In this letter Major Humphrey Dyer gives his account of the bayonet charge on 42nd Street near Suda Bay in Crete 1941. It includes a sketch outlining the charge.
Boy's High School
29th August 1953
I was interested in your letter.
I agree that we are fortunate to have Captain Cody writing the Bn. History. I think that his work is clear and impersonal and have been glad to try to help him.
I am sure that the History Committee is in good hands under you. I trust that the Committee is purely advisory to the historian or his position might become very difficult.
Re 42 Street
You certainly had a good fight there and as far as I am concerned may have started the charge. I have never laid claim to that, and the only correspondence that I remember having had with Brig. Dittmer was over the night advance on Maleme. What I did say to Cody was that I ‘kidded myself that I had arranged it.' I shall repeat the incident. (Sketches on back of page 2.)
At daybreak we sprawled out a (X). Word came that the Hun had followed us, and orders to line the far side of the road, which we did. I told Scott on my right and Blackburn on my left that if the Germans attacked I was going to go for them with the bayonet. (Check that).
I think that we were called back by C.O. for orders. Anyway, I got orders for D Coy to be drawn back into reserve. I sent Coy back with Logan. (Crete History says that there was difficulty in getting D Coy back. Incorrect. D Coy went, Coy Cdr did not). I called Cpls Hemi and Matthews to me and lay down with them in the gap left by D Coy.
Suddenly something blew up in front and heavy M.G. fire opened on us. There was a yell on our right and we went forward with c Coy on our right shouting ‘Charge!' 19 Bn men at first hung back bunched behind olive trees.
I. Either just before or just after over-running HMG mounting (gun removed) there was close-quarter fighting with some Germans who stood their ground. Hemi bayoneted one - a weird scream -; I got one at a couple of yards in Wild West style; Matthews got a number with his tommy gun, and then sprayed a bunch shamming dead in a shallow depression.
2. (Hot and Confused) We were now alongside C Coy. A mass of enemy on ground, bloody and writhing (perhaps 6). They got tommy gun and bayonet as we went from my men and some C Coy - not from me, rifle only. Our men no doubt remembered tommy gunners at Maleme who shammed dead and then shot up Wood's party in the back; or perhaps they had just run amok. Huns now running hard and we after them shouting ‘Charge! Charge!' The - -s are running!
3. Huns had vanished. Stopped. Lieut. Thompson (?) 19 Bn ex-Sgt N.Z. Perm. Staff caught up. I handed over to him, saying that I would see that he was supported. Went back to C.O. saw you with bullet wound in your arm. Forgot about Lieut. Thompson.
That's what I remember about 42nd Street; and it is pretty accurate.
Some points about such incidents:-
I. I believe that it is quite wrong for our personal accounts to be included in the narrative. They are personal, may be biased and may to others appear to be egotistical. They may arouse opposition in the reader. Take this incident for instance. I picture its treatment thus:-
Captain Cody gets the C.O's account which is the main one. He gets accounts from Coy Cdrs and checks them with others who were present. Mine could be checked by Blackburn, Hemi, Thompson - if alive; and by Scott and possibly someone on his left flank. If verified, he accepts the accounts in the main; if not he handles them very circumspectly. Then he tries to fit us in on a sketch. Then he writes an unbiased account and we accept it as the nearest he could get to the truth.
I felt on reading ‘Crete' that Davin would have done better to have written the whole history himself. Short quotations away from their context may give afalse [a false] impression, and long ones are out of place. Quotes about disputed points could be given as footnotes or in an appendix, or in a separate book. Under the present ‘Crete' plan a work loses some of its value as a history.
I trust that Brig. Dittmer will get his proper place in the early part of the History. He trained us, gave us the confidence to fight and commanded us in the actions under discussion. The main credit for military actions has in the past always been given to the commander and rightly.
You will remember that you left the Bn. For reasons of your own, and that you came back when I offered you your majority and command of H.Q. Coy. Have you discovered that nay apparent failure to give recognition to some Coy Cdrs for service in Greece and Crete was not the fault of the C.O. or of the General, but was, I was told on good authority, a matter of policy in N.Z? Dittmer can verify that if he chooses.
I hope that what I have written above is of some assistance. Frankly Fred, I am getting a bit tired of all this. Most of my impressions of the campaigns are in my little book, which is available for reference and which is true as far as I am concerned. I wrote the bulk of it on return to N.Z. between June and November 1943 while events were still fairly fresh in my memory. I wrote it as a personal record and only decided to publish it after making my mind to put out in book form a lot of military notions that I had been chewing over for years. I felt that I might be wise to clear the air around my service career a little. Strangely enough it is selling quite well inspite of complete silenced on the part of our Maori friends.
I am sorry that a series of careful sketches which I did out in Maadi and sent up to you fold in Syria have apparently been lost.
Reference 2. (Hot and Confused) above: -
I have no idea how the bunch of enemy came to be on the ground in front of us. We were running wild and it is confused, but they were there. I remember the horrid picture. Perhaps Matthews's and or C Coy tommy guns. Hemi perhaps has a clearer picture.
Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.
2NZEF - 28 NZ (Maori) Battalion - Reports on Experiences in Crete by Commander of 'D' Company - H G Dyer.
WAII 1 180 DA 68/10/21