Emotional return to Crete for veterans
‘‘I got into this personal gunfight with a young German outside this house – I fired three shots and missed him with every one. His third shot hit me in the leg quite badly and I went down.’’
Robin Lloyd wants to get the veterans back to Crete one more time. The retired policeman, who lives in Papakowhai, is leading a group of former New Zealand soldiers to the island in the Mediterranean this month.
Commemorations will be held there for the World War II battle in 1941, in which more than 600 New Zealanders died and 2100 were captured after vicious fighting with German paratroopers.
In 2006 and 2011, Lloyd led groups to the commemorations for British, Australian, New Zealand, Greek and German troops.
Lloyd’s father, who fought in World War II but not at Crete, made him promise to work with veterans.
‘‘He said, ‘I want you to keep an eye on these fellas’,’’ Lloyd said. ‘‘Well before 2006 I would see on TV the trips to Anzac Cove and Cassino and thought, ‘What about Crete?’ We took 12 blokes there in 2006 and they had a blast.’’
The New Zealanders’ link with the Cretan villagers provides the most emotion and is what the veterans – just four will travel with Lloyd this year – look forward to most.
‘‘This place could not be further away from New Zealand, but it holds a special place in their hearts because of what happened in 1941, and the people who helped them,’’ Lloyd said.
Anthony Madden’s experience on the island in May 1941 makes for a spine-tingling story.
The 95-year-old, formerly of Auckland, lives in Havelock North these days. He can clearly recall his exchange of gunfire with two German soldiers in a small Cretan village.
‘‘I was a truck driver and was separated from my unit,’’ he said. ‘‘I got into this personal gunfight with a young German outside this house – I fired three shots and missed him with every one. His third shot hit me in the leg quite badly and I went down. But I was able to get up and run away.’’
Madden got on a truck back to Maleme airfield, where his leg wound was dressed. He was to be evacuated to a hospital ship in the harbour, but slept through the night and when he woke the ship had sailed.
He was captured by the Germans and deposited in a prisoner of war camp on Crete. A Cretan girl would give him food through the wire.
‘‘She was kind and I never forgot that generosity.’’
Madden was eventually moved to aPOW camp in Germany, where he said he swept the streets of Munich in his New Zealand Army uniform.
Going off to war was something young New Zealanders looked forward to, Madden said.
‘‘In 1939, it was seen as an adventure. I was on a ship, went to Egypt and Greece. It was a chance to get out of New Zealand.’’
Madden went to Crete in 1961 for the opening of a war cemetery, and kept in touch with people who helped him during the war, but didn’t return there until the trip with Lloyd in 2006.
‘‘Some things haven’t changed but it is more modern, with hotels. Travelling is not a problem for me, so I’m very much looking forward to this trip.’’
Madden and Lloyd would like more assistance from the Government to fund the veterans’ travel to Crete.
‘‘The Government is forgetting about them – we’re representing New Zealand there, making speeches, raising flags, laying wreaths. More should be done,’’ Lloyd said.
Robin Lloyd, left, and Crete veteran Anthony Madden will head to Crete for the World War II commemorations.