"As the years go by we tend to remember more the humorous side of the war years rather than the sad times."
Our Regiment arrived in Egypt after an eight week voyage on the "City of London". Next morning we were inspected by Brig. Miles who said he was pleased to have all the field artillery together. Shortly after arriving there was a substantial intake of 4th Reinforcements to bring us up to strength to replace those left for various reasons.
We did a certain amount of training and before long packed up and proceeded to the staging camp, Amyria, near Alexandria. Before we embarked the merchant sailors told us we were going to Greece and when we were under way were officially told and a message was read from the G.O.C. telling us we would soon be meeting the real enemy, the Germans, and warned we would be facing very good soldiers.
On arrival at Piraeus we marched through the town to our first camp outside Athens. The streets were lined with cheering Greeks - as a D.R. I probably saw more of this than others. I remember the Maori Btn boys singing lustily as they marched along. We were at the camp two nights and most took the opportunity to slip into Athens for a riotous night out.
As we went north the scenery was beautiful and varied. I think most of us were filled with a sense of exhilaration at the opportunity of visiting such an historic country, which I was surprised to see get more primitive as we went further from Athens. Our furthest north camp was nearby a town called Katerini, the infantry were further north.
Next we knew we were on our way south to take up a position in the Olympus Pass. Have never forgotten how beautiful the Pass looked after a fall of snow. BHQ & B troop were very close; remember Capt. Beaumont telling us B troop was inflicting heavy damage to a German convoy. I think Tom Bevan called for the first artillery shot of our war at Olympus.
We had heard of a natural tank trap formed by a ravine in mountainous country which would hold up the German tanks for some time, but judging by the enemy's progress I think the tank trap was just another rumour. Next we knew was another order to prepare to retreat. I remember Roy Gibbs saying "I think we should put Backwards on our caps instead of Onward".
We had some casualties at Olympus, but the guns were got out by manhandling with dragropes down to the road; snow and rain made the going rather slippery. Drove through the heaviest rain I had ever experienced, us four D.R.'s decided to have a meal in a wayside cafe during one downpour.
Next position at Larissa, guns were deployed and 27 HQ camped in an olive grove. We were subjected to low level straffing and surprisingly 27 HQ did not have any casualties. Recall taking a "prepare to move" message to Capt. Snadden one evening; he was directing gun fire from the gun position and C troop claimed to be knocking out some German tanks. Capt. Snadden suggested a short cut back to HQ, by this time some of our infantry were between C troop and BHQ Our "issue" crash helmets were not unlike jerry parachutists helmets and as I rode along one of our infantrymen raised his rifle and I slowed down as he took aim. I thought he was going to shoot me, but when I yelled out who I was he smiled and waved me on. We had been warned of possible infiltration by Germans in disguise and a novel password. was issued thus:
It was very distressing just prior to the capitulation to see relays of enemy bombers going south to reduce some of the Greek towns to rubble and worse to drive through the burning remains at night.
We were finally told by Lt. Almao that Greece had capitulated and we would be evacuating. The rank and file could only accept this news philosophically. I happened to mention to Dick Reeves who was a stockbroker that our Greek money would probably soon be worthless. Dick agreed and said, "Yes, I advise you to spend to the hilt." I had about the equivalent of $2 at the time.
The journey south began in earnest, travelling by day as well as night. One day in a convoy of four trucks we had stopped for a cup of tea when a staff car stopped and out stepped Tiny Freyberg who asked who was in charge and firmly but politely requested us to keep moving as quickly as possible. We did not finish the tea but "got cracking". This was the only time I saw "Tiny" in Greece and it was with admiration that I noted how a man of such high rank carrying so much responsibility in such a fluid situation could be so polite without losing any of the respect due to his high rank.
There were occasions, however, when officers had to sternly rebuke O.R.'s for not staying under cover when not on the move in daytime, but they were only exercising elementary prudence when the Luftwaffe were searching for us from dawn to dusk.
Later my bike kept giving trouble and finally refused to go. I got a lift with some Aussies for some miles and finally climbed on the back of a truck being driven by Bela Johnston and promptly fell asleep. Since I was asleep in the truck I did not witness the pathetic Greek civilians who watched us driving through Athens to our last staging area prior to evacuation. We had looked upon the Greeks as friends and allies, and could only feel humiliation at having to leave them. The last day in Greece was boring as we lay doggo in an olive grove until dusk when we were finally lined up and marched to the beach and were taken on a T.L.C. to a destroyer which took us to Crete.
In retrospect it occurs to me that the olive branch is a symbol of peace; goodness knows what we would have done without the olive groves to take cover under in Greece and Crete.
.../Diary of Greece
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.