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15 October 2014
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My Second Evacuation - from Greece

by Fred Pontin

Contributed by 
Fred Pontin
People in story: 
Lieut.Fairbairn; Mr.and Mrs. Robert and Vera Willey
Location of story: 
Athens and Kalamata, Greece
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2943669
Contributed on: 
24 August 2004

I had been in Egypt only two months in 1940, where I had been encamped within sight of the Pyramids, but never visited them. I was then sent off with a small detachment to Greece, where our lorries were delivering supplies to the RAF on the Albanian front.
Although designated a Driver, I did not drive, so was given the job of looking after the office. We were in a school at
Kallithea, a suburb of Athens until we moved down to the coast at Phaleron. I had become friendly through church with an English couple, Robert and Vera Willey, who invited us christian lads to their home.
When Germany began to move south through the Balkans, it was obvious that they wee a greater threat than the Italians had been.
The order came to leave Athens, destroying all documents. I left in the back of a lorry during the night, and it was light when we passed over the Corinth Canal.
It was springtime and the countryside around reminded me of a huge rock garden. I transferred to my officer's, Lt.Fairbairn, staff car, which we had hurriedly to leave when German planes appeared overhead. We took refuge on a hillside from where we could see a bay with a ship, damaged by German bombs. It was rumoured that it was the boat which should have taken us to safety.
Instead we had to board a train and were instructed to keep all windows closed so that it would not appear to be a troop train. The value of that advice was realised when the train stopped on a high viaduct while German planes flew overhead.
We were not attacked as the German wished to preserve that railway for their later use.
So eventually we arrived a Kalamata where the local Greeks welcomed us with such things as they had, boiled eggs and lemons.
I never enjoyed a lemon so much!
We were led to what appeared to be coastal dunes as it got dark. Sometime later our officer, Lt. Fairbairn returned, and led us down to the dock where we boarded a Royal Navy destroyer. This took us out to the "City of London" now a troopship.
It was a very orderly evacuation, compared with the former at Dunkirk and, having learned lessons from that, we were instructed to hold on to as much amunition as we could carry.
At first daylight we were awoken by bombs and gunfire, as German planes roared overhead to dive-bomb the three boats in our convoy.
Instructions were issued to collect all the ammunition which we had brought with us. When the German planes returned we were ready for them with every available machine-gun on deck. One burly Australian fired an anti-tank rifle from his shoulder! We saw one plane come down in the sea some distance away.
The other two boats had been damaged and had to put into Crete. The Germans left us alone after that and we made our way to Egypt and safety. I was so glad to be in Egypt and not in Crete, where the troops had to face further trouble later.

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