Lance Corporal Allan Robinson of 6th (NZ) Field Ambulance began his service in Greece in March 1941 before being evacuated to Crete in May. Here he describes a German attack on the 6th Field Ambulance Main Dressing Station and how patients and staff were taken prisoner and then were made to act as human shields between the Germans and the Allied troops, with tragic consequences.
[From] the amount of air activity above us—we were getting strafed and occasionally bombed—we knew that something was in the offing. 20 May came. We were all having breakfast, the Cretan boy had come down, he was having breakfast with us, and at 8 o'clock in the morning, over they came. They strafed up and down our lines for two hours, at least two hours, up and down, crossways, all over the place. We weren't bombed at all; we were strafed. We'd all immediately gone to our funk holes, our slit trench, and I was crouched down in this one. There's nothing worse than to sit in your slit trench and hear the [bullets] going through the olive trees. Hear the bits of bark and everything come down on top of you, and to see the clouds of dust around the top of your slit trench as the bullets go round. To say that I was scared would be an understatement.
The next thing I knew, somebody said, 'Ups the hands.' And here's a German paratrooper above me with a machine gun. So I 'ups the hands' alright, very smartly. I'd just got out of the slit trench, hands on my head, when the next thing I heard was bang! Crack! A shot. I looked over, and here was our colonel, Colonel [John] Plimmer, he was our acting CO. He had a boil on his arm. All officers have a pistol. As he was told to get out, he must have put his arm down to help himself out, and they must have thought he was reaching for his [pistol], and they gave shot him. He just went back into the slit trench. He didn't die straight away. We did our best for him, but no, it was fatal. We tried to comfort [him], but he died.
Then we were just told, 'Over there!' They had a big Red Cross flag, the Germans had spread this out. All our unit were told to sit around it, with our hands on our heads. We must have been there for a couple of hours, more than that, because it was getting into the afternoon when we were moved.
We were sitting around this flag when lo and behold we heard this noise. We looked over and here was what remained of the patients from the 7th General Hospital across the road. That had been blitzed—that was most unusual because the Germans respected the Red Cross flag. All these chaps, they were being—the orderlies, the wounded, walking wounded—all being herded into our area. Now a couple of days previous to the blitz coming on, we had seen this German plane shot down over Suda Bay. Apparently the plane landed and the joker landed on his backside and he hurt his back, and he was a patient in the 7th General Hospital. When the wounded from the 7th General came along, here's this same joker limping, and he's got a machine pistol, and he's herding the jokers that had been helping him in the [hospital].
Then the Germans came, and they fed us. They gave us our dry Army biscuits (you used to need a hammer to break them), and they opened some bully beef, Argentine bully beef, corned beef. They hadn't seen so much tinned fruit, and they were hoeing into our tinned fruit as though it were going out of fashion. But we got this dried biscuit and some bully beef, and a sip of water.
Later in the afternoon, we were all told to get up. I don't know what had happened to John Plimmer, whether he had been buried. They may have wrapped him up and buried him, I don't know.
We were told we were on the move. We were going to be used as a shield to go into some of the lines held by the New Zealanders. They used us as a shield, and we were marching up towards Karatsos, I think it was. They marched us into the [lines of] the Taranaki Company of the 19th Battalion. So there's the 19th Battalion there, there's us, and here's the Germans behind us. We were in the middle, and they were sniping through us. They were quite a way away. They could see that we were there. And they started firing straight through us. I was lucky again because these olive trees came to my aid. That's why I love olives. I got in behind a decent-sized olive tree, and I was sheltering.
These Germans, some of these paratroopers that were there with us, they were using our old Lee Enfield rifle to snipe with. They were starting to snipe through us at the 19th Battalion but the 19th Battalion had Bren guns, the machine guns, so they put it on a fixed trace, and they fired it.
Now this poor little Crete boy who befriended me, or I befriended him, he was down in the camp that morning and he was caught. And of course, he was herded like the rest of us, and all of a sudden I heard him moaning. I said, 'What's wrong?' I pulled up his shirt and I could see a black hole—a hole with black edges around it. He'd been shot in the stomach and he was moaning. I couldn't do a damn thing. I couldn't do a thing for him. I didn't have a field dressing. I had nothing at all. And this poor little blighter beside me, he died. He died. The other side of me was another fellow, a mate of mine from Dannevirke. He was hit in the head, by our own—this little boy was shot by New Zealanders too. It's unfortunate, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. Poor old Jack, he was killed. They were firing through the olives. Lucky Robinson, I got the big olive tree. Bits of bark flying around. Dante's inferno had nothing on it. It was scary. I think we were past the scary stage then. We were just accepting it.
Allan Robinson (right) and another New Zealand soldier surrounded by children in Greece, circa March-April 1941.