Letter from Lieutenant Wiremu Herewini to J. F. Cody, 14 April 1953.
Mr. J. F. Cody
33 Burma Rd.
Dear Mr. Cody
I regret the delay in replying to your letter but I have had little time to devote the whole of my attention to this matter & as you have put them on me here is the story as I remember it from the notes I took down in my diary or what there is of it.
24/4/41: Preparing to evacuate - received instructions to patrol existing camps and the aerodrome at Voulas and pick up stray troops. (Note at about this time or a day or two previously elements from the Battalion called in at our base camp - "Ace" Wood was the first then George Te Kuru and then Tenga Rangi & the greater part of the mortar platoon - The latter I believe had lost contact with the main body. Tenga Rangi can tell the story of the bombing of the "Hellas" & Sgt Quartermaster Warihi should also have a lot to say about it.
25/4/41: Filling up with petrol of trucks & other vehicles picked up where they had been abandoned by units (I think English L.A.D.) about to be evacuated. Went to Athens and was given a send off by a Greek family - tears and beers variety. (Note: On this day after filling trucks & loading with tins of petrol the rest of the tins at the dump were spiked and the cocks of the drums of diesel oil turned on. The place was positively dangerous with high octane petrol flooding the area.) At dusk we took off from Voulas & travelled with 2nd Lieutenant Randall at the rear of the column. The latter was detailed as transport officer.
26/4/41: Arrived at Argos in the very early hours & found the place had been bombed. Two ships had also been bombed in the harbour & were on fire. We were told that they were two "Prince" ships & that we were supposed to have embarked on them. Today we were subjected to continuous strafing by German aircraft. Convoy had stopped & considerable confusion reigned as our convoy had got mixed up with the "Aussies" who were dumping their vehicles as they ran out of petrol or suffered mechanical failure. In the afternoon our convoy moved off dodging A.P. bombs & strafing. Lieut. Randall took off without me so I stayed behind and gathered up odds & sods of the Reinforcements who were taking cover in a dried up stream bed etc. (Reinforcements wore strings on their puggarees to identify them.) An Austin truck & driver was found and at about 6 pm we took off. I am not sure of the time but it was about the same time that a Sunderland landed in Argos harbour. Passed through Tripoli[s] at night.
24/4/41: Arrived at Kalamata at about 3 a.m. in the morning & holed up in an olive grove for a feed and a sleep. Plenty of air activity. In the afternoon we put our truck out of commission & moved down to the town where we sheltered in a cellar with a few of our boys (I can only remember Fred Wright from "Don" Company) for a short while. We moved out of there eventually & took shelter in a Greek church. It was built of solid slabs of rock & we reckoned ... that it was proof against all Jerries cannon shells & bullets.
28/4/41: Established contact with rest of 28 Bn officers & most of ORs. At dusk we learnt that the Naval liason Officer (Three-ringer) had been captured with all codes etc. A heavy calibre gun opened fire from the town together with mortar & machine guns. All 28 Bn officers and other ranks assembled and marched down to the beach & awaited instructions. There was spasmodic firing all this time but as far as I know no one in our detail was hit.
In the meantime odd groups had organised under N.Z. Div. officers & had managed to clear the town of German advance elements. We remained on the beach where we could see one of the destroyers quite plainly. Embarkation commenced but was restricted to about 600 sick & wounded. 2 Lt Hokianga I understand was given then an opportunity of boarding the last boat but he sent one of his own platoon boys in his place. The latter was apparently a bundle of nerves.
Later that night word came down the column that all ranks were to surrender. (I do not quite remember but I think the highest ranking officer there was Brigadier Barrington an Englishman. I understand he gave the order.) We all experienced a rather sinking feeling. We thought of escaping to the hills but after a brief conference decided to remain & face the music with our troops. Of the officers, there were Henry K. Ngata, George R. Bennett, Henry Hokianga, Tenga Rangi, Hemi Wiremu and myself. Our decision to stay was made in view of the fact that we were uncertain of the fate of the boys were they left to their own devices with the Germans. The NCO's & other ranks were told they could make for the hills if they so desired but nearly all chose to stay with us. Standard of morale & discipline was high right up to the time the destroyers departed without us, then for a little while there was a slight wavering but very soon morale was high again as we all adopted the attitude "To Hell with the Jerries anyhow."
29/4/41: At 0530 hrs we became prisoners of war & were herded together like a lot of cattle - it was a pathetic sight. Officers & men felt closer together however & we all felt we were one big family together with our N.Z. pakeha friends. It wasn't long before Kalamata became known as ‘Calamity Bay'.
The foregoing is as much as I can remember of events leading up to the day of our capture in so far as it affected me personally. For your information the senior officer of the Reinforcements was Capt. F. Baker but I believe he was detailed to do other duties forward of base on the eve of the evacuation by Major "Duff"? the Camp Commandant.
You should be able to get a story from Henry Ngata also & other officers I have mentioned except Wiremu who I understand is in England.
Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.
Ref: WA II, 1, DA 68/15/14, Archives New Zealand
Extracts from this letter appeared in J.F. Cody, 28 (Maori) Battalion, War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1956
See also the Māori Battalion diary for April 1941 and Rawhiti Ihaka's account here.