‘Lucky’ Maori Battalion survivor returns to Crete 70 years on (NZHerald)

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Battle of Crete veteran Arthur Midwood thought he was capturing capitulating German soldiers when one shot him through the chest.

NZ Herald – Yvonne Tahana > http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10726251

Yesterday, the former B Company Maori Battalion soldier left the country for the 70th commemorations of the conflict, notable for Germany’s paratrooper invasion of the Mediterranean island.

The battle started on May 20, 1941. On that day Mr Midwood watched thousands of German soldiers descending and wondered anxiously where they would land.

It was a strategy that ultimately cost the Axis power thousands of lives as Commonwealth forces picked off the German soldiers.

Mr Midwood, now 93, remembers a group of paratroopers pretending to surrender before they dropped to their knees and shot him.

“I copped a bullet through my chest, out through my armpit. I was fixed up by a medical officer but after that was it, you were on your own.”

In 10 days the fight was over as Allied forces were forced to retreat and give up the island.

Mr Midwood remembers the hellish hike over mountainous terrain from Suda Bay to Sfakia, all the while under attack from Stuka bombers. A bottle of water he bought from a Cretan villager kept him going.

“The day after I was hit, I had to be lifted up on to my feet I was so weak. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

But his retreat was made tougher when a projectile hit an olive tree he was sheltering under, and a burning piece of metal landed on his leg, making him think he’d been shot again.

It was a night-time scramble to board his ship.

“They had this rope ladder hanging down the side of the boat and we had to climb up on to the deck.

“Gee, it was a struggle to get my feet up the rungs. In the darkness someone grabbed hold of me and pulled me on to the deck and I lay there until we reached Egypt.”

It wasn’t the end of Mr Midwood’s service nor was it the only life-or-death scrape he faced.

During the African campaign a grenade exploded in the slit trench he was in, killing two soldiers he was sitting between.

He counts himself a lucky man.

“You’re dead right I do. How does a grenade land at the back of the trench, kill my mates and I’m in the middle? Somebody must be protecting me. I’ve been wounded three times I’ve always thought I’m fortunate I’m still breathing.

“I don’t like war at all but the outcome was worth it. The Germans were a pretty nasty lot.”

He is the last surviving “thirty-niner” the name given to soldiers who joined the Maori Battalion in its infancy in 1939.

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