2 Some RAF personnel had already been evacuated from Yithion and Kalamata in Sunderland aircraft. Another party at Kardhamili, a village some 20 miles south-east of Kalamata, left in a motor vessel for Crete.—See A. S. G. Lee, Special Duties, pp. 95–105. After the surrender of the main body many British officers and men rushed off by truck or on foot towards this village or the nearby coast, from which on succeeding nights some were collected by the Navy.
The boat which failed to cross the bay on the first night had finished up some ten miles down the coast from Kalamata. Inland there were German units, but the Greeks gave assistance and Lieutenant Poolman,2 with five men, waited hoping to see ships come in to collect troops. At this stage they were joined by seven men who had escaped from Kalamata after the surrender. The combined groups, less three men who preferred other risks, finally sailed for Crete on 30 April, crossing the bay and by stages sailing down the coast to Cape Matapan. On the way they were joined by some of the men from one of the two smaller boats and on 8 May, by sailing south-east to Kithira and Katra, they reached the port of Kastelli in Crete.
The rear party of the Royal Air Force had a different history. Disappointed at the non-appearance of warships or Sunderlands during the night of 27–28 April, they had on 28 April moved to Kardhamili, a coastal village across the bay and about 20 miles south of Kalamata. A 30-foot motor boat had been chartered and all preparations made for a move that night. So when a motorcyclist brought the news of the German entry into Kalamata, the party left in daylight, creeping down the coast to Cape Matapan and eventually reaching Kithira and, on 30 April, Suda Bay in Crete.
Those who found small boats were usually more successful. Private Patterson2 (20 Battalion) and a Maori found a dinghy, put to sea and were picked up by one of the destroyers. Lieutenant E. H. Simpson, after taking part in the recapture of the town, was sent out from the beach with a small party in a rowing boat to contact the destroyers vaguely to be seen off shore. The ships left soon afterwards and the soldiers, using their packing case paddles, were forced to land down the coast. Next night they moved off shore, used the cordite from cartridge cases to make flares and were picked up by HMS Isis.
Another caique was taken out by the men5 from 6 Field Regiment who had reached Kalamata quite independent of the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion. Not confident of getting away, Lieutenant Reed and his party had been encouraged by Gunner McKenzie6 to arrange for their own evacuation. During the morning they had found a caique anchored well out from the mole and had left Sergeants Fenton7 and Lydster8 and Gunner Hodgetts9 to prepare her for the open sea and to keep guard over her until nightfall. Unfortunately for them the Germans arrived just before dark, came along the mole and took the caretakers back to join the prisoners near the Customs House. The other members of the party, after the counter-attack and the announcement that there would be no evacuation, returned to the caique, took aboard the supplies McKenzie had collected, and remained hidden all through 29 April—not smoking, not talking, very hot and sometimes worried by the sound of German voices. No investigation was made, however, and when darkness came two men used the rowing boat and towed the caique beyond the mole and out to sea. They then made their way down the coast and across to Crete, where they landed on 7 May.
4 R. M. Burdon, 24 Battalion, p. 48.
The Navy had in the meantime kept its promise to return. On 29–30 April, the night after the fighting, the destroyers Isis, Hero and Kimberley came over from Crete and picked up along the coast to the east of Kalamata some 16 officers and 17 other ranks, mainly from English units. The following night, 30 April–1 May, they were more successful, collecting 23 officers and 178 other ranks. And from Milos the Hotspur and Havock evacuated some 700 British and Palestinian troops who had reached that island from parts of Greece other than Kalamata.
Thereafter, until the airborne attack on 20 May, small parties made their way to Crete. Sometimes names were recorded, but very often the records were left behind on that island. The only reference may be a cable from Crete to New Zealand Headquarters in Egypt such as ‘Arrived Crete 14 May 13 other ranks’; a note that on 4 May forty arrived from Crete, ‘mostly New Zealanders’, who had been guarding the Shell Oil refinery; or the name of a Maori who had been captured at Kalamata and who by some unstated means had managed to escape. Sometimes those who reached Crete rejoined their units, took part in the fighting and were then killed or captured. The Mobile Dental Unit, for instance, records that Driver Ferris1 escaped by small boat but was compelled to return to land for ten to fourteen days. There he met Drivers Easton2 and Craig,3 who had been captured at Kalamata but had escaped and made their way through to the coast. Joining forces with eight other fugitives and securing a small boat, they reached Crete some days before the air attack. The survivors from the fighting joined in the march over the hills to the evacuation beaches, but several ‘have not yet reported.’4 Such a note in many of the war diaries for the Crete campaign explains why there are so many gaps in the history of the last few days in Greece.
4 War diary of ADDS, NZ Dental Corps, May 1941, Appx VI.