Veteran to relive Battle of Crete memories

stuff.co.nz/waikato-times —  World War 2 Battle of Crete veteran Malcolm Coughlan  remembers the World War 2 Battle of Crete like it was yesterday.

The airborne invasion of German paratroops on the first day of the battle, May 20, 1941, is something the Morrinsville 97-year-old will never forget.

“The whole sky was filled with parachutes,” he said.

“We knew they weren’t coming in for fun.”

Coughlan, who belonged to the C company of the Hawke’s Bay 19th Battalion, was a machine gunner in the nine-day battle on the Greek island.

On the first day of the battle, an explosive bullet hit the machine gun he was using. Shrapnel from the bullet badly injured his right hand, taking out a knuckle.

He was taken to a British first aid depot, but wasn’t able to receive treatment until he left the Island due to chaos caused by constant air attack.

“It was just constant strapping (machine gun fire) from the German airplanes,” he said.

After sleeping in a ditch in an effort to find some cover, Coughlan woke up to find that all but one other soldier had left the area.

The pair then set off on a journey to the other side of the island – more than 55km, to escape.

They witnessed a soldier shot dead from his motorbike and, despite never having ridden one, the pair took the bike and fled.

The bike got them to the top of the island’s mountain range where they were directed on foot down a steep, narrow, gully, spending the night in a cave.

By this time, his injured hand had become badly infected.

“It was really throbbing at that stage,” he said.

They made it to a rescue boat, which took them back to Alexandria, Egypt, where his hand was finally treated.

Coughlan is looking forward to going back to Crete on May 13 for 75th anniversary commemorations.

He is one of the few surviving veterans of the battle and one of only a handful from New Zealand making the journey.

It will be his fifth trip to Crete and he says it will be his last. But he’s not worried about the long-haul travel for the 13-day trip, which he will make with his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Andrew Allen.

“I did it last time five years ago,” he said.

“I’m going business class so I can lie down.”

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