My Grandfather’s War Story

When news of Adolph Hitler reached New Zealand Eric (Grandad) did not like it. He knew this man had to be stopped. So when war was declared and New Zealand started enlisting soldiers, Eric wanted to be the first one to sign up. However, he had to milk the cows first so he was the second person in Palmerston North.

The British soldiers including the Australia and New Zealanders, tried to stop the Nazis from taking over the countries north of the Island of Crete. But the Nazis were very well resourced and the British were not, they didn’t succeed, but they tried to prevent them coming across to the other side of countries by defending the Island of Crete. British soldiers as well as Anzac troops were placed on the island. The English had actually been able to decode the Germans communication system, and knew that the Germans would try to attack by landing from parachutes rather than through by sea. However they did not want to make it clear to The Enemy that they knew this information so they put men around the harbours, and did not defend the other side of the airport in Crete. It is very easy to shoot down men as they come on parachutes. New Zealand and Australia and Britain could have won that battle had it not been for the poor arrangements. Grandad didn’t used to talk about everything that happened in the war, but the prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, asked for personal testimonies about the battle on Crete and he wrote half a page in a now published colour hard copy book. As a result Granddad got to fly and see the Prime Minister which he was very pleased to do, even though she did not agree with many of the policies he thought were right. In this book my Grandad said that during his time on Crete he buried two of his best friends.

The allies were told that the Germans were coming and they destroyed all their tanks and armoury to prevent it being captured and used by the Germans. They removed the gearbox and the ignition? The men then travelled by night and by day across the island on foot. A lot of the time they had to travel by night to avoid being spotted by German snipers and bombers. They could not stop or rest or eat very much. Uncle Alan tells the story of a crossing through some mountains. There were snipers on ridges above them. The group of men only had one rifle and one round of ammunition. I dare say the Christians among them were praying very desperately. They were able to do that rounds of ammunition to clear away the snipers, and made it safely to the other side of the Island.

The Cretan people were very good to the allies. In one town someone asked them what they would like and they said cooked eggs. It took time for the eggs to cook and the men had to keep moving so the next group of soldiers got eat the eggs. One lady did their wishing for them.

When they go to the escape boats that we’re waiting to take them, they allowed married men with children to get on board first. Then they called for the married men to get on board. Grandad was still single so he didn’t think he was going to get a chance. However there was still more room and he was able to get on board.

When they were on board in harbor Germans were bombing their ships. One bomb went down a ships funnel, and the ship was destroyed. A second bomb went down between the middle of the remaining two ships and into the ocean. Grandad was on one of the ships that got miraculously saved.

They spent some time in the desert in Egypt doing training and it was very cold at night in very hot during the day. They didn’t have a proper building to sleep in so they got issues a thick warm jacket. We saw Grandads original jacket yesterday being modelled by Uncle John Oliver. We also saw his ?”gear sack”? with the words “E R Oliver, 19th battalion New Zealand Army Corps” (needs clarification) written on it. We also saw 3 eating dishes made of ?steel which were a large bowl a small bowl and a cup , suitable for using to heat food over an open flame because they had of foldable steel handle that could be used to hold.

One of Granddad’s comrades and roommates spoke at his funeral. He now lives at a Rest Home. He said at the funeral that Grandad had an amazing trust in God and was completely fearless when he went out to fight, because he was sure that whatever happened God would look after him. Every night in the bunk room he used to say his prayers out loud for everyone else to hear. No one gave him a hard time- they all respected him for it.

Their group had some rest and recuperation time around Egypt and Grandad went to see the Ruins of Baal beck in Lebanon- he got a photo there with four of his Christian friends. We saw a slide of the photo and of the back of it yesterday – with the names of the men in the photograph. Uncle Allan said Grandad keep in contact with them when he got back to New Zealand and after the war . Grandad has written ( in his own autobiography ) about how they had many happy times on this holiday, “happy times” meaning times of worship and fellowship with other Christians. Grandad also put on a considerable amount of weight during this break which was very good for him.

Jump scenes to New Zealand in rural Okato. Hilda McFetridge thought that when the boys went to war it was going to be boring. But the women soon learnt that there was plenty of work to do on the farm. They also made fruit cakes for the boys and wrapped them in newspapers so they could read them on the other end and sewed them up in cloths. Fruit cakes would last the journey and be nice and ripe when they got to the soldiers. Uncle Arch received one such cake from Hilda. He invited his comrades round to have a piece of cake and one of them was Eric. Eric liked the cake and asked Arch to thank the lady who made it. Arch said, “Actually, Eric, why don’t you write and thank her yourself?” So he did and a romance was born.

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