Midshipman’s Journal T.N.B. Cree R.N.
Operations in Athens Dec 1st 1916
The party landed. Our party left the ‘Exmouth’ for the tug which was to take us in, at about 1 A.M. and after a little delay we got under weigh. There were about four hundred of us all told. Hundred marines from both Duncan and Exmouth and a hundred seamen from each ship and of course a stretcher party from each ship.
It was a bitterly cold night and there was a fresh breeze blowing. I wandered about the boat deck trying to find a comfortable sleeping billet. Most places were either red hot or ice cold. However eventually I found a billet behind a searchlight and after struggling into the best position in which my bloodthirsty accoutrements hurt least, I slept. I was woken up periodically by steam whistles and sirens, for we were doing our best to sink a French transport and ram the boom defence alternately, but nevertheless got a certain amount of rest.
Disembarkation About 2.30, as far as I can tell, we got alongside grain wharf in Piraeus. Now we had to stir ourselves again and start humping our gear out of the tug. I left my ‘cosy’ billet without a pang of regret and joined the confused throng. There passed a few minutes of uproar during which everybody seemed to be calling out section numbers. ‘Stiffs’ were shouting out orders and cancelling them a few minutes later. Fierce altercations were going on about the possession of a rifle or the sudden disappearance of a blanket. However eventually we quit the ship and fell in on the road at the end of the quay. After a wait of about twenty minutes we started on our tedious march to the capital. This was about 3.15 A.M.
March to Athens We took a roundabout route through Piraeus and round the head of Phalerum Bay and them straight in land. We were halted many times to wait while Greek Guides (?) went ahead to see if there were any ambushes. The journey was quite uneventful however and extremely boring. I kept myself fortified by a number of hard boiled eggs which I had shovelled like peas into my knapsack before starting.
About half way there the marines and some Frenchmen broke off to the right. Their objective was a powder factory.
It was getting light about 6 A.M. and this was where we first had any signs of opposition.
Signs of hostility. There were a couple of French ‘matelot’ companies ahead of us and just as we were arriving abreast of some hill they turned to the left and opened into skirmishing order. We held on for a bit and then stopped and rested. We saw a most ludicrous sight, the fat froggies worming their way on their bread baskets up a hill on the summit of which was a solitary man dressed in a blanket and skull cap holding one of Adam’s Mark I rifles. He had I believe four or five men in support but he fell in with the ideas of the bread basket brigade and so all was well. We proceeded. We had another short halt while the French began their attack on Philopappos Hill. But after a bit we proceeded and eventually arrived at the Zappeion at about 8.A.M.
Occupation of the Zappeion. After the hands had settled down, those of the officers wanting breakfast, a good one, proceeded to Athens. Us poor subs scraping 7 ½ d between us decided it was not worth while the walk. About 8.30 Admiral [Dartige Du] Fournet arrived in a car and as he stepped out a maxim opened fire on him, much to his disgust. Two seamen were knocked out. They were rather badly wounded. This marked the commencement of the desultory firing and sniping that continued all day. They shot our poor old transport horses that were out in the square but that was not a great loss. About this time our Gunnery Lieut strolled in at the main door. The French flocked round in and dragged him in telling him of the recent occurrences. However the Greeks had not attempted to shoot him although he had walked right through them blissfully unaware of the state of affairs.
I am rather hazy about the next few hours for I slept until midday. But by then things were getting a trifle more interesting. The French V.A. was still unable to get away and the Greeks were making more noise.
1st Attack Eventually, at about 4.30, tho’ I am uncertain about time, the Greeks made what might be called an attack. There certainly was for a period of a quarter of an hour, quite heavy rifle fire, and the glass and masonry of their magnificent building suffered considerably. But as they never stirred from the bushes we never replied to their fusillade.
Preparations for Defence. When they tired of their game, we started to prepare the place for proper defence. Hitherto the French, who were nominally running the show, had not bothered their heads about this. But at the instigation of the Gunnery Lt. we got a move on. The barricades &c. were built up as in sketch by means of “reapers and binders” “corn making machines” and other agricultural weapons. The barricades round the circular court were of boxes of surgical cotton wool.
The plan of defence was as follows. The two wing rooms were held by Exmouth and Duncan seamen. The middle rooms by French matelots. The two passages by Exmouth and Duncan seamen. The front door by French with maxim, the back door Exmouth’s with maxim.
The windows all round the building were high up but one had in every case something to rest on. Living rooms, wardrobes; passages exhibit shelves &c.
Plans for Defence. In the event of an entry by:- Unguarded rooms in either wing, they were to have been shot down as much as possible while passing thro’ the reapers and binders and the as soon as they were thro’ that they and twenty grinning sailors with bayonets fixed to push them back again should they have proved too numerous we were to have gradually filed out through the barricade and when all through hold the barricade as long as possible assisted by those in the passage. When that got too hot to hold back we went behind the next barricade and then work round clockwise barricade by barricade until we came up with the maxim party. If we could not stand then we would all work on round till we are joined with people in the opposite wing. Similarly the French Maxim party would have to work round to this wing. We would then retire barricade by barricade until there were either no Greek, no barricade or no us left. There would doubtless have been ‘some’ bloodshed.
However it was not required.
2nd Attack. The Greeks attacked again in half an hour’s time from the first. This was some more furious firing than the first. So much so that we had cause to fire a round at them in return. Nevertheless nothing further developed. We then had to settle down for a disturbed evening and night. We knew there were a matter of some say 11,000 some say 18,000 Greeks all round us they had reserves of roughly 150,000 so it was rather hideous for 400 to sit tight in there. But there was no alternative. We simply had to wait and wait for the attack which was inevitable and which inevitably developed rather seriously for us because at night they could come within 30 yds and not be seen.
Field guns and fleet get to work. About 6.30 (again not certain) we heard the bark of a field gun and the rumble as it exploded in position marked on sketch. Of course actually the rumble came first. This properly fixed us if they intended to knock our happy little house to bits. However we heard shortly afterwards a far greater rumble as a 9.2” exploded in the direction of the King’s palace. The field gun fired one more round and packed up. The 9.2” fired three more and then packed up. Shortly after the last round a car came round to the main door and an embassy came from Tuis. He was dragged inside and a conference held. This was of course prolonged as much as possible to gain time and leave us as little time as possible to defend the place before the relief force arrived.
The conference. Tuis, however, did not like having his Kitchens bombarded and so after much parleying a form of truce was arranged. However we spent the night in some agitation but it passed uneventfully, tho’ we could see the Greeks stalking about in the shadows outside.
The forenoon passed uneventfully for us tho’ there was a duel going on outside between Venizelists in the stadium and Royalists outside the Zappeion.
The return. In the afternoon we returned to Piraeus with a Greek escort to prevent scrapping breaking out. Nevertheless we did not trust them but ostentatiously mounted our maxim in the cart and manned it.
We arrived at Piraeus in the evening and at first were to have remained ashore to guard Piraeus that however was cancelled and so ended the most amusing farce.