ONE day brought us a pleasant surprise - a visit from Archie and Bash, Murchie's New Zealand commandos. They had located their own battalion which had camped quite close to us. We enjoyed a great yarn, Murchie especially reminiscing with the Kiwis about their bushranging adventures with the Greeks. Succeeding days, when duty allowed, often found the two New Zealanders yarning with the Rebels. Alas, in the desperate fighting soon to rage around Maleme Airfield, both Archie and Bash were killed.
By this time Horrietta had fallen for Horrie in a big way; she was his shadow, and gazed at him with gloating eyes while he proudly strutted before her. Though a quiet, timid little thing still she was spiced with a touch of vixenish ways.
"She deliberately tries to make him jealous," grinned Gordie one day when the innocent Horrietta did her stuff and was the centre of attraction. With mild, bashful eyes she was sitting back on her tail, a trick the ship's crew had evidently taught her. She was a little adept at sitting up and would not move until we had petted her and ordered her down again. Horrie stalked round and round her with cock-eyed interest, trying hard to imitate her. But his efforts only brought discreet grins; we daren't laugh aloud. For Horrie's tail was too short, he simply could not sit back for his long body overbalanced every time. Horrietta, on the other hand, could get a firm purchase with her long tail.
"You're not in the race, Horrie," grinned Murchie. And Horrie, being a wise dog desisted from efforts which only made him ridiculous.
In cute little ways Horrietta let us understand she too liked her share - and more - of petting. Demurely she would gaze at the ground when Horrie's growl warned she was claiming too much of it.
One evening Poppa returned to camp looking somewhat downcast. "We've got to hand in our rifles," he growled.
Poppa had boasted that among so many weaponless men his Rebels still had their rifles despite shipwreck or anything else. Now we were asked to hand them in, for every weapon was urgently needed. Our full-time job would be signalling.
"'Don' Company are all right," said Poppa enviously. "They landed without shipwreck and their machine-guns and rifles are intact. They've got to fight it out with the rest of the boys. But signal units poorly armed have to concentrate on signalling duties. An air-borne attack on Crete is imminent. We're moving soon. our job will be to keep communication between small striking forces and company headquarters.
"That's serious," I said. "There must be some thousands of men here now with no equipment at all."
"Much worse than that," replied Poppa. "We cannot replace the lost material. Every possible man will be desperately needed soon, but every man without arms will be an encumbrance."
Next morning the Luftwaffe heavily attacked the shipping in Suda Bay. Horrie scooted for cover, barking to Horrietta to follow. But she trembled so violently that she could not move.
"We must get rid of her," said Poppa shortly. "Today is your last chance to find her a home. We leave camp for action stations tomorrow."
We located in a little Cretan home among the hills some kindly folk who immediately took to Horrietta. The ship-wrecked pup would have a good home. We did not let Horrie know her whereabouts lest he should go A.W.L.
It was well that we solved the problem, for food became very scarce. Horrie was to lose a lot of weight; he was from now on to scrounge for his tucker, to sit patiently in front of soldier after soldier, receiving any small portion of biscuit or bully beef the donor could spare. Our rations were cut to the bone. But he adapted himself so willingly to hardships and was always so bright and contented that his show of "guts" helped lighten our own troubles.
Our new quarters overlooked Suda Bay. Small bands of our troops were occupying a steep rocky hill overlooking the bay and their duty was to watch for and deal with any paratroops that soon were expected to attempt a landing. Our particular job was to keep communication between these scattered patrols and headquarters at the bottom of the hill. By daylight we signalled in Morse, using as a flag a white singlet tied to a stick. But at night we had neither signalling lamps nor even torches. We dare not have used them, anyway, for fear of spies and fifth columnists. And yet a vital message might be received at any moment. Important messages were arriving all through the night. Our only means of getting a message through to headquarters was by runner down a long, treacherously steep and rocky hill. A slow method when minutes might prove vital.
Horrie solved it; he became our willing runner for night messages and could get down that hill much faster than any man. By day Horrie and I worked with the patrol that occupied the hill immediately above H.Q. Just before dark I would leave Horrie with the patrol and scramble away down the hill to the hollow olive-tree where I slept near H.Q. If the patrol received a message from distant patrols it was written down, securely tied in a handkerchief and fastened to Horrie's collar. And away he would scamper down the hill. I'd wake up to feel him urgently licking my face and the message was immediately delivered to head-quarters. To let the patrol far above know the message had been delivered, Poppa would fire two rapid shots airwards with his revolver.
Horrie delivered quite a number of messages, no matter how dark or stormy the night. Not one message entrusted to him ever went astray.
A day came when we were stunned by the news, even though we were partly expecting it, of another evacuation. All those troops without equipment, all British and Imperial troops whose equipment had been lost were to be evacuated.
But for the unavoidable loss of equipment of those thousands of men a different story might have been told of Crete. But imagine what we felt at not only having to leave the Greeks behind, but our own mates as well.
I packed Horrie into an empty ammunition-box, for there was no foreseeing how troops might become separated in a ticklish operation like this. Some hostile officer might spot Horrie and order the dog be left behind.
The increasing raids of the Luftwaffe told us the dawn of the first great attack was perilously close.
Everything was going smoothly until the Stukas appeared just as we were embarking. The familiar "Whoomph!" of the bursting bombs started Horrie growling. Urgently I ordered him keep quite. An ammunition-box being carried aboard ship was quite in order but - not with a bark inside it.
I gained the gun-deck aft and, glancing round, saw a large tarpaulin and let Horrie out of the box. The raid still thundered on and I must have looked silly sitting upon deck quietly talking to a small bulge under the canvas. But those not in the know merely thought I was "bomb happy".
When we raced safely away from harbour I let the little dog out to see upon what new adventure he had embarked; a ten thousand-ton transport, the Lossiebank, now bound for Port Said.
Next day we shared our last bully beef with Horrie. We could expect no more until we reached Port Said in about three days' time, providing we successfully ran the gauntlet of the Luftwaffe.
We had an unexpectedly good trip, and were bombed only once more. They came at us out of the sun. To the explosion of a stick of bombs, splinters whizzed across the deck, water came splashing up. The planes flew away. I noticed the little dog limping.
"He's hit," exclaimed Poppa.
A small steel splinter was embedded under the skin on his shoulder.
"It's only a Blighty," laughed Don in relief. "Horrie, you old scoundrel I believe you were only manoeuvring for a spell."
Horrie wagged his tail as if he'd accomplished something great.
We commenced the operation immediately. I pinched the skin while Don dug the steel splinter out with a knife-blade. Horrie did not whimper. He licked my hand and wagged his tail.
"We've made a good job, Horrie!" said Don and showed him the splinter.
"If only he had Horrietta here to nurse him," said Fitz.
"Perhaps he's safer as he is," remarked Poppa reminiscently.
"Tell us the romance, old war-horse," grinned Murchie.
"Go to blazes!" answered Poppa.
When we disembarked at Port Said the boys crowded round me while I carried Horrie under my arm. Once aboard the train he was allowed what freedom a crowded cattle-truck could offer. His wound was troubling him, so we took the field dressing off and he licked the wound to rights. He forgot his troubles when he heard the voices of the Arabs and immediately challenged them in no uncertain manner.
"He's got a long memory," said Gordie. "They must have given him a tough spin sometime."
From Kantara on the Canal we entrained across the Sinai Desert over which our troops had fought their weary way during the last war. Those great fighters would hardly recognize that terrible desert now. A railway runs through it, and a pipeline with water. There are stations and, in places, cultivation. Not in their wildest imaginings would the Mounted Men know that desert. Seeing what has been done with one of the most terrible deserts in the world made many of us wonder why we do not do a great deal more to develop our own interior which of course could not be compared to a true desert like this.
We travelled straight on into Palestine and camped at Dier Suneid. To an excited yelp from Horrie we saw the towering form of Big Jim and the Gogg coming to welcome us.
"He's lost quite a lot of weight during his soldiering," laughed Big Jim as he petted Horrie, "but we'll soon alter that," and he carried the pup away. He soon returned with a parcel which he opened before the ravenous Horrie.
"Officers' mess!" quoth Sergeant Poppa with a hungry glance at the good meats. Big Jim only laughed; some officer would go short of a good meal that day.
"He's grown quite a lot," said the Gogg as he opened a bottle. And we gathered round and celebrated. Big Jim and the Gogg had the Rebels camp all ready and had somehow scrounged a few bottles to do it in style.
Horrie thought he was the guest of honour, sitting in the tent listening to our reminiscences and watching the expressions on the faces he knew so well.
"So Horrie is a little Anzac!" said Big Jim in a proud voice.
Horrie stood up and marched to the tent door on guard.
"Wogs!" exclaimed the Gogg and Horrie, growling fiercely, dashed out to chase the suspected Arabs.
"He's home again," laughed Murchie.
"His belly is well lined again," grinned Fitz. "He's ready to soldier on immediately."
It was late that night when Big Jim and Sergeant Poppa retired.
"Reveille at daylights grinned Big Jim.
"Like hell!" we replied in one voice.
"I see the Rebels are back!" laughed Big Jim as he walked out into the night.
The camp settled down to routine, keeping fit while awaiting the next call of war. Daily, scores of soldiers from various battalions came to visit Horrie; many had seen him in action, while many others had heard all manner of stories about him. Horrie had become a hero dog and accepted all honours with becoming dignity, posing for dozens of cameras.
Dier Suneid district appeared interesting for the first few weeks, the countryside of yellow sand contrasting with green orange-groves hedged by cultivated cactus. The Arabs, too, were much more colourful than those we knew in Egypt, but did not appeal in the least to Horrie, who chased them on sight. They were strictly forbidden the camp, for they were notorious thieves. The soldiers had to chain their rifles to the tent poles. Despite the closest watch the prowlers would come, silent as the night itself, and work their way into the tents. They had even been known to unchain the rifles and get away with them, making not the faintest sound to awaken the sleepers. At last a lamp had to be left burning in the tents all night while one occupant of each tent must remain awake on watch. Here the Rebels were greatly envied by every other tent for we all could and did sleep the sleep of the just. No Arab, no matter how expert, could sneak within many yards of our tent, let alone right into it. The watchful Wog-dog saw to that. Horrie was no longer content to bark; he never challenged now, but simply flew at any Arab he saw and used his needle-sharp teeth.
The village of Dier Suneid lay some half-mile from camp. It was strictly out of bounds.
"We must visit it some time," declared Murchie.
From the main Tel Aviv-Gaza road the village was screened by a lovely orange-grove. It was completely enclosed by a high mud-and-straw wall, with apparently one little gate. The dark and sinister mysteries it might hold fascinated us very much. Sergeant Poppa made it all the more alluring, for he had seen hectic times here during the 1914-18 war; the wily old bird knew where our thoughts often strayed and he enlivened them by dark hints of dusky maids dancing in shimmering veils to the weird wailing of native music.
The day came when Don and Feathers and I seized an opportunity to investigate for ourselves.
"You're staying right here, my fine lad!" declared Don to the protesting Horrie as he tied him to the tent pole.
"What a lovely time he'd have in that village," laughed Feathers.
"He'd cause a commotion we mightn't care to remember," declared Don. "Right you are, he's tied securely."
We stepped out of the tent and innocently sauntered through the camp. Once in the shelter of the orange-grove, we hurried on. We emerged from the grove by the wall and through the gate could catch a glimpse of a narrow, winding street. Shrouded figures passed by now and then, a loaded camel lurched by. Feathers beckoned and we stepped through the gate. We started warily down the street, hemmed in by mud houses. Archways opened out in the inner wall which led into tiny yards in front. Arabs passed us, staring. Urchins played amongst the fowls and donkeys in the street.
"Few soldiers have been through here judging by these staring eyes, I remarked.
"A nasty place for a brawl," said Don, "to be bailed up in this rabbit warren."
"Don't forget where the gate is," warned Feathers.
But all seemed peaceful enough, although we did not quite like the crowd of Arabs now silently following. Some of the urchins now screeched at our very heels, demanding "Baksheesh, Baksheesh!"
"Well," said Feathers with a sniff, "I don't know so much about this alluring exotic perfume the dark maidens are supposed to use."
"The village does hum a bit," I agreed.
"Smells horrible enough to stop a watch," said Don.
A murderous-looking fellow stopped us as we were passing a shadowed doorway.
"Cancan?" he growled, and beckoned us to follow him.
"Nothing doing," I shrugged.
"Cognac? Very clean cognac?" he inquired, and offered a bottle of filthy-looking liquid.
"Finish money, George," I replied.
"Cognac good!" he growled. "Five hundred mils! Australia plenty money."
"Finish money, George," I answered deliberately as we walked on.
But now the urchins had withdrawn a little, cat-calls followed us, a stone whizzed by Feathers's head. We faced about, a little uneasy at the crowd now between us and the gate. Tough-looking Arabs were behind the urchins urging them on; stones began to fly.
"I'd- like a crack at that big black sod urging the Arabs on over there!" remarked Feathers.
"Looks like we'll have to fight our way out," said Don.
"Come on, better not waste a moment," I suggested.
As we stepped towards them a shower of stones greeted us; it looked ugly.
All of a sudden the crowd glanced behind then surged towards us with a yell. We thought they were charging us but heard the squawking of fowls, followed by Horrie's bark.
"Horrie to the rescue!" laughed Don. "Hooray!"
Squawks and yells answered Don as three braying donkeys and the Arabs flew past us down the narrow street, the little dog snapping at their heels. Horrie certainly had timed his blitz at the critical moment. It was staggering how those grown-up ruffians and the mob of urchins panicked on the instant; perhaps it never entered their heads that the tiny dog was not the forerunner of an angry Australian guard with fixed bayonets. As Horrie sighted us his enthusiasm became fanatical and he dashed past to complete the rout. I raced after him but he ignored me to concentrate on Arabs scrambling to squeeze into a narrow doorway. The shrieks as he snapped their bare heels could hardly have been louder had the village been put to the sword.
"Now's our time!" laughed Don as I snatched up the pup. Quickly we beat a retreat, passing two Arabs with bleeding noses; one had rushed out of a doorway as the other rushed in. But we gained the gate and leaped outside with Horrie struggling to get back to the village and into the fight again
We were very relieved, and enjoyed a good laugh all the way back to the camp.