Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Hekia Parata to take part in Battle of Crete commemorations

Hekia Parata's grandfather Arnold Reedy (centre of image with hands on hips) in England during WWII. Photo / Supplied
Hekia Parata's grandfather Arnold Reedy (centre of image with hands on hips) in England during WWII. Photo / Supplied

As Arnold Reedy and other members of the Maori Battalion were being evacuated from Crete during World War II, he looked back and saw men who would be left behind.

Realising the soldiers were from his district on the North Island's East Coast, the 38-year-old and other officers opted to stay behind.

That led to four years in German prisoner-of-war camps, but not before he and other Kiwis were made to bury their fallen comrades.

Reedy's granddaughter, Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, will now travel to Europe with the Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae to take part in the 75th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Crete.

"The stories we have been told are that as the Maori Battalion and C Company were being evacuated from Crete, my grandfather among the other officers looked back on shore and realised that they wouldn't be able to take everyone, and if all the officers went there would be no officers present for those who would inevitably be taken prisoner of war," Ms Parata told the Herald.

"So my grandfather was one of the officers who stayed, and became a prisoner of war for the rest of the war, from May 1941 to 1945, when he came home."

Twenty-one members of the New Zealand Defence Force will attend multiple ceremonies for the battle anniversary, over five days from May 19-23.

The Battle of Crete began on May 20, 1941, when thousands of elite German paratroopers landed. For 12 days New Zealanders, British, Australian and Greek troops, assisted by Cretan civilians, tried to repel the airborne assault.

More than 7700 New Zealanders served in the battle; 671 died, 967 were wounded and more than 2180 were taken as prisoners of war. A few New Zealanders took to the hills and were sheltered by the locals.

Those captured on Crete were transported to mainland Greece, and then were taken north by train. Officers and non-commissioned officers went to Germany, and the rest ended up in camps in Austria and northern Yugoslavia (modern-day Slovenia).

More than 340 Kiwis are buried in Suda Bay War Cemetery.

The fighting resulted in two New Zealanders being awarded Victoria Crosses; one to Sergeant Alfred Hulme, and another - the first of two - won by Captain Charles Upham.

C Company was made up of Ngati Porou men on the East Coast. Reedy signed up for the war, despite being 38 and a married father of five.

Ms Parata said he felt he needed to set an example.

"He was one of the leaders in our home area, so off he went," Ms Parata said.

- NZ Herald

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