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Greek Adventure

Chapter 17

This betrayal by disloyal Greeks had rather an unsettling effect. I decided to move our advance base about half an hour's march back, where our line of withdrawal, should we be surprised, was more secure. Here we were able to make use of a disused monastery which also gave us a certain amount of shelter from the weather.

Vincent Hoey's party arrived across from Palioyanetsou by midday on the 23rd August, after an all night march across the plain of Thessaly. We had received no confirmation from the R.A.F. to our request to bomb the Lamia petrol dump on the morning of the 24th in conjunction with our land attack, but we decided it was worth while getting into position in case the bombers came over. This was hard on Vincent's men who could only be spared three hours' rest before another all night march prior to going into action. But the spirit of all these men was simply tremendous. We were doomed to endless tiring and fruitless marches during the next couple of months, but never once did I have any sort of trouble or complaint from the men. No soldier in the world can equal the British Tommy as a fighting man.

There were forty of us together in our party in Greece. During the five months we were there not one single case was brought before me for disciplinary action. We all lived together, had our meals together (there was no such thing as an officers' mess), slept together and fought together continuously. We had to rely on ourselves and our loyalty to one another for any success we might achieve. We observed strict discipline in regard to the giving and receiving of orders, kept our kit as clean and in as soldierly condition as possible, and whenever in the presence of the Andartes always saluted. But our weapons were our main concern, and these were always kept in first class condition, no matter what the circumstances. Our clothing, towards the end, was in a dreadful state, but this we could not help, although we did make an effort to freshen up before the army of liberation reached our stronghold.

We left Goura with Vincent's party at 16.00 hours, and had supper at Dick's new camp. I managed to raise some mules for Vincent's men to ride part of the way as they really were very weary. We reached our positions above the petrol dump at 03.00 hours, and the men were able to get in another ninety minutes' sleep. The night was extremely dark, and for the first time since I had been in Greece, there were clouds over�head. We had all been wonderfully cheered when, at midnight, passing through a small village, a message came over the telephone from Goura to say that a signal had been received from the R.A.F. to the effect that the Baltic Air Force would be sending bombers over at 08.00 hours, on the morning of the 24th, to have a go at the target.

This would be the first occasion in Greece in which the air and ground forces would co-operate, and I was delighted. We were in position by 05.00 hours, in order not to attract attention at the dump by moving about the hills in daylight. By now the weather was causing me grave concern. The ceiling was about 2,000 feet but in parts there were clear patches, and we could only pray that it would clear over the target area when the R.A.F. arrived.

We had a few nasty minutes at 06.00 hours, when we observed the enemy pulling about a dozen field guns on to the road next to the dump. At first I had the awful thought that again we had been betrayed, and waited anxiously to see what was going to happen, but after ten minutes they moved off towards Lamia. We decided that a couple of field batteries were carrying out manoeuvres, and were heartily glad to see them disappear round the shoulder of the hill.

By 07.30 hours a heavy storm which had been approaching for some time closed in on us. The rain came down in torrents and we could only just discern our target area. I realised that even if the R.A.F. did come over, they could not possibly find the target. I was determined that we were not going to walk back after another fruitless errand without firing at least a few rounds. The Andarte commander who was with me dis�agreed, and would not consent to his men taking part in any action. I gave the order to open fire to my men. The troops were delighted, and it gave us a kick to see our incendiary and explosive bullets striking all round the drums.

The Spandaus worked beautifully for the first five or six minutes, but then all of them began to have ominous stoppages. This was caused by the rain. We had na covers for the feeds and the bullets, getting wet as they went into the chambers, were causing hard extractions. We had at least had the satisfaction, however, of pumping about 8,000 rounds into the Jerries' camp. The enemy reaction was extremely slow, chiefly, I imagine, because we were using his own weapons, and he confused our firing with some of his own machine guns which had been having target practice earlier in the morning.

At 07.55 I decided to break off the action as it was serving no useful purpose by now, and our guns were causing a great deal of trouble. We withdrew just as the first Hun retaliation began to take place. At 08.00 hours on the dot we heard the R.A.F. overhead. We all shouted with delight, although we knew there was nothing they could do. The very feeling of having our fellow countrymen who had come in reply to our urgent call, close at hand was most satisfactory after all our disappointments. The bombers circled above for about ten minutes, but there was no break in the weather, and we heard them moving off as we started our long and dreary march back to our headquarters.

I stayed behind for a short time to see what effect our little party had had on the German garrison. Here I got a certain amount of satisfaction. As the weather began to clear, I could see armoured cars rushing up and down the road, in rather an aimless manner. The enemy machine guns had at last got started, but it was obvious that they were firing quite blindly and peppering the hills indiscriminately, while the mortars were pooping off at a spot at least 500 yards away.

A small fire had also been started in the dump, but was soon under control. Satisfied that we had at least given the Hun food for thought, and that we could have done no more had we stayed longer, I too left for home. Later we learnt that there had been several casualties and a certain amount of petrol had been lost through peppered drums.

By the time we got back to camp that afternoon we were a very weary party, soaked to the skin, and very hungry. But there was good news awaiting us. Our main ammunition supply had arrived by caique on the east coast and should be with us in a week. Also there was a message to say Roumania had surrendered and Paris had fallen. It was only here in Greece we felt that things were not going so well.

We spent the next day cleaning our weapons and getting ourselves re-sorted. It was still pouring with rain and we were thankful for the shelter of the monastery ruins for the next couple of days. All telephone wires were down owing to the storm and we could get no information about the enemy. Ian Neville decided to send letters to the garrison commander at Lamia and Dhomokos, calling on them to surrender or threaten�ing to attack them. This was aiming high as both garrisons consisted of at least 1,000 troops, but he felt it was worth trying!

A few Italian deserters were brought in on the 27th, and after a long interrogation it was decided that Petramagoula railway station might prove worth an attack. Dimitri was not too fit, so I borrowed Ian's interpreter and moved down to have a look at the station on the 28th August. Our Greek guide took us to a spot where we could safely view the position in daylight.

It was a busy little station with trains shunting backwards and forwards, gangs of workmen working in quarries round about, and parties of Germans out helping themselves to grapes amongst the vineyards. After dark we moved down closer and helped ourselves from the same grape vines.

We had a good prowl round the station, and gained a lot of useful information. The Greeks in a nearby village told me that there were several Germans who wished to desert from a concentration battalion which was stationed there. I suggested that they should capture one of these would-be deserters when they were working in the quarries next day. They agreed that there would be no difficulty about this, and promised to send a German back to Goura within the next couple of days.

I got back to our headquarters by midday, and after a good sleep in the afternoon, went down with both sections on a night ambush on the road. Ian Neville and his mission engineers laid a couple of large mines across the road while we covered the road approaches. Then we waited all night in the hopes of a German convoy appearing, but not a thing came along. We passed the time by cutting down a considerable amount of telephone wire which we needed badly.

We pulled back most disappointed to our forward base at first light, leaving a look-out to see what happened to the mines. The ambush position was quite untenable in daylight, as it was right on the open plain. Our only cover for getting away at night was the darkness. By the time I got back to Goura at midday. I had covered 72 miles in 48 hours and was dead beat. A 'phone message that evening to say a Hun truck had gone up on the mine, cheered us up. The Greeks also brought in a German prisoner as they had promised - a good show. Ian and I decided after interviewing the German that we could stage an attack on the station in two or three days' time.

Unfortunately, however, the following day the Andartes came along with a major plan of their own. The Andartes so seldom had a plan of any sort that we were delighted to hear of something constructive, and I immediately agreed to the part which they had allotted to my machine guns in their plan. Vincent rang up to say that he had had a good patrol on the road during daylight, and had commandeered a Greek truck to drive him back! It was typical of Vincent, but I had to choke him off as he might easily have run into a German convoy, and I certainly could not afford to lose an officer.

The entry in my diary on the 1st September reads: "The sixth year of the war starts today, but what wonderful news, Amiens, Verdun, Bucharest, Narbonne, all captured." There were all sorts of rumours about Huns moving up from the South. Also a signal from Cairo telling us to stand by for Noah's Ark.

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Next Chapter: Chapter 18

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