A ......... was overwhelming
. Was it just that the sun was disappearing beyond the rugged mountains
that had, for the past 10 days witnessed the gradual erosion of their
...... by the invading the German paratroopers, or was it the emptiness
that filled the air, that environment that was among the long lines of
weary men who stood waiting on the battle scarred beach hopefully awaiting
transport to the ship silhouetted on the horizon?
They knew that minutes were
precious, and that some must yet see another sun rise on the island that
they had fought so hard to save. Many must have felt that, after all, this
was as the German propaganda claimed -- their "
" when they saw the hulls of the [evacuating] ships turn away and
gradually diminish into the night.
Their commanding officer call them
together and explained that the ships would not be coming back and that
the High Command had ordered them presumably the men to destroy all arms
and surrender, without resistance, to the Nazi troops.
Among the ill-fated men there were
four who decided to make a last bid for freedom. As they separated from
the crowd, their one thought was to survey the coastline and to locate a
boat. Each realized how media had their chances were, especially as some
had had previous experience with sailing or navigating. However, knowing
this could be their only means of escape, they decided to risk the sea
rather than undergo the humiliation of imprisonment.
As they picked their way through
the rocks, the stench of death hung all around like some permeating fog.
It was not until some several hundred yards had been covered before they
began to breathe pure air -- already a sense of freedom prevailed.
The conversation which until now
had been rather meaningless, became more exhilarated, for on rounding a
cliff, they sighted a small village nestling in a cove. Hopes were raised
as they perceived two boats on the shore. Their pace quickened, as they
realized that yet their hopes may be fulfilled if one was seaworthy.
As dawn was approaching, they had
to make a rapid decision with what little knowledge they had, before they
were discovered by Germans or Greeks.
The one [boat] chosen was
apparently seaworthy, it was a 20 foot fishing caique, with masts capable
of mounting sails. Feverishly working against time they pushed it into
deeper water and rowed it to a well concealed inlet which fortunately was
nearby -- the task had barely been completed before daybreak.
The next step was to obtain the
cooperation of the villagers. Water and food was essential, its future
used to remain obscure -- inability to speak the language presented
On entering the village, they were
met with looks of both welcome and fear. Prospects were beginning to fade
when they heard an encouraging word, which sounded to them like a
greeting. On turning they could not help being amused by the attire of the
speaker, an elderly bearded Cretan. He wore a "petsika" or
bandanna around his unruly hair, a double-breasted embroidered waistcoat
of bluish colour, black baggy knee-length "brakas" held up by a
long dull red sash wound around his waist, and knee high boots. He looked
dirty in appearance but kind of heart and he was evidently the mayor of
By rubbing their stomachs in a
see-saw motion the four men intimated that they needed food. The old
Cretan appeared to understand. Consequently, it was not long before they
left the village fully provisioned.
It was agreed that, after preparing
and loading the boat, they part to keep a strict watch over their domain,
reassembling at night fall.
It was dark and moonless when next
they met; only one specifically watching would have observed them slipping
away. Not a word was spoken for fear that at this stage, they would be
apprehended. As the minutes passed uneventfully the tension eased as their
straining backs rowed them further from the shore, but there was no time
for rest and the one thought in every mind was to put as much water
between themselves and the island before daybreak. Soon after midnight a
gentle breeze allowing use of the sails which they managed to hoist with
much difficulty gave tired men relief.
It was only then that they allowed
their minds to wander back to their comrades, now languishing in the
prison camps. It seemed too good to be true that the first and most
difficult part of their escape had been accomplished.
Geoff Brown who, from the outset
was deemed as the leader, immediately set about dividing the party into
two shifts, one to watch their course, whilst the other gained a little
respite. He realized that now their only enemies were to be a quiescent
wind or a patrolling Nazi plane which would either strafe them or radio
back to have Stukas attack them in force.
The African coast was so extensive
that he knew it was impossible to miss it, for had he not, only prior to
the battle of Crete, learnt that the Allies had formed a line 150 miles
He grimaced as his mind wandered
back over the first campaign in which he had participated in
. He remembered the exuberant feeling of victory as he, together with the
others of his company, had so utterly defeated the Italians, but the lines
on his forehead deepened as he compared that campaign with the one from
which he had just emerged, had they not fought just as skillfully, and
with the same brilliant leadership? Why was it then that the second
had to be staged? It gradually dawned on him. Yes - the same old cry -
material, equipment, men - the Nazis dropping from the sky shielded by
hundreds of planes, Nazis equipped with everything from saccharin tablets
and compasses to Lugers and automatic guns compared with the Britisher,
who, if he was lucky, had a bandolier slung across his shoulder and a
rifle in his hands.
Someday, he mused, when we meet
again - perhaps it will be a little while - but we will bring you to your
senses begging for mercy just as we did to the Italians.
Dawn. the most crucial period had
been with them for just an hour, it seemed longer, this was the time which
any plane, whether friend or foe, patrolled an island base.
Geoff suggested that the sails be
taken down so that apart from the gentle heaving, the boat would remain
motionless. He realized that there was a chance the boat may be passed,
particularly if the plane was to be at high altitude. Minutes dragged by,
the men sat nibbling at bread and olives unconsciously tossing the stones
into the water silently lapping against the hull. Their muscles tensed as
the expected drone reached their ears, it was not then possible to define
whether it was the unsynchronized beat of the Nazi or the even tempo or
the even tempo let forth by the British planes. It gradually grew louder
and by the manner in which the four looked at one another, it became
evident that the aircraft would be carrying the black swastika, that
dreaded cross, which had overrun numerous countries, carrying death and
destruction before it, not only to the armed forces in which it contacted
but to terrified civilians and innocent unsuspecting children.
Soon they could see the silhouette
of a twin-engine bomber against the greyish stratus clouds, it was
travelling toward them bBut some distance astern. Perhaps, after all, with
no billowing sails, or foaming wake to help disclose their position, they
may be missed or even if seen, they may be mistaken for fishermen. The
too-familiar sight of a Junkers sped by apparently unconcerned by their
presence, was it their good fortune to survive what seemed to be their
last hazard, it seemed certain when they saw the black dot gradually
disappear without altering its course. No time was wasted rehoisting the
sails and soon they were travelling slowly towards
Three days had past, days of
monotony, hunger and the expectancy of what would lie over the horizon.
Apart from the droning of aircraft, the journey had been uneventful, they
had been fortunate that the wind prevailedotherwise with their diet of
only bread and the detested olives they would have been in a very weak
It was approx 10 a.m. when one of
them sighted the long, low coastline .... (the narrative ends at this
point, and was never finished).
Editor's note: It is possible that
"Geoff Brown" is CJC, who had served in
against the Italians prior to fighting in
. As a sergeant, it is probable that he was the highest ranking person in
the group of four and thus leadership would fall naturally to him. But we
will never know for certain ....
If it is a record of CJC's attempt
to escape from Crete, then the attempt failed because he ended up back on
just after the middle of 1941, and remained on the island until May 1943,
when he escaped in a group under the organisation of (British) Captain Xan
Fielding. For a full account, refer to Jim McDevitt's book - Chapter XXX,
page 266. (It's a good read!)
Initially, in 1941, CJC was a
prisoner of war, but escaped sometime that year and spent the rest of his
with a false name, false
papers and the ability to speak Greek.