Only two vets under the Crete olive this year

'I spent one day in battle, then I was taken prisoner'

BLANTON SMITH
Last updated 05:00 21/05/2014
Crete veterans
CHARLOTTE CURD/ Fairfax NZ

MEMORIAL MEMORIES: Battle of Crete veterans Ralph Ward, 96, left, and Mel Askew, 95, attended the 73rd anniversary commemoration held under the Crete olive tree outside the New Plymouth Courthouse yesterday.

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World War II veteran Mel Askew vividly remembers his day of fighting on the island of Crete.

"The first afternoon I was wounded by a stick bomb," Askew said yesterday at the 73rd anniversary commemoration in New Plymouth.

"I only spent one day in battle, then I was taken prisoner."

The "stick bombs" were the distinctive German grenades with the wooden throwing handles.

"We called them potato mashers," the 95-year-old said.

Askew and fellow veteran Ralph Ward were among a group of about 20 who gathered for yesterday's commemoration.

Ward said he remembered everything about the battle which started on the morning of May 20, 1941. "You don't forget things like that."

The battle was the first significant airborne invasion in World War II and began when German paratroopers rained down on the Allied forces who had been instructed to hold the island.

Ward, 96, said he was sitting under an olive tree when the paratroopers came down. "I remember they were really shot up," he said.

Although Allied forces had some success during the first days of battle, German reinforcements arrived and the surviving troops were evacuated within 12 days.

"We were fighting them all the time," he said."

"I remember doing a burial and burying three soldiers from New Plymouth."

The annual commemoration was held under the Crete olive tree, outside the New Plymouth Courthouse, which was presented to veterans by the people of Galatas, Crete, in 1971.

The year the tree was planted 70 veterans attended the ceremony.

This year there were only two, but Ward said the annual commemoration was an important one.

"It's wonderful to remember what we went through," he said.

"It's all part of our history, of course."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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