Lion of Crete's story to be shot in Alexandra

By Kevin Childs

In 2001, the NZ Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark, and Dudley Perkins' brother, Neville, laid a wreath on the plaque in Crete honouring the slain Kiwi soldier. Photo / Mark Mitchell
In 2001, the NZ Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark, and Dudley Perkins' brother, Neville, laid a wreath on the plaque in Crete honouring the slain Kiwi soldier. Photo / Mark Mitchell

They called him Vasili, the Lion of Crete. Now a feature film is in production about the exploits of New Zealand World War II hero Dudley Perkins, with Central Otago standing in for Crete.

Perkins was a Christchurch clergyman's son who returned to the Greek island after being smuggled out, only to die in an ambush, aged 29. Twice recommended for the Victoria Cross, he missed out because no British officer saw his actions.

Shooting of an $8 million film based on a book and called The Straggler is set to start next year around Alexandra, where the countryside bears an uncanny resemblance to Crete.

Perkins enlisted in September 1939 and went to Egypt. Dispatched to Crete in early 1941 as part of the Allied effort to dislodge the Germans, he was captured with 6000 others.

Escaping from a prison camp, he came down with jaundice and spent Christmas Eve of that year in a stable with pigs, goats, sheep, a donkey and hens which he found good company.

For a year he was hidden in the mountains, living on snails, dandelion roots and help from the locals.

Rescued finally by submarine, Perkins refused home leave and officer training. Instead he returned as part of a special operations group.

His exploits, as told in Vasili, The Lion of Crete, by Murray Elliott, include an encounter with a local spy when trying to get a resistance leader to Egypt. A German patrol came upon Perkins' men. The spy was shot. Then the whole patrol was killed.

Cretans were executed and villages burnt in the stepped-up hunt for the resistance leaders.

Thirteen Germans were next caught stealing sheep. In the firefight that followed, Perkins was wounded. A bullet ended up dangerously near his kidney. A local butcher dug out the bullet, without anesthetic, enhancing the Kiwi's standing among the guerrillas.

The savagery of Crete was shown when Perkins refused to allow the nine surviving prisoners to be shot, but was forced to agree when word came about German reinforcements.

The prisoners were shot over a large hole. Because they were tied together, some pulled in others, so a guerrilla climbed down to complete the execution, but his rope broke. He fell and hurt his leg.

Perkins insisted on being lowered to both rescue his man and kill the remaining Germans.

This last battle brought a massive German sweep. Pinned in the mountains without food for a week, Perkins and his men eventually fell upon the remains of roast goat left by the searching Germans.

A highly successful leader, Perkins led a patrol that caught a German guard and five or six Italians, leading to more ambushes and skirmishes.

Scriptwriter Jonathan Ogilvie of Christchurch has worked for seven years to bring Perkins' story to the screen.

Co-producer Michael Wrenn said casting had started. "We have been in Melbourne fund-raising, presenting the project to key stakeholders, the Cretan community and government representatives."

- NZ Herald

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