- Anzac Day Stories
- Page 9
- Leslie Maxwell
Walter Sidney Ward
by Leslie Maxwell
I have included below a letter written by my father during WW2. He was born 27th November 1920 in Sydney so he was 21 when this letter was written to his father. My dad's name was Walter Sidney Ward and his rank and regiment are on the letter. The letter is an account of his being stranded in Greece and how he and his comrades managed to finally get to safety in Crete. I find the letter extremely interesting from the point of view that it is written in the third person. Was it too unbelievable to write it in the first person - who knows? I only came into possession of all his letters following his death.
My aunt - dad's sister - tells the story from this end. She says that he was missing for 8 weeks as there had been no communication. She very strongly believed that he would be OK as she believed that "he would come back to her". She was his younger sister. Dad was medically discharged from the army following this event with "shellshock". However, he re-inlisted in the airforce a short time later!!
Signalman W.S. Ward
c/- HQ 16 INF BDE
I am back in circulation again although I never expected to write another letter except from a concentration camp. My present abode is overlooking Suda Bay on the island of Crete where we are awaiting evacuation. This letter will be posted in some civilised spot if the bombers don't spot our convoy.
Once upon a time there was a soldier, the good soldier Ward, and he slipped to one end of Greece and then slipped back a damned sight quicker.
He landed in the country, had three days leave in Athens (two official), resided in a camp for a fortnight and then on April 6th was sent with a lot of other men into a pass in the mountains not far from Salonika. There was snow and mist and cold feet and hands in the mountains and the good soldier never saw the sun and he expected to see goblins with tommy guns come out of the mist but they didn't. They went through the pass to the west and everyone had to go for their lives to save being cut off.
The good soldier was then put in the Servia Pass and waited with his wireless set but no German soldiers came. Dive bombers dropped bombs but couldn't hit anything so they machine gunned and managed to put holes in some trucks and people.
Once again, the Germans went round another way and the good soldier and his friends had to withdraw to a valley near Larissa and this time the Germans did come. To be exact, six divisions of him came and on the morning of April 18th they started to fight two battalions of Aussies and an equal number of New Zealanders. We only had four guns and no tanks to combat the German attack but we fought a rearguard action all day and slaughtered four Huns to every one of our men killed. With no other weapons to combat them a filed gun was turned on the enemy tanks. A direct hit on one tank spattered it over the battlefield while another was put out of action.
The good soldier was standing beside his truck at battalion headquarters when a German reconnaissance plane flew over. It saw about twelve trucks and radioed for a dozen dive bombers which arrived forthwith and circled around as they chose which trucks to attack. The good soldier's truck was camouflaged under a tree and the good soldier was under the truck with his nose in the ground.
The first four bombers dived with sirens blowing to demoralise the Australians and managed to set a truck alight after dropping twelve bombs. Then all the planes started to machine-gun all the trucks and troops. There was a hell of a row and the good soldier looked up to see what was doing and was immediately demoralised. He saw within the portals of his vision, a yellow-nosed bomber diving and a row of dust jets as bullets hit the ground and came in his direction. This sentence has a lot of hits in it. The good soldiers nose hit the ground, the bloke beside him yelled 'I'm hit' and the good soldier muttered 'I'm hit' as he chewed his fingernails. But none were hit except by dried mud and the good soldier crept out and examined the hole approx .303 inches in his front mudguard. By the time three more raids had come and gone, the good soldier had said many prayers and eyed many ants enviously.
The day was well advanced when the Germans lobbed three armour-piercing shells near the good soldier's truck. The colonel saw and bellowed 'hoppit back to brigade' which order was carried out with the maximum speed and precision.
At 8.30pm, the brigadier decided to withdraw but the Germans thought otherwise. They landed paratroops behind us and their tanks outflanked us. But the brigadier knew a thing or two that gerry didn't. There was an unmapped marsh between our front line and the force which had surrounded us. Apparently the Germans had no idea of the road's existence and we were able to get all our trucks, loaded with infantry, out of the danger area.
It was a terrible drive during the night and many trucks were bogged or slipped off the road and into the marsh as it was essential that no lights showed to give the position away.
By daybreak, a good road had been reached but to the chagrin of the good soldier, it halted abruptly in a village at the foot of the mountains. Worse still, the brigadier found out that the road went straight to German occupied Larissa twenty miles away and that the only turn off was two miles from Larissa.
The brigadier said 'everyman for himself' and so the good soldier grabbed rifle, rations, water bottle and blanket and with fourteen men and a twopenny compass, set a course for the coast.
Voulos was the destination and southeast the course. The bloke with the compass would not deviate from his course and so we went over the tops of mountains, plunged into valleys and then up again until we were almost exhausted.
About midday, we saw a row of bayonets moving behind a ledge of rock and not knowing if they were our troops or a German patrol, we got ready for a scrap. The troops moved into the open and we were relieved to find that they were Kiwis and that they had procured a guide at one of the villages. The guide took us in hand and by 3pm we were on the seacoast but about 30 miles north of Voulos. We hid in the trees to avoid being seen by German planes which were constantly patrolling the coast and a small party set off to try to find another force who were near us according to the villagers.
They came back with the news that NZ captain (medical officer) was in the next bay to us with about 60 men. He had a sailing boat and was going down the coast to get a larger boat which could take us further south. We slept there during the night and awoke to find that only seven of us were left. Half an hour later a launch pulled around the headland and on arrival, the Greek fisherman aboard told us that he had made trips all night and we were the last to get off.
After an hour's run, we arrived at a village where the inhabitants kindly gave us two meals and allowed us to stay in the school house until we moved out at nightfall. It would have been suicide to take to the sea in the daytime as we would be machine-gunned out of the water by German recce planes. At dusk we set out with 84 men in two launches which the fisher people had leant us and, following the coast, pulled into a beach where there were some thirty ton launches.
If you look at a map of the east coast of Greece you will see a peninsula running south and forming, at it's extremity, the headland of a bay. Voulos is on the harbour side of the peninsula and where we landed was an hour's walk from Voulos but on the seaside of the promontory. The inhabitants told us that the Germans were in Voulos and we spent a miserable day in hiding. The launches that brought us were too small to make a long sea voyage and so we had to wait until the following night until we were taken off.
At long last, a boat carrying a cargo of potatoes took us all off and after a very uncomfortable trip we arrived at a Greek naval island called, if I remember rightly, Skathos. Another day was spent here and the people gave us a feed and a gallon of wine. When it became know that we wanted to get away to the south, the captains of all the vessels in the harbour went and hid in the hills.
I forgot to mention that our section lieutenant was at the first village we called at. The NZ MO and our lieutenant went to the Admiralty and were told that they could commandeer the potato boat that was still unloading. Another chap and myself were sent down with instructions to shoot if the Greek tried to sail.
Everything went well and at 11 pm we set off southwards. At dawn we arrived at the largest Greek island that is connected to the mainland by bridge. We had landed at the extreme north of this island and after a two mile walk, arrived at a village where we prepared to stay the day.
By this time, lack of tucker and news of the whereabouts of gerry had got us just about exhausted. Nevertheless, we were large as life when the village doctor came along to inform us that 200 bicycle parachutists had landed 30 kms from us.
The NZ officer had already gone in a taxi to the mainland to try and get in touch with our authorities and so our lieutenant took charge and we started to hike southward. Men with rifles or tommy guns took up a rear position while the unarmed crowd went for their lives.
We expected to see Huns ride up behind us any time and we certainly broke records. The first five miles were covered in sixty five minutes and at the end of five hours the armed party had done 19 miles while the unarmed had gone 23 miles. By this time we had given ourselves up for lost as the NZ, expected two hours previously, had not turned up and we thought he had fallen into German hands.
I plodded wearily along the road toward the crest of a hill and then, following the example of those ahead, dived into the bushes at the side of the road. "What now?" thought I and then I saw two armoured cars top the rise. I was wondering whether to fire or run when ahead bobbed out of the top and addressed either the empty road or the bordering bushes: "Ay say, is this the last of your chaps?"
"A bloody pommy officer", yelled someone and after the cheers had subsided the perplexed man from Oxford was asked if he had any grub. He did a conjuring trick and produced two loaves of bread and tins of peaches and bully beef. Four hours later we caught the last train to our embarkation point where we had to wait for two days. On April 26th, a lighter took most of the night taking troops off the beach and at 4 am on 27th April, I saw the shores of Greece recede from the decks of a cruiser. I fell asleep and was woken by the ships guns firing at Hun planes. No damage and so at midday I landed on the isle of Crete.
Three days on Crete with bombing two days out of three and every night during the full moon period and here I am finishing this letter on the rolling wave with every minute putting us further from bombers and a wetting.
Whither bound and what next. Je ne sais pas.
Sorry I could not write sooner. I wrote one letter to mum but do not think it was as lucky as me in the withdrawal. Our section losses were one corporal killed, one corporal lost a leg and a D.R. missing.
Your loving son, Sidney.