Story by Arthur Midwood (Ngāti Pikiao) 90 years old28 Māori Battalion & surviving thirty niner from B Company – NZ Crete veteran
19 May 2008
I joined the NZ Armed Forces on 26 January 1940, having been examined on 16 November 1939. I am one of the original members of the 28th Māori Battalion and the last of 3 surviving thirty niners. We embarked for overseas service 1 May 1940 on the boat named the Aquitania and we travelled to Scotland, where we disembarked 16 June 1940. We travelled by train to England where we spent 8 months in the south of England. On the 4th March 1941 the NZ Battalions left England for the Maadi Camp in Egypt. Later that month (25 March) we embarked for Greece and Crete.
As part of the allied forces defending Crete during the German invasion I recall the sensation of large numbers of German paratroopers descending, without knowing whether they would land in front or behind us and the difficulties this created.
During the battle of Crete I suffered a penetrating bullet wound to the right side of my chest. I was grateful to receive a field dressing from the medical officer, but after that I was “on my own”. I strongly recall the sense of having to look after myself, with my right arm completely useless. I also recall purchasing a bottle of water from one of the local villagers. After walking from Suda Bay, across the mountains, I reached Sfakia, the evacuation beach where there we other soldiers trying to escape. We were constantly under fire, particularly from Stuka bombers. One projectile hit an olive tree I was sheltering under, and a burning piece of metal landed on my leg, making me think that I had been shot again. I recall the extreme difficulty of the evacuation, getting on the boat with only one arm, with the attack from the air continuing. I remained lying on the deck of the boat until we reached Egypt the following day, where I spent several months convalescing.
Another stressful event that I recall was in the African desert when I was in a slip trench with two comrades. A grenade landed at the back of the slip trench and exploded killing my two comrades, but with no injuries to me, although I was sitting between the two men who were killed.
Also on the campaign in Africa, I was wounded in the right forearm by shrapnel from a shell, and also in the back of my left thigh on the same day.
I remember the elation of returning home with the 28 Māori Battalion after the Second World War, but at the same time carrying the traumatic memories of my war experiences till this day.
During the Year of the Veteran last year I had the golden opportunity to return to Greece and Crete with a group of 8 NZ Crete veterans on the Pilgrimage to Crete 2006. It was the very first time I had left NZ since the war and the return to Crete was to attend the 65th Battle of Crete Commemorations. Travelling with the NZ Crete veterans and supporters over the battle trails on Crete brought back vivid memories for me.
When I saw the mountainous track (White Mountains) that I had struggled my way over, from Hania to Sfakia, 65 years earlier I found it hard to believe that I had accomplished the journey with a bullet hole in my side. We found the bridge where I had been shot, not far from Māleme Airfield and also the renowned 42nd Street near Suda Bay. I learned 65 years on that the Cretans still have a very deep bond and love for New Zealander’s and that the annual commemorations for the Battle of Crete (1941) will continue forever.
After recently celebrating my 90th birthday I am pleased to attend the 67th Battle of Crete Commemorations in Wellington.
Acknowledgement: Eric Midwood, for allowing publication of Arthur's story.