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To Greece

The Withdrawal of 6 Brigade to Monemvasia, 27–28 April

page 442

The Withdrawal of 6 Brigade to Monemvasia, 27–28 April

On 27 April, when 4 Brigade was waiting to embark from Porto Rafti, 6 Brigade was in the Tripolis area preparing to move south that night to Monemvasia. As the troops had by then learnt the value of concealment they suffered little from air attacks. Those who took the greatest risks were the staff and reconnaissance parties moving south to the embarkation area. General Freyberg visited Brigade Headquarters and it was decided that there should be one long night withdrawal, a distance of over 100 miles across several mountain ranges with tortuously winding roads. The instructions were then issued, but it was suddenly decided that 26 Battalion should move that day, leaving the road relatively clear for the other battalions.

About midday the companies were strung out along the highway and enemy aircraft were soon active. However, a working party went ahead to fill in bomb craters, orders about dispersal were strictly enforced and the Divisional Supply Column drivers maintained a high average speed, driving south-east across the plain and over the mountains to the Sparta area, one of the loveliest in Greece. Away to the west was the blue wall of the Taygetus Range overshadowing the orange and mulberry groves, the oleanders and cypresses, and the fields of gladioli, hyacinths and asphodels. The road continued southwards over the hills, passing one village after another, each with its flock of sheep, its pigs, its goats and its fowls, its olive trees and its dark-green orange grove. Finally, instead of continuing south to Yithion, the port of Sparta, they turned south-eastwards to the small plain about Molaoi, about 15 miles from the evacuation beaches at Monemvasia.

The withdrawal that night of 24 and 25 Battalions was not delayed by the approach of any German force. The Divisional Supply Column moved forward up the narrow, winding one-way road to the defences on the northern hills. After turning round at the crest of the pass—no other suitable point could be found— the Column collected 25 Battalion and hastened south through Tripolis. The companies of 24 Battalion, already embussed and waiting in the centre of the town, then moved off, the drivers concentrated on their task and by morning, after the fastest night move of the campaign, the battalions were safely under cover near Molaoi. Fourth Field Ambulance, which had left about 8.30 p.m., was already there with the thirty-seven wounded, some of them from the Greek hospital in Tripolis.