Greece like a picnic compared with Crete
Name: Vincent Rigney
Unit: 6th Division AIF
Much has been written about the heroism of Australian troops as they fought a desperate rearguard action against overwhelming odds after the German invasion of Crete.
Signaller Vincent Rigney was so relieved and excited when he was rescued by the Navy that he sat down and wrote a long letter to his mother describing the events that led up to his rescue.
"Dear Mum, All good things come to those who wait, and we waited to get off the Island of Crete and here we are," he wrote. "Greece was a bit tough but like a picnic compared with Crete. Crete was a real hell but a wonderful piece of military work, the world will be proud of the Crete battle some day.
"Is there a guardian angel watching over me? I think someone is all the time, because we've been through trying times and thank God they are over and we are back with the boys.
"Sixty miles we marched when we had to get off the Isle. Over mountains, rough rocks, steep tracks, bad roads and all hell about us, but did anyone drop his bundle? I'll say not, only his pack and surplus weight, then in the end, at an early hour one morning, the good old sailors took us under their wing and here we are.
"When young Ken of Manly saw me get off he nearly cried and said 'I didn't expect to see you again'. He was sick before Fritz invaded Crete and when things began to hum, he was taken off from Malemi Hospital on a Red Cross ship. Then we spent 10 days of unbelievable events.
"Next time I see a parachute I'll curse. It was a great sight to see for the first time, hundreds of them dropping but awful just the same. Every time I think of it makes me wonder, is it all true? But it was and they even towed big gliders behind great planes, then let them loose and they landed right on us, and we poured in the lead, and after a couple of days they all got cleaned up where we were.
"What I've written is a credit to our boys, not giving away information, and we have permission to tell now. How we stood up to that march will amaze the world. It will if anyone has been over the track we took.
"I'm proud to say we have the finest spirited boys in the world. How some of the wounded made it I don't know, but there were four Aussie cobbers and for the last ten miles at the finish three of them carried in turn one of their mates on his back and got to the boat. What boys! There were men there, too, of Crete and others who should be loaded with glory, but only we saw the exploits.
"Then there was our Captain who led us from start to finish and kept the pace and gave us five to ten minute spells, pushed us on nearly all night. Two days, three nights, Mum, till we just got there. He was hard on the pace, but if it wasn't him in the lead, not all of us would have got off.
"He was older than we were, too, still he stuck to us and fought all the way. When we'd be stopped he'd get us moving again pretty quick. Crowns on shoulders didn't stop him. He'll do me and the rest of the boys too and that goes for our other officers.
"We had our officers where others didn't. They could have split us up and gone in groups but they kept us together and it was so dark at times we had to keep calling our mate ahead. Some would fall down rocks but up again. 'I'm right so and so' and so on. Then get going again.
"On the last lap we ran out of water and one of our officers, Mr Henry, went back three miles with some of the boys and each carried back packs of water bottles. That was six miles extra and he was, to put it mildly, exhausted before he took that on, so you see what our boys the Aussies are like."
Signaller Rigney was one of the lucky ones. Altogether 274 Australians were among the 1742 soldiers who were killed on Crete and another 507 were wounded while 3102 became prisoners of war. The evacuation from Crete cost the Mediterranean Fleet more than 2000 killed.
The Germans lost some 4000 of their top combat troops killed and 200 aircraft destroyed, a result which forced Hitler to decide never again to sanction such a massive airborne attack.
The material for this article was supplied by Eileen Toombs of New South Wales, niece of Signaller Rigney
8/01/2002 10:35:15 AM