1941: The last letter home from Lloyd (Jock) Hume
2/Lt. L.H. Hume
5th filed Reg.,
Middle East Forces
Dear Mother and Dad,
At last we have settled down long enough for me to begin a letter to you. I'm worried it is so long since I last wrote but you will understand how hard it is to find a spare moment at times like these of the last month - since we first came to Greece I have written you two letters previous to this one but in both cases circumstances were such that I would not be surprised if the letters did not arrive.
I don’t know how much has been printed in your papers re our activities, I should think very little, so I shall give you a few of our experiences. We arrived in Greece at the end of March and went by train north of Mt. Olympus. There we rejoined our Regiment, which has arrived with the trucks a few hours previously. We (about 20 of the junior Officers of the 3 Regiments) did not travel with them for want of space, and we followed them across the Mediterranean several days after in another convoy - we were thus fortunate in obtaining leave in Alexandria and Athens- I shall try to describe these two cities in a later letter. The most advanced position we had was a few miles north of Mt. Olympus, and there we dug ourselves excellent gun pits and were reasonably comfortable - there was a small village handy from which we obtained large quantities of bread (psami) and eggs (angaks). We withdrew after a week or so without having actually contacted the enemy, to a more favourable defensive position in a pass.
The pass itself reminded me of the Kaimai or Arthurs Passonly the road was worse. I did it on my motor bike and I thought of you Mum, quite often, and the anxious moments you would have had had you seen me winding around those corners. The surroundings here were lovely, for all the world like the Kaimai with snow on - all the mountain tops round about.
It snowed one night, and it created a beautiful scene in the morning. The camouflage nets were like spider webs covered in snow and all the branches of the trees around were dropping with the weight of the snow. I did wish I had had my camera - in this position we had our first crack at Jerry, and we wrote messages of love on the shells we sent over to him - it was also here that we had our first causalities - one of our boys, our troop, got a flesh wound from a piece of shrapnel in the thigh. As yet he is the only casualty we have had, although other troops have been less fortunate.
We were about to withdraw from this position owing to the enemy getting through in another pass, when without any warning, a shell burst on the ridge behind us, and about 50 yards away , 4 or 5 others fell in quick succession, some a little closer but fortunately for us he could not get our exact range as a crest ahead of us stopped all the "shorts". Nevertheless it sped up our getting out of action to a great extent. We came back over the rest of the pass, if anything worse than the first part, in driving rain and in the dead of night, without lights! It was no wonder that several trucks ran into ditches, but it was a tribute to the drivers that no serious accidents occurred.
We "bivvied" at the foot of the pass the next day, then late in the afternoon came south about 60 miles and came into action again, this time in an anti-tank role - that is when we aim direct at the target.
Jerry was a day or two getting through the pass as the road had been blown up - it had evidently been decided at this stage that we should evacuate Greece, owing to firstly lack of support from the Greeks themselves, secondly lack in the nos. of British troops, thirdly because of non-arrival of certain troops. I don’t know who they were - at any rate, for this part of the withdrawal (140 odd miles) C Troop together with a few Div.Cav. were the read guard.
it was an eiry feeling that night knowing that Jerry was only a few miles away coming up on us, but luckily we were given some cross roads to fire at, and, blazing rounds off into the night gave us something else to think about, and, moreover something to do, instead of just waiting. It was very dark that night, and the flash from our guns was absolutely blinding, and a great comfort to us. We continued firing until about 11 pm and then got orders to withdraw. The gun which I was travelling with was the last to get away - we had a tricky little bit of road to get over before we got down to the main road and of course we were not using lights. the Sergeant was in such a hurry to get us away that he moved down the road too far ahead of our tractor with the result that we could not see him distinctly, and the driver got a bit too far to the left and the next thing we knew was that the quad(tractor( as heeling over at a terrific angle. I marvelled that it did not turn over there and then - we were in a pretty fix as we considered the quad would be on its side if we went an inch further. I decided to unhook the gun and try to back off - however, the track eye would not come off the drag hook because of the angle so the only thing to do was to front ways, and chance it.
We all clung on the top side of the quad, and held our breathe. she moved forward very slowly while she tipped a fraction more then gradually righted herself. I think you must have been saying a prayer for me then Mum - I certainly did. We soon caught up to the remainder of the troop and were then free to breathe again - about 40 miles further on we passed through a town which had been dive bombed the whole of that day - we had seen the waves of bombers from our position - the town was an awful mess and there were large craters in the street - buildings were still burning and really it was a pityful sight -we did not stop but the two motorcyclists attached to our troop stopped and lit cigarettes remarking on the mess. We found out the following evening that the Huns had occupied the town at 6 o'clock the previous evening and we passed through about midnight or 1 a.m! Jerry had come down by another route and had cut us off. "Somebody" helped us there, Mum.
We drove all night and about 9 o'clock in the morning pulled up at the bivvy area on the coast. We waited here for the whole morning as we understood we might be wanted for rearguard action - again - however this was now taken over by a troop of Aussies - we had a lovely afternoon coming down the coast - the road wound round the bays the whole way going up long hills then descending to sea level again every few miles passing through small villages - there is of course no sand but just cultivated fields and bush. I wish I had my camera, in which case I would have got some excellent photos. - like that one of Neil's taken in Whangaparoa harbour. I sat i the sun on top of the quad the whole day and dosed when I wasn't watching the scenery. Just about dark we caught up to our Regiment together with most of the Division where positions were being connected for another bash at Jerry. They were very relieved to see us as they had almost written us off on account of our being cut off further north - not us though!
Our troop were positioned in a little evacuated village and we were there about a week before the Germans came. We were very comfortable as Robin Stanford (one of our other officers) and I were living in a house. We dined on such things as eggs, green peas, and even chickens. We blacked out the windows at night and were thus able to light a fire. However on Sunday exactly a fortnight ago today, news came that the German tanks had crossed the tank trap and infantry and tanks were advancing - we had a most exciting day as we were dive bombed and machine-gunned continuously, and were later shelled by the Artillery - however we had slip trenches which would have protected us against anything but a direct hot - one shell landed just 15 yards away, but it did no have any effect beyond making a small hole in a ploughed field - I spent most of the afternoon up a tree watching my zone for tanks and although none appeared in my zone, I had a good view of the battle - at some stage late in the afternoon I saw the Huns approaching along the hills to our left - they were about 3000 yards away - this was the only time I saw the Germans themselves - however quite early in the afternoon, our troops (4 guns 50 men) together with about 30 others - you can imagine the din - were engaging tanks at ranges below 1000 years. Our shells were most successful against them and went through tanks like cheese - other types of shells burst inside and fired the tanks - things happened too quickly for us to be scared and I think the boys welcomed the chance to avenge Germany for her deeds of the last 16 months. However, towards 9 o'clock the tanks were still coming and the infantry were gradually surrounding us in the dark. Orders came for withdrawal - high time too, and we lost no time in getting out - at this stage a lot of us lost personal gear, mainly for want of space in the quads.
We drove continuously with short spells to Athens where we received a great welcome from the Greeks. Our quad was about 1/2 a mile behind the one in front and similarly the one behind was about 1/2 mile away - anyone would have thought we were the leading car of a victory march - people were kissing our hands and throwing flowers at us, and calling out "come back again" - it touched our hearts very much. We bivvied for 2 nights near Athens, then embarked on a destroyer for Crete where we now are.
It is very peaceful here and all we do is sit around and eat oranges - the best I had ever seen or tasted - unfortunately although we are surrounded by grape vines they are not ripe yet, and I think we shall be in Egypt before very long. However it will be good to get back and see Keith and Heather, again, also to enjoy a fortnight's leave, I hope (?).
So ends my travels of Greece, soon I hope I shall be able to go over this letter again with you and tell you some of the names of towns we were in and points which I could not mention on later - it has been a wonderful experience - we have seen and done a lot and though the campaign was unsuccessful, I am satisfied we could destroy the German army with very little more equipment but a few more men.
Our boys certainly have got grit - and besides although we have killed men, and at a rate faster than ever before, I'm sure that GOD is on our side, and is seeing that things go according to HIS PLAM.
Well cheerio everyone, I shall write again from Egypt, as soon as we get there.
Love to all,