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To Greece

Fourth Brigade embarks at Porto Rafti

Fourth Brigade embarks at Porto Rafti

As seen by the men of 4 Brigade, the engagement was naturally more tense and more dramatic. About 3.30 p.m. the long German column had come into sight, armoured fighting vehicles had approached the village and the artillery with 4 Brigade had opened up. Some reports say that the guns and mortars dealt with the Germans only when they emerged from the village; other observers saw ‘shell after shell land ámong the homes of the peaceful friendly folk of Markopoulon.’1 As it was, the Germans made no serious effort to advance beyond the village; their main stream of vehicles was moving south to Lavrion and their more serious offensive was to have been the air attack which did not eventuate.

At last when the light had faded the final stage of the withdrawal began. The field guns were wrecked about 8.45 p.m., the anti-aircraft guns thereafter covering the road from Markopoulon and the coastal

1 D. W. Sinclair, 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, p. 100.

page 441 track from the south. Stage by stage units came through the lines of 19 Battalion; the pinnaces, whaleboats and caiques took the men out to the cruiser Ajax and the destroyers Kingston and Kimberley; 19 Battalion then went aboard and finally the embarkation staff. In all 3840 men1 were taken off and landed next morning at Suda Bay in Crete.

The group at Rafina, about 1000 men, had an even more anxious time waiting under cover in the scrub on the south side of the harbour and disturbed by aircraft bombing the abandoned transport about the area. Brigadier Charrington had made plans for some to leave that night in a caique and for the majority to march to Porto Rafti to embark with 4 Brigade.

The information was taken across to Puttick's headquarters, probably by Major Oakes2 of 7 Anti-Tank Regiment, but when the Germans approached Markopoulon the move from Rafina was impossible. The naval officer with the beach staff then arranged for the destroyer Havock to be diverted to that port and Oakes returned to warn the group of the change of plans.

Brigadier Charrington and about 600 men had in the meantime set out after dark to march the 15 miles to Porto Rafti. On the way they found that the Germans were between them and the port but, fortunately, they met Oakes and the majority of them returned to Rafina. There they waited anxiously for the destroyer to appear. About midnight one of the ship's boats, whose crew had been drifting about the bay waiting for the sound of English voices, came up to the beach. The two groups,3 Charrington's and that from the caique, were then swiftly embarked and taken to Crete with 4 Brigade Group from Porto Rafti.

1 With this group were six very fortunate soldiers who had gone to Kea Island on the night of 24–25 April (see pp. 403 and 428). Late in crossing the mountains, they had at dusk on 26 April seen the LCT moving away with the main party. Then, returning to Port Nikolo, they had arrived only to find that the destroyer Nubian had left. The following afternoon, however, two caiques had appeared, on one of which there were some fifteen New Zealand sappers and a naval crew disguised as Greeks. In it they were taken off and eventually transferred to the destroyer Kimberley.

2 Maj T. H. E. Oakes, 2 i/c 7 NZ Anti-Tank Regiment, had arrived after a difficult journey during which he lost his vehicle. Other reports state that officers from HQ 1 Armoured Brigade made similar journeys.

3 There were others who had more exhausting and more romantic escapes. Two parties, each of twelve men, under Lieutenant D. B. Patterson and Second-Lieutenant A. F. Harding respectively, set out on the march to Porto Rafti but never received the orders to return to Rafina. By 1.30 a.m., exhausted and still far from Porto Rafti, they had to stop. Patterson remained with the majority of the men while Harding set out with the others to find the embarkation beach. Meeting four Greeks who offered to row his party there, he sent back two men to advise Patterson and hurried on, reaching the Ajax about 2.30 a.m. Her crew could give no assistance, but it was suggested that the Kingston might be able to send round a boat to pick up the others. The search in the darkness for this ship so exhausted the Greeks that Harding with his party had eventually to go aboard the Ajax. Patterson and about twenty men, soon realising that they were left to their own resources, acquired a 40-foot caique and sailed away, picking up off shore Captain G. M. Beaumont of 5 Field Regiment, who had decided to make his own way in a rowing boat. They called at Kithnos, Serifos, and Sifnos, met Lieutenant Kelsall and his party at Milos (see p. 420) and eventually reached Suda Bay in Crete.