WO Bill Knox
Home Up Pendlebury WO Bill Knox

 

 

Bob Scott contacted me with information he collected after his curiosity was aroused on a visit to the Souda Bay Cemetery.
The following is what Bob found out about Bill Knox, Bob then wrote this up in the Rose and Laurel, the annual magazine of the Intelligence Corps.  I have reproduced it, with Bob's permission, as he wrote if for the magazine.  The article and photos are courtesy of Bob Scott.  Many of the characters are also mentioned elsewhere, especially within the pages for 'British characters' and 'The Cretan Runner'.

Soon after my wife and I arrived in Crete to settle there for a while, we visited the Allied War Cemetery in Souda Bay , near the town of Chania .  As an ex-National Serviceman in the Intelligence Corps, I was interested in looking at the British war graves there and was surprised to see a headstone commemorating a WOII W A Knox (CSM) of the Int Corps who was killed on 23 March 1944.  Adjoining this headstone is another, which records the death of two soldiers of the Cyprus Regiment, on the same day as Knox.   

A careful search of the site revealed no further mention of Int Corps members.  This set me wondering.  What was this chap, a CSM, doing in Crete ?  Whilst most of the headstones bore dates within the week of the Battle of Crete, May 1941, this was much later.  Why?  What had he been up to?  

Having read a number of publications about the Battle of Crete and the war in Crete generally, together with some previously unpublished information from files held in the Public Records Office, the following story emerges.  

CSM William Arthur Knox was recruited into Force 133 of the SOE in Cairo in July 1943 and was sent for training to a centre in Palestine .  He was subsequently posted to Crete to help train the guerrillas and landed there, together with Capt R C Barnes, RA, on 31 October, 1943.  Until September 1943, the norm had been to have two officers and two wireless sets in Crete but that entailed long journeys for the messengers, half-way across the island so it was decided to double the number of officers, each with a wireless set.  Accordingly, Major Dunbabin took over from Capt Leigh Fermor and under him was a Capt A M Rendel, RA, to look after Eastern Crete, while Capt Barnes worked under Capt A W (Xan) Fielding of the Cyprus Regiment in the Rethymno (western) region.  [1]    

Initially, CSM Knox was probably under the operational command of Capt (later Major) Fielding who first landed in Crete on the night of 11/12 January, 1942 and who was responsible for activity in the Rethymno and Chania districts.  Fielding was relieved on 5 August 1942 but was back again, landing by submarine near Koustoyerako on 27 November.  He continued to organise operations and intelligence gathering until 20 January 1944 when he left Crete and was relieved by Capt D J Ciclitira, S Staffs. , who had landed in the Selino (Western) area a month earlier.   

In the meantime, Ssgt Dudley Perkins, NZEF was sent out to Crete to assist Capt Fielding, landing on the night of 29/30 July 1943.  Dudley Perkins, who built up a tremendous rapport with the local resistance movement was to become known to the guerrillas as Capt Vasilis and is still a revered hero today.  

Lt G A Barkham, Beds & Herts, a wireless expert who was intended to service wireless sets and arms arrived in the western area during January.  In his report [2] he recalls:

        "On arriving here I was met by Xan who gave me a welcome and pushed off with his prisoners." (Italians were defecting to the British agents in large numbers at this point).  "I met Kiwi, [3] Bill, [4] and Steve [5] complete with beards and they told me Dennis [6] was on tour and not expected back for a fortnight or so. 

        We lived in the sea cave for a week or so until another one nearby was ready, when we moved.  An Italian, Angelo Zannielo, was brought in the day following my arrival and another eight deserted from Palaiochora and came in about a week later bringing their arms.  Nothing of importance happened for the first couple of weeks except the odd boat passing, which sent us all scuttling for shelter in case any Jerry should see the location.

        Kiwi went off on a short tour and Bill and Steve went to a christening, where I gather they had a very fine time.  They coined a new toast 'Kato to Tripa' meaning 'down the hatch'.  The villagers, however, thought they meant 'down the hole' - referring to Kiwi's exploit with the Jerries, and I believe the toast has achieved quite a measure of fame."  

Barkham goes on to describe a piece of action:

        "Bill and I stuck together and Kiwi, who had got into position, was awaiting a favourable moment to open fire, when the Jerries on the road below had no cover, when some fool opened up too soon and spoiled the trap.  .............. The Jerries, who were about 40, finding themselves pinned, sent up a Very light and about an hour later another 40 came along from Souya.  He (Kiwi) shifted half his men to the other side of the hill and pinned them too.  Bill went round to another vantage point to give Kiwi covering fire.  ..... The Jerry casualties were four killed, buried ant Souya and reports say that some wounded died en route for Chania, possibly two, and fifteen wounded."  

Those extracts give a slight flavour of British Agents' lives in the White Mountains of Crete.  More follow: 

At about 5.30pm on 26 February 1944, Ssgt Perkins, who was travelling from the Selino area of Crete northwards, was ambushed by about 30 Germans near Karano.  He and his guide were killed from about 20 yards range by machine gun fire.  ............  The Jerries got the set, battery, one time code pads and about one hundred shiners (golden sovereigns, used to buy food etc as local currency was pretty worthless. ed.)  On 6th March, I received orders from Dennis [6] to disband the gang and go to ground as he had information that a fresh hunt was to start with the moonlight nights. [2]     

        Bill and I were not sorry to do this as we had learned from experience that the gang were quite content to sit about and eat all day, but at the first sign of trouble they changed their minds and thought of their families and the burnt villages. .....  The second reason  since the Germans started the spy hunt, the whole population had turned against us. [7]  

        When we split up the gang, Bill took the best of the men he trusted.  We gave some money to the others. ............  at about 7 am on 23rd March a large number of Germans passed along the road very near to our hideout and almost caught one of (blanked out) men.  There were eight of us there and we crouched down expecting the worst, because though the cave was well hidden, the aerial was plainly visible and how they failed to see it was a miracle.  Shortly afterwards a tremendous amount of shooting was heard with machine guns firing incessantly and many grenades.  In the evening a lad came in and told us that there had been a fierce fight at Bill's cave but apart from saying he had seen four stretchers, could give no information except that 500 Germans had taken part.   The next day I sent off a couple of the boys to find out what had happened and at 5 pm they returned to tell me that Bill was dead and lying with the two Cypriots outside their cave.  I set off at once ... and on arriving there found them just as they had said.  The ground round them was littered with spent cartridge cases, stick grenades and smoke generators, and they had obviously fought to the bitter end.  God knows how Bill was killed, as his body was unscathed except for a blow which had smashed his skull - I imagine a rifle butt.  One Cypriot had been shot in the throat and the other in the stomach.  Their pockets had been searched and only a tiny compass in Bill's jacket was left. [8] Their boots and one of the Cypriot's trousers had been taken.   

        We buried them where they lay with a last salute and I have had the grave covered with large stones.  A cross will be erected as soon as possible.  

        ..........  The whole affair is certainly a betrayal by a Greek as none of the Italians knew where any of us were and the Germans came without the slightest warning, went straight to Bill's cave, did their bloody work and left again in the space of a few hours, a thing they had never done before.  ....  His death is a great personal loss to me as we were the closest of friends.  As regards his work both here and since the war began, Cairo knows that even better than I do. [2]  

This last point is amplified a little in Barkham's final report where he says:

        "During March we were warned by the inhabitants of the village of Kambos that they didn't want us in the area, as they said that owing to recent German raids and the Italian prisoners we were holding, they were afraid the Germans would come and burn the village.  They warned us that if we didn't leave they would betray us.  ....  We remained in that same area and on March 23 1944 five hundred Germans were led by a masked Greek to the hide-out where CSM Knox was, together with six of his boys.  As a result of this, Knox and two Cypriots were killed." [7]  

CSM Knox arrived here long after the Battle of Crete but his headstone in the well-kept cemetery is a reminder of the struggle that went on after most of the allies had been evacuated.   

He was survived by his widow, Mabel Annie Knox of Thorpe Bay , Essex .  The BT Phone Book doesn't list anyone called Knox in Thorpe Bay, so I don't know if there are any other relatives alive to-day, but if there are, they may like to know that an ex-Corps member now living on the island pays regular visits to the cemetery to 'have a word' with CSM Knox.   

Bob Scott.   

[1] 'The Cretan Resistance 1941-1945' by N A Kokonas, MD.  Para 86

[2] File HS5/722, PRO Kew.  First Report by D/H.1255 (Lt Barkham) dated 16 April, 1944

[3] SSgt Dudley Perkins, NZEF, aka Capt Vasilis

[4] CSM WA Knox, Int Corps

[5] Cpl Steve Gillespie, Fielding's wireless operator

[6] Capt Dennis Ciclitira, who replaced Fielding in Jan 44

[7] File HS5/722, PRO Kew.  Final Report by Lt Barkham written shortly before his capture in Crete on 16 October 1944 (although the report purports to cover a period to 19 October).

[8] Something just under 130 'shiners' along with some papers were missing from Knox's body. 

 

© Bob Scott 2002  

Warrant Officer WA Knox, Intelligence Corps (Part II)  

Readers may recall my article in the 1998 issue of 'The Rose & Laurel' in which I described my search for information about the death of Bill Knox on 23rd March 1944 in Crete .  It was quickly established that he had been seconded to the SOE and was working with the resistance movement in Crete when he was killed.   

Since I wrote the article there have been many developments regarding Bill's story.  From not knowing anyone in the family, I have now met his two surviving sisters, his second cousin and her family and have spoken to his widow by telephone.  However, more important from an historical point of view was the meeting with Nikos Metokharakis who, astonishingly, was with Bill on the day that he was killed.  I have had several meetings with Nikos (who is now 82 years young) and at our very first meeting he took me and my wife to view the area where the action took place on that fateful morning in March, and showed us  where his wife and sister buried Bill and his two Greek Cypriot colleagues.  The details of the meeting are irrelevant to this story, but it was nonetheless moving to see Nikos standing by that first grave, with tears rolling down his cheeks - 57 years after it all happened.  

What follows is an account of what happened on 23rd March 1944, in Nikos's own words [1]  

        "During the night of 22/23 March 1944, a large number of German soldiers came from the Kandanos area and surrounded the village of Moni .   

        Early in the morning, my brother Vasilis (who was 17 at the time) spotted some of the soldiers and with a 15-year old friend came to our hide-out to warn us that “The Goats are here” which we knew meant German troops were in the area.  In our hideout with me was Bill, my brother Manolis (the priest), a couple of Cypriot soldiers who had only been with us for a few days, Eftichios Elinakis and Ioannis Vaigakis.   

        We decided to leave the cave, go out into the dry river bed and try to work our way up and out to Kambanos.  However, we had only gone a short way before we spotted more German soldiers approaching from the Maralia direction.  My young brother Vasilis and his young friend were out in front with Ioannis Vaigakis, leading us. The German soldiers then shouted “Halt”, whereupon Ioannis Vaigakis, who had been properly trained and had a gun, dropped to the ground and fired off a shot to warn the rest of us who were behind him, coming up the river bed.  Vasilis was convinced the Germans had shot him and came rushing back to tell us that he was dead! I then told Vasilis to go back and hide.  I told him that with three of us brothers around, it wouldn’t  do for us all to be killed, so he should take cover - which he did.   

        However, on hearing the shot from Ioannis Vaigakis, the Germans themselves hid and in the confusion, Ioannis was able to escape. The other young lad stayed, put up his hands and when the Germans emerged from their hiding place, he surrendered to them and was taken away.   

        We ourselves decided to take another escape route along a small river to the east, but another lot of Germans appeared, so we had to go back.  By now, we were totally surrounded by Germans in a small clearing.  (The clearing was, in fact, an area full of rocks and shoulder-high bushes, in which the Germans and the Andartes were trying to pick each other off - Ed).  In trying to escape, I pulled Bill up over some rocks but again the Germans challenged us and my brother Manolis was shot in the heel.  I went to help him and Bill decided it would be safer to go back down to level ground again, with the two Cypriot soldiers.  In the meantime, Eftichios Elinakis continued upwards, and he, my brother and I managed to get away.  That separation was a big problem. By now it was about 10 o’clock in the morning and raining.  I didn’t see Bill and the two Cypriots killed but we heard shots and the Germans were using lots of smoke grenades so the air was thick. If we had all stuck together and gone upwards, maybe we could all have escaped.  However, that was not to be.  

My brother Manolis and I used the smoke, rain and confusion to get into hiding in a small copse.  The Germans knew that we were there, but were afraid to come after us, so they tried to smoke us out by setting fire to the copse!  At that point, my brother was saying he would rather commit suicide than be captured by the Germans and I had quite a job to talk him out of it.  In the end, I more or less forced him to come with me and we managed to escape.   

Having killed Bill and the two Cypriots, the Germans rounded up all who were left in Moni, mainly women and children, and held them captive for a while in the churchyard.  Some of women were not even from the village, but had come from the surrounding area to pick the olives!  Once they had been released and the Germans left taking their 6 dead and about 15 wounded to Kandanos, my mother and my sister went to the hideout and  found the bodies of Bill and the Cypriots.  At first, my sister thought that Bill was my brother Manolis and shouted out “Oh Mama, our priest is dead!”.  We, still in hiding, heard her and my brother shouted “No, he’s not!”  They told us that the Germans had left, so I carried my brother on my shoulders and we all went back to the village to get his wound cleaned up.  But, it wasn’t safe to stay in any of the villages, so for some days Manolis and I trudged around the hillsides, hiding in caves etc, trying to beg for food and water from ‘friendly’ villagers.  We were afraid of being betrayed, and the villagers were afraid in case we were discovered by the Germans who would then exact reprisals on the villagers for hiding us.  It was a very difficult time.  Ioannis Vaigakis knew where we were and acted as a kind of guard to us which was good.   

My mother told me afterwards that the next day, the 24th, she and my sister went back to the bodies and covered them over with sand and leaves.  However, the next year there was a terrible flood and the remains of our friends were in danger of being washed away, so we gathered them up and re-buried them in Moni churchyard.   

Anyway, in May, the British took me and my brother Manolis  to Cape Tripiti and a Torpedo Boat ferried us to Cairo where we stayed until December 1944.  We had some funny experiences there.  One British officer, who knew us quite well, totally ignored us, but one day we saw Dennis Ciclitira and he welcomed us both with open arms.  At that time we were with the Greek section in Cairo and Dennis tried to get us attached to the British section as part of the 133rd  [2]  .  That worked for a while but in the end we had to go back to the Greek section and eventually came back to Crete .   

After the war, my brother Manolis who was about 30 at the time, went on to university and eventually became a Priest in the Orthodox Church.  He married and had four children, but unfortunately died of asthma when he was 46."   

[1]  I am grateful to Eileen Hogan of Chania for translating this 'on the hoof'

[2]  Force 133, SOE personnel in Crete  

That isn't quite the end of the story though.  On May 19th 2001, the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete, there was a service in the War Cemetery in Souda Bay , Crete, at which HRH the Duke of Kent, the President of Greece and various dignitaries from Australia and New Zealand were all present.  This is to be the final commemoration of the Battle as most of the veterans are now either dead or unable to make the journey to Crete .  The highlight for us was seeing Bill Knox's two sisters, Maggie (87) and Jess (79) laying an Intelligence Corps wreath at the cenotaph.  They had made the journey specially to meet Nikos (another long story in itself!) and to lay the wreath.  Other family members were there too and the next day we hosted a small 'Bill Knox luncheon party' at our home, overlooking Souda Bay at which all eight of the family members who had made the journey to Crete had a good time, remembering Bill, his work, his friends and colleagues in a spirit of happy thankfulness.    

The following photos were also sent by Bob Scott.

Bill Knox

Jess, Nikos & Maggie [Bill's two sisters]

Nikos Metokharakis

Vassilis & Nikos