Lew Lind
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Lew Lind, and his experience in the Battle of Crete

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Lew Lind wrote a book of his experiences in the Battle of Crete, it was published in 1944 as "Escape from Crete".  He later updated the book, and changed the title to "Flowers of Rethymnon" which alluded to the Cretan belief that the spirits of the Australian soldiers who died there are immortalized in the flowers that grow at Rethymnon.  Lew Lind was a 19 year old soldier in the 2/3rd Field Regiment.

Arrival in Crete



Escape from the camp

The last leg of the journey


Use the link on the right to order "Flowers of Rethymnon" from Amazon.

Flowers of Rethymon

Photo shows New Zealand troops in a Cretan village before the invasion.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

On the 2nd April they disembarked in Piraeus to be part of the Allied assistance to Greece, and would find themselves at the Kolide Pass, in the snow, engaging the advance guard of the Adolf Hitler Armoured Division.  However, as the Allied position in Greece crumbled Lind's units found themselves in a number of rear-guard actions, protecting the retreating allied forces.  
Their evacuation point was Porto Rafti, which they left on the light cruiser Ajax, believing they were en-route Alexandria, but fetching up in Suda bay on the 1st May.  The Regiment was to be split up and formed into three companies of infantry, and would be used for shore defence.  Plans are made to be changed, and after some days they reformed as artillery with Italian 105mm guns captured in Libya.  They were then moved by barge to Rethymnon.  

British, Australian and New Zealand troops disembark at Suda Bay.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Lind says their troop had two guns which were dug into pits "camouflaging them and preparing our defences for the assault that was expected at any hour.  The guns were in the corners of a wheat field on the side of a hill overlooking the aerodrome."
I believe Lind's group were on Hill B.  The RAF had been using the airfield but where they had originally been 9 Gloster-Gladiators, these had gradually dwindled to 5. These last 5 finally left the day Lind's group arrived there. 
Although many on the ground were to criticize the lack of RAF involvement in the Battle of Crete, Lind says that on the 19th May two Gloster-Gladiators took on some twenty German aircraft over Rethymnon, inevitably both were destroyed with those odds against them.
On the 20th May the Australians stood-to at 04:00, and by daylight the invasion had started, they saw the Ju52 transports heading west to Maleme.  The transports targeted for Rethymnon were spotted approaching at about three o'clock in the afternoon, the paratroops, under various coloured 'chutes, all came down on the eastern side of the airfield.  Half an hour later the second wave came in "doors sprang open, olive-clad figures were silhouetted for a moment or two, and then they began to jump".  Lind describes the descent of the paratroops, "overhead, billowing parachutes had nearly blotted out the sky.  Hanging from them were weird shapes clad in crash helmets and overalls.  Their knees were hunched up close to their chins and they were firing Tommy guns clamped between their knees.........Many had been hit and their bodies, on striking the ground, gave a flip like a clasp-knife.  Three, whose parachutes had not opened, crashed with crunchy thuds."
During the day the guns were used to engage some of the transports that had crash landed on the beach, but with no sights, the guns were difficult to use effectively.  During the night German prisoners were brought in by the infantry, one of them, unknown to Lind at the time, was Colonel Sturm, commander of the German forces at Rethymnon.  Lind describes him as "..a colonel of true Prussian type, bull-necked and close cropped."
By the morning of the 22nd the Germans were bombarding the Australian guns from around 1,500 yards away, and scored a direct hit on the second gun in Lind's troop.  Most of the crew died instantly, the rest died before the morning of the 23rd.  After the destruction of the second gun Lind was one of a team who were to be taken by Bren-carrier to retrieve a German two-pounder which had been air dropped in.  They managed to get the gun unchallenged and brought it into action on the morning of the 23rd.  The Germans had a strong position in the church of St. George on high ground to the south of Perivolia, and had machine-guns positioned in the steeple.  By 08:00 Lind's gun crew had brought down the steeple.
During the next couple of days the Australians were subjected to a lot of aerial strafing and bombing, there were also a great many German dead around, decomposing in the heat of the day.  "The stench from these bodies was sickening."  By the 25th the olive-oil factory, and the Germans in there had been taken after an attack led by two of the "I" tanks.
The tanks were of the type shown in the photo on the right.  (This is one of the tanks under Lieutenant Ferran, disabled in the attack on Galatas.)  The tanks were to be used again on the 26th in an attack on Rethymnon, but one broke down and one became bogged down.  The attack was postponed, and took place later with the two tanks again supporting.  Unfortunately both tanks were knocked out, the attack failed and there were heavy casualties.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

By the 29th "we had dragged our guns back to the eastern perimeter of the aerodrome and were soon bedded down for the night."  On the morning of the 31st a column of German motor-cylists and a number of German tanks approached, it was all over and the Australians surrendered.
Initially Lind and a few others tried to make break for it, but two of them were shot, and the rest quickly realised that they were in fact surrounded, and so gave up the attempt.  They would not be moved around by the Germans.  They headed off towards Rethymnon, and by eight o'clock the following evening they were in Georgiopolous and after more hard marching with almost nothing to eat or drink, seeing corpses everywhere, they arrived in the ruins of Suda Bay.  After being made to do some work in the dock area, moving large bags of rice, they continued through Canea to the General Military Hospital about five miles beyond Canea.  The following day the march continued to Maleme.  Those who have been on holiday on Crete, and driven from Rethymnon to Maleme will appreciate how hard that four day, 60 mile march must have been in their condition, and with very limited food and water.
The airfield was a scene of enormous destruction, "a mass of tortured confusion" in Lind's words.  For the next few days they were put to work clearing the destruction so that the Germans could establish an aerial supply service with the mainland.  Lack of decent food and water resulted in rife dysentery, and by 12 June only about half the original number remained in camp.
By 28 June Lind, together with three others (Farleigh James known as "Flap", Frereick Sharp and "Bluey" Armstrong) had decided they would attempt to escape that night.  They got out through the fence at 6p.m. but then had to lie up not far from the fence to wait for dark, the ground was too open to risk movement, they should have waited till later to make the break.  They made it later to the hills, exhausted, but the next day they were treated to Cretan village hospitality as they tried to make their way to the south coast.  They spent days in the hills with the Cretans providing them with food and shelter but Lind was getting restless.  He wanted to push on for the coast, the others were more cautious.  On the 11th July Lind said farewell and moved on.  Fred Sharp and Bluey Armstrong would be captured by the Germans in 1942, and sent to Germany, while Flap James would evade capture and was evacuated from Crete in 1943.
Lind met a 15 year old local boy who agreed to act as his guide over the White Mountains and in one of the villages they were put in touch with another group of Australians and New Zealanders, also trying to escape.  Lind and one of the new group wanted to push, so he and his new colleague, Bob, pushed on.  Unfortunately some days later Bob was taken badly sick and needed a doctor.  The villagers helped him to find one for Bob, but when he recovered he preferred to stay with the villagers rather than carry on with Lind.  Lind continued again on his own, but with help of Cretans that he came across.  These people risked their lives helping people like Lew Lind.
These posters were put up to try to make people like Lind give themselves up.

"There are MANY OF YOU STILL HIDING in the mountains, valleys and villages.


Every OPPOSITION will be completely USELESS!

Every ATTEMPT TO-FLEE will be in VAIN.

The COMMING WINTER will force you to leave the mountains.

Only soldiers who PRESENT themselves AT ONCE will be sure of a HONOURABLE AND SOLDIERLIKE CAPTIVITY OF WAR, On the contrary who is met in civil clothes will be treated as a spy


The posters did not cause many to give themselves up! Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
Lind came to the little south coast village of Souya where he hoped to find a boat, he didn't, but he met another Australian, Dick Plant.  (One problem with Lind's book is the lack of dates, but I believe this was now somewhere between mid and late July.  Dick had been observing Germans at Paleochora, some twelve miles and two days hike away.  In the evening a German patrol boat would anchor off the jetty leaving only two crew members aboard.  Having hiked across the hills they swam out around 8.30 p.m. to attempt to board the boat.  They turned back without trying when they saw a third crew member, the plan was too ambitious.  They slept that night in the hills, but in the morning Dick was seriously ill with fever.  It was to be a nightmare thirty hours for Lind trying to drag/carry Dick to medical attention.  Exhausted with the effort Lind fell asleep to wake up and find a "tall bearded Cretan", Gregori Zorbazakis and his son Nicko looking at them.  Dick was taken to the village and given treatment, but with an alarm that Germans were in the vicinity, Nicko led Lind up into hiding in the hills.
After three days Lind moved off on his own again and arrived in the village of Koustagerako over the Selino valley (it would later be destroyed in 1943 by the Germans and many inhabitants were executed).  In the village the local resistance were suspicious of him, and after being kept under guard he managed to escape again into the hills.  The hike continued, with various incidents until he reached the vicinity of Georgopolis, to the west of Rethymnon.  He was now moving out of western Crete where most of the escapees were, there would be fewer from now on until he reached the evacuation point.
Lind came down off the mountain towards the approaches to Rethymnon, to the area in which he had fought back in May.  He saw many Australian corpses, still un-buried.  Here again he was able to take advantage of the Cretan hospitality, from a Greek family where they had bought eggs before the invasion.  He then struck out south-east, arriving in the village of Mythros, some twelve miles from Rethymnon.  By this time, staying some while in the village, Lind says he had lost track of time.  certainly there are no dates mentioned to give much of a clue at this part of his narrative.  One Sunday Lind was asked to attend an evening meal after the villagers had been to church.  When the priest came it turned out to be Commander Pool, who landed on Crete at Limni, July 17, and this is referred to by George Psychoundakis in "The Cretan Runner".  Pool was working with the resistance, and was assisting allied soldiers to leave the island.  Lind was to be one of them.  He was moved to the village of Selli where he was treated as a VIP, with much feasting and drinking!  But now he was on the last stages of his journey home.  They travelled over the mountains to Fratti, above Limni, and joined a group of some twenty allied soldiers waiting to be taken off the island.  For a few days their routine swung between swimming and sunbathing, and then hiding to avoid German patrols.
On August 16 (a date at last) there was a gala day with "fowls roasted in butter", then on August 19 an Australian Major arrived to tell them he expected good news for them soon.  On 22 August they heard that they were to move to the coast the following night.  They moved off, but had to spend the night in hiding because of German patrols.  The following evening they moved off again, with more luck this time, and made their way to the bay at Limni.  They were to be taken off by submarine, HMS Torbay, and left the beach in groups, some swimming, some in a small boat.  Four days later, on 28 August, they reached Alexandria.
The following is the last paragraph Of Lew Lind's story.

"The same sun that had burned down on us in Crete shone over us now.  It was, I told myself, beating down, at this very moment, on the hills and plains over which I had travelled for so many weary months.  I prayed that it would soon shine upon those brave islanders, so self-sacrificing and hardy, on a day of freedom such as we, who owed so much to them, now enjoyed."