As our destroyer entered the port of Heraklion I asked a sailor where we were and he told me Crete. It must have been late morning or early afternoon and as things were rather disorganised I stripped off and had a wash (the first for some time) in a creek. There were odd dumps of tinned food and biscuits lying around and we just helped ourselves. Just before dusk a piper played for a while and it sounded great. Next morning when I awoke and looked around there were still some soldiers asleep, some with a blanket or greatcoat, others with none. Fortunately the nights in Crete were not cold. Gradually our officers collected the men belonging to their units and we seemed to be doing a lot of aimless marching but generally in the direction of Maleme aerodrome.
We finally bivouaced in an olive grove near Maleme and at our first parade were told we could send cables to our next of kin but we had to pay for them ourselves. Once cooking was established it was done on wood fires only in daylight and cooked in petrol tins. We were able to buy bread, eggs, goatsmilk, cheese and wine from the locals. The only entertainment was drinking in a cafe and listening to the news which an English-speaking Greek translated for us. Some of our men provided entertainment by getting drunk.
We were alongside 22 Bn and assisted guarding the road to the aerodrome. An important looking limousine was stopped one day and a friend of mine from 22 Bn brusquely demanded passports and destination. It happened to be the King of Greece with two beautiful daughters in the back. Without ceremony my friend slung his rifle on his shoulder and jumped on the running board and escorted the party to the 'drome. We had adopted a young Greek boy who witnessed the scene and he was very upset about our complete lack of protocol and he gave us demonstrations on how to present arms etc. With the exception of our troop commander, we all thought it a huge joke.
When not on duty we enjoyed bathing in the sea every day. We were told to dig slit trenches and it seemed we had only finished making a good job of them when we were told to prepare to move again.
I remember an ex-farmer gunner being appalled to see olive tree branches ripped off to help camouflage the guns. I could see his reason, but war has no time for sentiment.
This move was to prepare gun positions as we had had some Iti 75-mm guns allotted to us. It was fortunate that our gunners had trained on 75-mm's in England. The guns were well sited and I think escaped observation from the air. As we had no radio, some of us were detailed to practise flag signalling. Also the guns were tried out.
Eventually an OP party set out to establish an OP on hill 107 overlooking Maleme aerodrome, the 22 Bn area, and hopefully a flag-waving signaller would be seen from the GP. A line was also laid from the GP to OP.
There were some Bofor guns sited around the drome. Before moving to the OP enemy reconnaisance and some straffing had begun and we had regular "stand-to's" at dawn and dusk.
When we started digging in at the OP bombing and straffing was being stepped up and some Greek personnel were killed at the drome. The planes used to roar down the hill over our OP site strafing all the way, intent I think mainly on knocking out the Bofors and what planes were left. The Fleet Air Arm had a hopeless task trying to defend the drome with a few Fairy Fulman and Gloster Gladiators which were gradually whittled down in numbers One day I heard some-one cheer and say "Look the whole two of them have gone up". The bombing raids invariably cut our signal wire and we would rush down repairing it until we met the sigs. coming from the GP. Intelligence had warned us invasion was imminent and I think they were right to the day.
The invasion was preceded by a lengthy and heavy bombing raid, some of the bombs must have been pretty heavy as they shook the ground for some distance away. The OP was about the same height as the J.U's as they flew over 22 Bn area dropping troops who were met with a hail of fire from our boys. The signal wire was of course cut and after attempting to mend it J. Wood's was advised to go back by our infantry, and tell us all to improvise a white arm-band (a last minute order because it was feared that Jerries might be in the area wearing our uniforms). I was told to try and contact our GP by flag and was abused by our infantry to put the flag down. I ignored the abuse but our men at the GP were too busy shooting paratroops to observe my signals. I was elated to see some Jerries fall into the sea.
Mr Cade called me into the OP trench and dictated some fire orders, which I repeated down another phone, connected, I think to 22 Bn HQ hoping they would be relayed to our GP.
Next day I went with Mr Cade and Ken McLeay to try to observe the aerodrome which Mr Cade was able to see by climbing a tree. Our guns fired periodically all day.
That evening we were warned of an attack on the GP and a company of infantry surrounded us with fixed bayonets to assist us. Fortunately the attack did not eventuate. Later that night Major Philp arrived I think from a conference and told us to spike the guns and that we were moving. During I think the next day's march the column ahead of us was heavily straffed by enemy planes which were everywhere; we took cover until the raid was over. I expected to see a lot of dead and wounded when we reached the spot but surprisingly saw no evidence of casualties. At one stage some of us were detailed off with some Maoris and when darkness fell they were told to link up with the rest of their Bn who were waiting by a road. We were expecting to be challenged by the enemy and told to get moving. The Maoris had fixed bayonets and away we went, finished the last 100 yards at a trot and almost bumped into Col Dittmer who was sitting calmly by the road. He said "Hello you fellows, you're in a hurry. Are you going to the races?" His remark made us feel silly but I think we had reason to feel tense. We seemed to be under command of various officers at different times. We refilled our water-bottles wherever we could regardless of regulations and by now some had dysentery.
On one occasion one of our officers asked me to go up the hill to see if any of our chaps were lost. I had an issue slate-grey jersey on, also some leggings and must have resembled a jerry. After calling out for a while with no response I turned around to find myself looking down a revolver held by one of our infantry Sergeant-Majors who challenged me with the pass-word. I responded smartly. He told me to get that grey jersey off and that I was lucky to be alive as two of his men had me lined in their sights and were going to shoot me but he stopped them and said he would stalk me while they covered him.
We were finally addressed by Major Bull and told the show was almost over and we would be evacuated but assured us there was plenty of time for an orderly evacuation. Before we moved the position was bombed by random and amongst the casualties an Australian soldier was killed.
So we started the long march to the South coast to Spahkia. Water was always a problem and at one hole troops clustered around and took little notice when an enemy plane appeared. After some time I filled my bottle and trudged up a hill for cover and then shared the water with a wounded soldier. We were near Spahkia for a day or two and lived off food dumped near the shore. We were wondering if we would ever get away. One rumour was that the Germans were evacuating North Africa and the navy was busy trying to sink them at sea and that was the reason for some of the delay. However, my friends and I managed to get on the last boatload out to a destroyer. We were no sooner on board than the destroyer got under way. This was about 3 a.m. I think the programme was to be 100 miles from Crete by daybreak. Even then we had an air raid warning but nothing came of it, which was fortunate as we felt pretty naked on the deck.
Words could not express our admiration for the navy, what a sight the four destroyers made steaming about 30 knots. I think I was on the Hotspur. We marvelled at the speed and efficiency of the navy as they entered Alex, tied up and the liberty men were ashore as soon as the destroyers tied up. We were not long following and were welcomed by Y.M.C.A. Much has been said with the benefit of hindsight about what could or should have happened in the battle for Crete but I certainly would not disagree with those who put some of the blame on break down of communication due I think mainly lack of radios. How much more could our gunners have done if we had had radio contact between the OP and GP. Even so with the Luftwaffe having complete mastery of the air would have made tenure of the Island extremely difficult when we must remember that the navy were also having to work overtime and had had a difficult time preventing the invasion by sea. There were many postmortems of the battle when we got back to Egypt.
Gordon Crombie asked me if I had seen the Jerry prisoner who was his double. I did not see the said Jerry but others said there was a Jerry who looked exactly like Gordon.
.../Diary of Crete
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.