); QM 1 Gen Hosp Feb 1940–Apr 1941; p.w. 26 Apr 1941.

4 Staff-Sergeant J. Russell of the Mobile Dental Section and 13 others got away to the Navplion area, failed to leave ‘T’ Beach but got away to Spetsai Island, thence to Milos Island, where on 9 May they were captured. See pp. 4201.

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, halting all movement, strafing the defences of the canal and, about 7 a.m., dropping the parachute units.

The more advanced of the walking wounded and those who were driving through from Athens or from 4 Brigade were immediately in danger of capture. Major Rattray, the New Zealand liaison officer at Headquarters, British Troops in Greece, Athens, was particularly unfortunate. After remaining in the city to arrange for the evacuation of many stray detachments, he had left with two vehicles, picking up many walking wounded and approaching the canal just before the attack developed. Strafing aircraft forced the party to take cover and before long paratroopers had surrounded and captured it. Those farther back along the cliff road had more time to deal with the situation. Captain Neale1 of 4 Field Ambulance had been forced to leave his vehicle and take cover, but risking air attacks he now returned with Captain Kirk to warn the detachments along the road, the party still at Megara and 4 Brigade Group at Kriekouki. Borrie, McDonald and those in the more forward sections of the scattered medical group were surrounded early that afternoon and taken to a collecting point about three miles east of the canal. Others not so far forward were able to return to Megara, where efforts were now being made to avoid capture.

After the walking party had moved off that morning the medical group under Captain Slater and the embarkation staff, under Lieutenant-Colonel R. Marnham, had been preparing to follow it up. But the news of the parachute landings brought in by Kirk and also by Lieutenant Baxter2 of the walking party had forced a change in their plans. The embarkation staff hired a caique and proposed to sail that night for Crete.

In the meantime Marnham and Captain Baker took possession of a truck, drove north and reached Headquarters 4 Brigade about 2 p.m. After describing the situation, so far as they knew it, they were sent back by Brigadier Puttick to investigate still further, to collect all the troops about Megara and to be prepared to join the 4 Brigade column when it passed through the area.

At Megara there were actually several groups: the embarkation staff, Captain Ritchie with men from the Reinforcement Camp, men from the Mobile Dental Section, medical officers and men from 1 General Hospital and an unknown number of walking wounded. It was decided that some from each group should embark for Crete in the caique; the others would row to Salamis Island and await a vessel which would be sent over from Crete. However, during

1 Capt H. C. Neale; Levin; born Nelson, 20 Aug 1914; medical practitioner; medical officer 4 Fd Amb Sep 1939–Apr 1941; p.w. 26 Apr 1941.

2 Capt B. Y. W. Baxter; Lower Hutt; born Timaru, 15 Mar 1907; wool clerk; wounded 20 May 1941.

page 411 the afternoon Captains Slater and Neale and Lieutenant Foreman decided that it would be wiser to attempt to join 4 Brigade. They set out in salvaged vehicles with some forty walking wounded and orderlies from 1 General Hospital, but three miles east of Megara they were captured by some stray parachutists and taken back over the cliff road to the canal area. Just how these lone parachutists came to be so far east of the Corinth Canal has never been explained.

Those who remained to leave by sea were more fortunate. Because of a report that parachutists had landed near the beach, the caique sailed before dark and after five days sailing from island to island reached Crete. Lieutenants Porter and Baxter were on board as well as Captain Kirk, who had preferred the risks of a run across open country to the beach to the indefinite chances of an escape that night.

Another group, Lieutenants C. A. Morton and Foot1 with 19 other ranks, had started off for Athens in a truck, but warnings about the parachute troops had brought them back to the coast, where they took over a caique and spent the night attempting to sail for Crete. The craft had to be beached next morning so the party broke up. But when a Greek reported that there would be an evacuation that night from Rafina, Morton, Foot and three others commandeered a bus and hastened to Athens. There they hired a taxi to Rafina and left on the night of 27–28 April.

At the same time Lieutenant-Colonel Marnham and Captain Baker had been attempting to carry out the task allotted to them by 4 Brigade Headquarters. On their way back to Megara they had, however, been captured by the paratroopers, who disarmed them but left them in their lorry while other prisoners were being sent back to Corinth. The Germans had then begun to select another load, but the resourceful Marnham, seizing his opportunity, had driven off round the corner and into the olive groves. Once clear they had made their way separately to 4 Brigade Headquarters, Marnham in the truck risking a drive through Megara and Baker moving round the coast. The Morton-Foot party was there inspecting a caique, but Baker was taken by some Greeks in an already overloaded vehicle to the Elevsis junction where Brigadier Puttick was now established. Marnham and Baker had then volunteered to return with four Bren carriers as a fighting patrol along the road through Megara. The Germans had withdrawn but there were several groups of New Zealanders in the area, among them Captain Ritchie with his party of about twelve men, and two men from B Company 19 Battalion who had come back from the canal area. They were picked up and the overloaded carriers were driven back to Elevsis, the

1 Lt S. E. Foot; born Auckland, 31 Aug 1915; bank clerk; killed in action 25 May 1941.

page 412 additional personnel being taken on to Porto Rafti and the normal crews remaining with the rearguard.

Other groups of which no record exists escaped,1 but the great majority of the men left about Megara Beach or along the highway were prisoners for the rest of the war. The medical officers, Slater, Foreman, Borrie and Neale, were taken to Corinth the following day, 27 April, by Dr Bauer of the parachute force. There through the efforts of the Greek Red Cross personnel, Miss Ariadne Massautti2 in particular, they established a hospital in the Ionian Palace Hotel. Shortly afterwards the dental group—Lieutenants Warren,3 Noakes,4 Dodgshun5 and Spencer6—were brought in as additional medical personnel. Food and equipment were obtained from the Greek Red Cross; Sergeant E. O. Jones7 of 1 General Hospital appeared with twenty men from the prisoner-of-war camp in the Greek barracks; Private Savery8 of the same unit was the sole attendant or self-appointed doctor for another twenty in the Grande Bretagne Hotel. In all 122 patients of many nationalities went through these hospitals before 10 May, when they were closed, the remaining patients and staff being taken to 2/5 Australian General Hospital at Kokkinia, a suburb of Athens. Thereafter their story is one of movement to Salonika and eventually to the prisoner-of-war camps in Germany.

1 Two officers and 18 men, including Driver J. B. Morice of 1 Ammunition Company and Private W. T. Phillips of the Field Security Section, left in a motor boat with no rudder and a useless diesel engine. They were blown to Skaramanga, where the party broke up, Morice and Phillips taking to the hills and reaching Athens. With Greek assistance they remained until October, when they were assisted to escape to Turkey.

2 She was later awarded the George Medal.

3 Capt J. Le B. Warren; Dunedin; born Auckland, 15 Mar 1916; dentist; p.w. 27 Apr 1941.

4 Capt P. Noakes; Auckland; born Waihi, 20 Jun 1914; dentist; p.w. 27 Apr 1941; repatriated Sep 1944.

5 Capt J. T. Dodgshun, MBE; Gisborne; born Gisborne, 26 Apr 1915; dental surgeon; p.w. 27 Apr 1941.

6 Capt R. D. Spencer; Wanganui; born Palmerston North, 25 Sep 1914; dentist; p.w Apr 1941.

7 WO II E. O. Jones; born NZ 16 Mar 1916; clerk; p.w. Apr 1941; repatriated Nov 1943.

8 Pte W. C. T. Savery; born Kent, England, 7 Jan 1900; waterside worker; p.w. 28 Apr 1941; repatriated Nov 1943; died 4 May 1956.