John Palmer of D Company was part of a ten-man section belonging to 17 Platoon left behind in dense bush near the foot of the steep Mavroneri Gorge (Greece) in 1941. After a brief frantic fight with German forces the order to withdraw was passed along Battalion lines. It was a dark wet and windy night and word never reached the section to which John Palmer belonged.
In part two of this three part interview John Palmer recalls the ammunition left behind by the Māori Battalion that was taken away by local Greeks. En-route to Olympus Pass to find the ir Battalion Serbian soldiers warn that John and crew are heading towards the Germans. They decide to return to their original lines in the Mavroneri Gorge. They also find a critically injured Māori Battalion soldier who they send to a German sanatorium for medical attention.
And ah at Battalion Headquarters there was these hundreds of cases of 303 ammunition all stacked there, they never had time to take them you see. And that afternoon some of the local Greeks, farmers or whoever they were, timber men, had arrived there, because they 'd know the fighting had gone. And ah [ they] asked us if they could have these cases of ammo. We said , "Yes , take them. " Gidurchi, they used to call the Germans. " We'll use these later on for the Germans. " All the, what do you call them. Never mind. Anyway so they came with all their donkeys and carted all these cases of ammo away. So right, seeing that we heard the Battalion, they were going to make a stand at the end of the pass, so we climbed right to the top of the range and we were gonna make our way around the top of the range you know right down here, wherever. Then we run into, that's right, a mob of Serbians, soldiers. Through sign language and noise and whatever - Gidurchi's they call Germans - they told us there's nobody there it's all Germans, our mates had gone. So it had taken us three days to get up to where we were. We had no food, so we decided to come back. So we came back to the lines. We'd found an old man and his grandson and they had a bag of what we used to call M and V, tins of meat and vegetables - army issue you see. So we flogged these off them. And c oming down the hill through the scrub we heard this voice, that's right, yep, a moaning voice. So we stopped and in the fern, this grass, we'd found one of our boys, Maori chap, soldier, he'd been shot through the mouth. And the bullet was still in the mouth, and he'd gone all yellow , you know. So we took him down to Battalion Headquarters where there was still a tent and we fed him on all the juice out of the tins, but it wasn't any good. Luckily across the road and across the river on the other side maybe half a mile away was a sanatorium, see. So we told him he may as well go down to the road and be captured by the Germans and they'd fix him. We heard later on, three months later that he was cured. They'd picked him up took him to the san[atorium], fixed him up, you know took the bullet out, whatever, broken his jaw...
John Palmer, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Tūwharetoa (1918-2011), interviewed by Mathew Devonald.
Family collection. Courtesy of Hanatia Palmer.