|Studio Portrait of Lance Corporal James Laidlaw Paterson. AWM|
For Bill's coming birthday we recount the story of one of his fellow diggers who didn't survive the attack on the Nino Bixio in August1942 - Private James Laidlaw Paterson
The Battle of Greece and Crete
The Second World War saw Greece and Crete became a battleground as the Axis powers invaded in April-May 1941 and began an occupation which lasted for four long years. We know of the battles of the Anzacs in Greece - from Vevi, Platamon, Tempe, Brallos Pass, Thermopylae, Corinth Canal, Kalamata, Maleme, 42nd Street, Rethymno, Heraklion and many more.
But the Anzac connection to Greece and Crete extended beyond these famous engagements. Captured diggers were kept in Prisoner of War camps and transported across Greece to Germany and Italy. Escaped diggers made their way back to the Allied lines with the help of local Greek civilians. Allied airmen flew over Greece and Crete during the occupation, gaining information and harassing the occupier. And Australian warships sailed the seas of Greece and Crete.
Methoni, Pylos and the Anzacs
A little known story connects the region around Methoni and Pylos to the Anzacs - the tragedy of the Nino Bixio, an Italian freighter turned into a POW transport ship in August 1942.
|Nino Bixio. Source: Web|
Sadly, on the second day of the voyage, 17th August 1942, south west of Pylos, the ship was hit by two torpedoes from the Royal Navy Submarine HMS Turbulent.
|RN Turbulent, on the outboard side, moored up. IWM|
Over 300 Allied POW's were killed, including 41 Australians and 116 New Zealanders. Many died trapped in the holds of the ship, as they struggled to escape the sinking ship through the jagged-edged holes left by the torpedoes or in the waters beyond.
The stricken ship wallowed helplessly all night but at first light one of the Italian destroyers returned and towed the Nino Bixio to Pylos.
Many of the dead were buried at Pylos, including approximately 20 New Zealanders. After the war, 19 New Zealanders and 1 Australian were re-buried at Athens' Phaleron War Cemetery. Others who died after the tragedy were buried at War Graves in Italy. Many of the others who were killed are listed on the war memorial at El Alamein War Cemetery.
122 Australians and 58 New Zealanders survived. After being incarcerated in the Pylos Castle, the survivors where then moved to Patras and eventually to Bari in Italy, and thence to POW camps in Italy.
The fate of the POW's of the Nino Bixio off Methoni and Pylos followed that of the Sebastiano Venier (a former Dutch ship called the Jantzen or Jason) which had suffered a similar fate in the waters off Methoni in 9th December 1941. Over 500 out of 2,00 prisoners were killed, including at least 44 New Zealand soldiers.
Aberdeen's Anzac - Lance Corporal James Laidlaw Paterson
One of the diggers who died was an Anzac from Aberdeen in far-off Scotland.
He was Lance Corporal James Laidlaw Paterson of the 2/28th Battalion, 2nd AIF. Born in Aberdeen, James had come to Australia, working as a clerk and when he enlisted he was resident in Claremont WA. He sailed from Australia for service in the Middle East as part of 2/28th Battalion on 30th July 1940.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal in August 1941.
Along with the rest of his Battalion, James fought at El Alamein from 17th July 1942 and took part in the attack on Ruin Ridge on 27th July 1942 - as did Sapper Bill Rudd and his unit, the 2/7th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers. James' Battalion suffered heavy losses and nearly 500, including James, became POW's.
Transported from Benghazi aboard the Nino Bixio in August 1942, James suffered the fate of many aboard.
After the ship was struck by the torpedoes, James escaped from the stricken ship and managed to find a raft to support himself.
A drifted for some nine days - without food or water, scorched by the sun, wind and sea spray.
He is reported to have died of exhaustion on 26th August 1942 - seven days after the Nino Bixio was struck.
He was only 26 years old and left behind a widow, Dorothy, in South Perth, Western Australia. His name is listed on the memorial at El Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt.
Lest we forget.
|Methoni Castle, Greece. Photo Jim Claven 2012.|
Commemorating the Pylos and Methoni Anzacs
Over recent years moves have been afoot - in Australia and in Greece - to commemorate these Anzac and other Allied POWs at Pylos and Methoni, Greece.
Suvivors like Anzac veteran Bill Rudd have been supporting these moves for many years. Sydney-based Rhonda Cousens Georgopoulos has visited the area many times with her husband - who is from Methoni - to research the story and to support the cause of a memorial.
Let's hope that the coming 75th anniversary of the battle of Crete and Greek Campaign will see these efforts result in a fitting new memorial to these fallen Anzac's and their comrades. Watch this space.
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee