From the first the troops on Crete were cut off from all the regular sources of information about events in the outer world. There were no newspapers, wirelesses were very few and, in any case, the BBC was difficult to get. Civilian sets found it easier to get German stations and the circumstances were ideal for Lord Haw-Haw's sardonic malice. Armies are at all times forcing-houses for rumour and the Greeks are adept at its propagation. Where facts are few and imaginations active the truth is at a disadvantage.
General Freyberg quickly realised that rumours, defeatist or wildly optimistic, were rife and dangerous. The best counter-attack, he decided, was a troops' newspaper. With the New Zealand Division was Second-Lieutenant G. S. Cox, an experienced journalist in civil life who had already become famous before the war as a foreign correspondent for leading London dailies. General Freyberg summoned him and gave him his orders. He was to produce a paper as close as possible in format and content to the newspapers with which the troops were familiar in peacetime and which they associated with facts and the respect for facts. The first number was to appear as soon as might be, preferably on Monday, 12 May. It was already Wednesday, 7 May, when the interview took place.
By ransacking Canea Cox found a Greek journalist, one Georges Zamaryas, who had a case of French type. It had been in Athens, where the French had intended to start a French propaganda newspaper, and Georges had brought it with him to Crete when evacuation took place. The next step was to find a press, paper and compositors. The proprietor of the Canea evening newspaper agreed to let Cox use his presses by night. Paper was promised by Prince Peter, then liaison officer between the Greek and British forces. And the Greek commanding officer promised the services of a Greek compositor, one Alexei, who was then with the Greek forces. Two New Zealand soldiers, Privates Barry Michael and A. Membry, who had been reporters in civil life, were next acquired and with Lieutenant Cox formed the editorial staff. And a third New Zealander, Private Alec Taylor, who had been a compositor and printer, rounded off the team.
An editorial office was established in a room at ‘Fernleaf House’, the HQ of more secret activities. The printing shop was a cellar-basement, staffed by an overworked Greek called Niko and two girls. None of the three spoke English. All the type had to be set up by hand and the presses operated by treadle.
The editorial office acquired a wireless and it was decided to rely on the BBC for news. The paper would be a single sheet, double-sided. A woodblock was cut for the title The Crete News. And an English schoolmaster page 466 from Chios, Mr. Graham, was brought in to teach the New Zealanders the rudiments of Greek.
On Tuesday, 13 May, the first issue was ready for press. It was to appear next day, only two days behind General Freyberg's original schedule. But now troubles began. The printing shop was found to be padlocked and the proprietor had departed with the key for an unknown destination. Apparently he had become jealous of the new eminence of Georges Zamaryas. Cox got some clues to his whereabouts, commandeered a truck, and located him in a Karatsos café. Here Zamaryas harangued, threatened, and cajoled until the key was produced. With it the truck returned to Canea only to face the task of finding Alexei who had also disappeared. He was soon run to earth in the Greek barracks and shanghaied back to the printing shop.
All hands now turned to. It soon appeared that there was a deficiency of the letter ‘w’. The problem was solved by using the Greek letter omega. By eight o'clock that night paged proofs were ready for correction by flashlight held over the type. This laborious process took two and a half hours. The paper was then ready for machining. The editorial staff took it to the presses and then went off to eat to the accompaniment of an air raid.
They returned to find only six copies printed and no printer. The raid had sent him to the hills and he did not return. Niko and the editors set to work printing the paper themselves. By two o'clock next morning it was ready for distribution.
For the second number three more New Zealanders—Privates I. Bryce, A. Brunton and J. Gould—were borrowed from 18 Battalion. The paper appeared on 19 May. By this time bombing raids were incessant. The invasion was obviously not very far away.
On 20 May it began. Lieutenant Cox decided further issues were impossible, took up duties with the Intelligence staff at Creforce HQ, and attached his men to the Defence Platoon. There was too much happening that day for anyone to think about newspapers.
But on 21 May the situation round Canea had become quiet and the journalists began to get bored. Two of them went back to their unit and the rest came to Cox to point out that they would be more usefully occupied in producing the paper than in doing nothing. He himself was unable to promise much help because there was much to be done at Creforce, but he agreed to the resumption of the paper. A staff of four New Zealanders went to work.
For this issue the BBC was not available. But the news of the world was now in ‘their own backyard’, and the destruction of the invasion fleet on the night of 21 May won the headlines of the third issue when it appeared on 22 May. Two notices which took the place of editorials may be quoted: