WE moved on again. The Luftwaffe came again. Bad news came that the Sixth Australian Division had suffered heavily and was being forced back. We knew there were no reserves. We must push on all the faster. One unspoken thought worried everybody's mind. If, happily the enemy failed to break through our rearguard then, eventually, we must reach the sea. What then?
Would we be driven into the sea or could the Navy rescue us?
The nearer we struggled towards the smoke pall glowering over Lamia the fiercer the Luftwaffe attacked. Truck after truck roared up in flames. With the energy of despair the men pushed the wrecks clear and the convoy kept moving on. We hardly spoke now of the rearguard holding back the enemy behind us; we were expecting shells any moment. But the rearguard fought and fought, pressed back yard by yard.
Throughout the anxiety and toil I was very worried over Don. Every now and again I would come across one or other of the Rebels grim and haggard at their different jobs. But no one had seen Don.
Suddenly, quite inexplicably, a mob of cattle appeared among the trucks on the narrow road. The trucks pushed on. Many of the poor cattle were sent crashing down into the ravine below, there was no room on that tortuous track for cattle and the trucks of a bitterly pressed army. Again and again cattle were driven on to the road, again and again we crashed through them. Thus the Fifth Columnists among the shepherds tried to delay us.
We were passing through a small village when a Greek woman stopped our Regimental Sergeant-Major Kelly, talking mysteriously and pointing to a man idly reading a paper beside the road. The curiosity of the woman had been aroused. The R.S.M. walked towards the unconcerned man who suddenly leapt up and ran. The R.S.M. instantly dropped him with a stone. Greek soldiers came running and seized the man. The paper was examined; there was another paper marked by the serial numbers of the trucks, their type and approximate number, the number of soldiers and equipment they contained, a first-class military check-up of everything passing along that section of the road. He was shot on the spot by the Greek soldiers.
Lamia was now densely blanketed in smoke, German planes roaring above the smoke. The road went through the town that was now becoming a ruin of crashed buildings. Here, as often before, we silently witnessed the deathless patriotism of the Greek people. Although their town was in flames, although buildings were crashing around them, groups of Greek men and women were slaving like Trojans to clear the debris from the road so that our trucks could go through. And we were the convoy of a beaten army, an army that had come to save them, an army now abandoning them.
We had come to cheers and song, laughter and joy and flowers. As derelicts we were returning, sullenly rumbling back through the flames of war.
We were gasping as slowly we rolled through the burning town; the dust clouds and choking fumes and great heat made breathing painful. Now and again with a tearing crash a building would come down, spilling masonry across the street and the Greeks would rush the stones to pull them clear of the road. Further through the town the carnage was ghastly; bewildered old people were wandering aimlessly through the broken streets, terrified children wailing over forms lying pitifully still or with feeble arm blindly trying to protect the little ones. Screams of the hurt and dying were mocked by wailing sirens as the Luftwaffe came roaring back again. We had ploughed through hell after hell since the hell of Hellfire Pass and each hell was more anguishing than the last.
The little Wog-dog kept very quiet; he never moved from my coat all that day; I dared not let him free even had there been the time to do so.
And now Murchie was missing as well as Don. I met Poppa for a few hurried minutes; he had a bruised shoulder from a nasty spill when a stone from a toppling building upset his bike.
"It's nothing," he insisted as I stared at his dust-caked, bloody face. What had really happened, as one of the truck drivers told me later, was that he had purposely crashed into a heap of rubble to dodge a terrified child who had run across his path.
"Gordie is O.K.," said Poppa. "Feathers is still going great guns with A Company; Fitz is O.K. too; the others are sure to turn up. No need to ask how Horrie is," he grinned, for Horrie was frantically trying to squeeze out of the greatcoat to embrace the old sergeant.
"Ah, well," he said, "will be seeing you."
And trying to look as if it did not hurt he mounted a commandeered cycle and carried on with his job.
My cycle was smashed, so now I travelled with Ron Baker as relief driver in his truck with Horrie travelling like a gentleman in the cabin.
We camped in open country that night. Luckily we dug a few shallow trenches out from the camp. I could swear I had not been asleep a second when Horrie's frantic barking brought me instinctively to my feet at the run. All the sleep-exhausted men were leaping up at a crouching run, racing to the trenches by instinct. It was just daylight and the Luftwaffe was upon us. Horrie by now was barking agitatedly from the trenches. He vanished as the first bombs whined down with men tumbling into the trenches.
They bombed us ferociously, then put us under extra heavy machine-gun fire and - did not hit a man! One bomb blew a big crater within the camp area and Bert Bottom scrambled into this and opened up with a Bren gun. Tim Overall and Fred Richardson quickly joined him and blazed away at the plentiful targets. They put up a great effort. We cheered when we saw the enemy planes quickly forced to fly higher to dodge the streams of bullets.
The only casualty of that particularly vicious raid was a poor old donkey that had been quietly feeding out from the camp.
You may be sure that Horrie the Wog-dog received lots of pattings and cheerios for his timely warning and more breakfast than even he could put away.
Quickly we were on the road lest the Luftwaffe catch us napping.
As on other days the poor Greek villagers, men and women, waited by the roadside to fill the bomb craters as the Luftwaffe screeched over. Thus the trucks rolled on; the craters were filled in almost as quickly as they were made. On 24 April we were hidden in an olive grove near the little village of Ulanda. For some reason our own unit had received orders to remain hidden throughout the day and be prepared to move out at night. For this few hours' rest we were quietly grateful.
At midday, Poppa and Horrie and I took a stroll through the pretty village.
Poppa's professional eyes fastened on to a battered old truck pulled up in front of a little inn.
"It's been in the wars," I remarked.
"An old-timer too," said Poppa, "and seen a lot of recent action."
"Why it is part burnt out," I exclaimed, "and look! Riddled like a sieve with bullet holes. How on earth did they keep it going!"
"Because they're good men," answered Poppa grimly, "whatever of them are alive."
"I shouldn't think any of them could be judging by the truck."
A roar of laughter startled us. We gazed towards the inn. There came drifting out to us an unsteady voice braying the Sixth Divvy song, "Old Blamey's Boys".
Old Blamey's Boys, (roared the voice),
6th Divvy Boys
Fighting for Victory, Liberty, Democracy,
Oh, Hitler we warn,
We're the A.I.F. reborn;
Like good old Gunga Din
We can take it on the chin
'Cause we're Old Blamey's Boys.
Poppa was staring at me questioningly. With a thrill we stepped straight in to see that "voice".
Yes! It was Murchie, standing unsteadily on a table beating time to the song with a bottle of wine and surrounded by laughing Greek soldiers. Horrie yelped frantically, and struggling from the greatcoat, raced down among the tables.
"The Wog-dog!" yelled Murchie, "the good old Wog-dog! Where's the boys?" Then he caught sight of Poppa and me and we all joined with Horrie in excited greeting.
"Struth!" exclaimed Poppa, "where the hell have you been? Dodging duty as usual, no doubt! But what a sight!"
Murchie wore a ten-day's growth of beard, a dirty face from which Horrie was trying to lick traces of mud, a German officer's cap, a German Luger pistol stuck through one side of his belt and a wicked looking knife through the other. Across his shoulders was slung a battered Tommy gun.
"Horrie the Wog-dog!" laughed Murchie and held the excited Horrie overhead for all the Greek soldiers to admire. I noticed Poppa's glance and for the first time saw that two Kiwi (New Zealand) soldiers were supporting Murchie. They looked just as much like cut-throat bushrangers as Murchie did and were armed very similarly. These obviously were the owners of the battered truck.
"Looks as if they've been waging a private war of their own up in them thar hills!" grinned Poppa. "I wonder where their poor mates are."
Poppa knew and I knew. If there had been any mates left alive they would have been with them here.
"Oh, I forgot," laughed Murchie. "Meet Archie and Bash, cobbers of mine. Poppa and Jim and Horrie the Wog-dog!" We shook hands with the New Zealanders while Horrie insisted on being introduced in his own doggie way.
"Wine! Wine for the mob, George!" shouted Murchie and waved his arm. They all made room at the table for the two Kiwis and us and Horrie; the ragged Greek soldiers closed around us, laughing and joking. George came smiling with his arms full of bottles, glasses were filled glasses clicked. Murchie pulled an expensive gold wrislet watch from his pocket and with the flourish of a millionaire handed it to the innkeeper.
"Cut this out in wine for the boys, George," ordered Murchie.
Poppa gasped at sight of that watch.
"Wait a bit, Murchie," I protested. "Hang on to the watch. Poppa and I can buy the drinks."
"It's all right!" said Murchie with a contemptuous flip at the watch now entering the innkeeper's pocket, "it's all right; plenty more where that came from. German officer gave it to me!"
The swarthy innkeeper grinned broadly, the New Zealanders laughed, the Greek soldiers roared as at a priceless joke.
"Hang on to the dashed thing!" exclaimed Poppa angrily. "You won't get another like it in a hurry!"
"Jush where you're wrong ash usual, old war-horsh!" frowned Murchie triumphantly. "I'll show you! Here's 'nother!" From his tunic he produced another lovely watch. Poppa gasped, I stared.
"German officers very kind!" declared Murchie. The Greeks roared.
"They must have got mixed up somewhere in a lively ambush," whispered Poppa, "and the Germans got the worst of it."
"Here George," yelled Murchie, "glass-top table too cold for Wog-dog to sit on. Bring cushion or something, and jug of milk!" Murchie went through the pantomime of milking a goat.
Between numerous glasses of wine we learned by degrees of Murchie's adventures. During a particularly heavy raid he'd returned from shelter to find his own truck burning and the enemy on top of them. He'd leapt aboard a Kiwi truck and his adventures started properly. He was mixed up in continuous fighting and retreat, in which it increasingly happened that small groups of men became separated and fought on their own. The main body of New Zealanders had been pretty badly knocked about in the confusion. Murchie's truckload of diehards seemed to have been in the thick of it. When casualties occurred they were quickly replaced by Greek soldiers.
"Plenty reinforcements!" declared Murchie. "Plenty. Good fighting boys, too. Fought like wildcats. Look at my warriors here!" and he swept his arm towards the grinning Greeks. They certainly did look as if they could fight like wildcats, and cut a throat with the best of them. Some of them wore bloody bandages. Their greatest trouble, it appeared, was to keep the old truck going.
"There was plenty of petrol," declared Murchie. "Trucks were knocked out all over the place. It was the mechanical part that counted, just to keep the old jigger jigging in between scraps. But Archie and Bash can keep any jigger jigging, no matter if the whole German army are at their tails."
And Archie and Bash grinned at the compliment.
They had fought their way through, then followed the convoy south and eventually found their way to Uandra, delighted to find now that part of our own unit was stationed not half a mile from the cafe.
"What will you do with your army now?" inquired Poppa.
"Oh," declared Murchie grandly, "they'll come in handy if the evacuation becomes 'unstuck'."
Our hearts sank. So it was evacuation. Murchie had voiced what we all really knew must take place. But Murchie had been fighting amongst many remnants of mixed brigades who realized the position beyond doubt.
"Just how do you mean?" demanded Poppa.
"Why," answered Murchie, "we'll mobilize the Greeks into guerrilla bands. There are plenty of them willing too, remnants of their Army. It's all smashed up. We'll mobilize them and hang out in the hills until we find some way of getting back to Egypt. There must be plenty of small fishing craft around the coast we could commandeer if we become sick of fighting, which we won't!"
Poppa and I agreed that this was after all the logical thing to do if it came to the very worst. As a matter of fact, it was the very thing quite a number of our lads did when they found themselves cut off during the evacuation.
We had to tell Archie and Bash all about the little Wog-dog's adventures and just didn't he take all the petting that came to him. "These blokes are good blokes!" he wagged across the table to me. Just then a Greek soldier came running in the door and straight up to our table.
"Turkey!" he shouted excitedly. "Turkey bom-bom German!"
Turkey at war with Germany!
In an instant Greeks sprang from chairs; the inn was crowded; we could hardly hear ourselves talk. What good news!
"Is it possible that Turkey could cut the German line -of communication between Albania, Yugoslavia, and Greece?" asked Archie.
"If only she could!" replied Poppa. "And if the British could hurry more troops and equipment across here to us we might yet get the enemy between two fires!"
"But," I protested, "aren't we too late? The Greeks have already capitulated to the Huns."
"To what?" came a shout from the door as Horrie leapt from the table with frantic bark.
"Don!" we shouted.