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.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.
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
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. 420–1.
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.
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.
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.