Remembered by: MICHAEL BEAUMONT
Date added: 6 Jun 2010
Bill Beaumont was born in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1918. He joined the Suffolk Fortress (Territorial Army) Corps of Royal Engineers in 1938. When war was declared in 1939 he worked on the searchlights at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe. His unit was reorganised as 584 Army Field Company, R.E. and they joined companies 582, 583 and 297 Field Park Company, at Milton Barracks, Gravesend. They were then sent to Gilford in Northern Ireland and were known as 3 Kent Corps Troops Engineers.
A few weeks after arrival in Ireland, a detachment of about 80 men was sent to Greece to destroy fuel and other installations if the Germans invaded. Led by Major Herbert Charles West, they entrained and proceeded to Glasgow where they boarded the HMT Franconia which took them to Gibraltar. From there they transferred to the light cruisers HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton. On route to Alexandria, Egypt, they were involved in a sea battle with the Italian Navy from which the latter retired.
From Alexandria they were transported in HMS Ulster Prince to Greece during the early days of the Italian invasion. On 9 December 1940 they disembarked at Piraeus and reported to British Military Mission in Athens.
Later, one contingent went to Thessalonica and the other to the Piraeus dock areas to destroy the oil stocks, plant and docks in case the Germans invaded from the North. Bill together with Lt Duncan Ban (Mac) McIntyre and Sgt Charles (Charlie) Hall went to the North of the Peloponnese to reconnoitre the airfield at Araxos with a view to making it unserviceable. They camped in a tent and Bill was also the motorcycle dispatch rider for making essential communications.
When the Germans invaded in April 1941, they successfully completed the planned demolitions. Mac, Charlie and Bill made rendezvous with the Piraeus contingent and boarded Greek ‘caiques’ commandeered by the Greek Navy. The kaikis were wooden vessels of up to 50 feet in length and were powered by single cylinder oil burning engines. They also had sails. The plan was to travel at night and hope that the enemy might, if they were spotted in the moonlight, think they were Italian fishing vessels.
There were three kaikis. Bill was on the Marietta, led by Lt Denys E. M. Alabaster, and Lt Duncan Ban McIntyre. Also on board were L/Sgt C A Hall (Charlie) 2044547, L/Cpl John Richard Hibbert 2016687, L/Cpl C A Humphrey (Cliff) 2073570, Sapper W G Adams (Phil) 2016705, Driver W R Burton (Wally) 2016718, Spr W G Beaumont (Bill) 2061776, Spr A N Bray (Arthur) 1894454, Dvr S F Davey (Sid) 2016732, Dvr J A Gregory (Johnny) 2016683, Spr R K Hall (Ron) 2013644, Spr C S H Kendall (Cash) 2014574, Spr G E Palmer (Peddler) 2016740, Spr F C Smith (Smudger) 2057463, Spr W Woolston (Nipper) 2016764, Dvr Crichton (Jock). The crew consisted of the Master, Mate, Engineer and Assistant Engineer. The Marietta towed the St Nicolas Constantine which in turn towed the Evangelistria ( Captain Miltiades Houmas ) so that they kept together whilst travelling at 4 knots in the dark.
All three kaikis left Voula on the evening of Thursday 24 April 1941. On Friday the 25 April they dropped anchor in an inlet at the island of Kythnos. The previous day the steamship Point Judith had been sunk nearby by enemy bombing and wreckage was still floating in the vicinity.
At about 8 P.M. they began the second leg to the island of Milos and entered Adamas Bay at dawn Saturday 26th April. There were two other vessels in the bay. One was the half submerged Sifnos and the other, the Pangration, run aground on the shore. A 6000 tons steamship called the Maria Stathatos entered the bay shortly after and came to a standstill 500 yards from where Marietta was anchored.
Then, three German Junkers 88’s flew in from the direction of the sea and attacked the Maria Stathatos. They made two runs, diving and dropping their bombs, one making a hit on its crowded deck. As well as cargo it carried mainly Greek soldiers and civilians with some Cypriot, Palestinian and British soldiers escaping from the mainland.
The planes came right over the top of the Marietta and Lt Alabaster ordered everyone to fire at their discretion. Nipper and Johnny manned one Hotchkiss light machine gun and Ali and John the other. Charlie had the Tommy Gun and the rest fired rifles. The raiders dropped their bombs and disappeared over the hills. Smoke was coming from the leader’s tail and he was dropping height quickly but they never knew his fate. Phil volunteered to swim ashore and rowed back with the dinghy which the unarmed crew had taken when the first attack took place.
Assisted by a Cypriot soldier in another dinghy they were transferring guns, ammunition and provisions ashore as quickly as possible, when even more German aircraft arrived and attacked the merchantman again. She was holed badly and those swimming from the stricken vessel were also being machine gunned. Lt McIntyre had found a spare dinghy ashore and together with Johnny and Wally (neither of whom could swim) went out and brought some of the many in the water back to the beach.
Even though the raiders were still attacking the ship and those in the water, Lt McIntyre went out again on his own but was blown out of the water by a bomb. Some time later he was picked up in the water unharmed but suffering from shock, minus his boots, trousers and revolver. For his action here and at the Araxos airfield he was awarded an M.B.E. Some survivors and walking wounded made it to the beach and the Maria Stathatos sank out of sight later in the afternoon.
Arthur did some good work with a primitive first aid kit and Smudger and Cash took Bill and Phil in to the town for minor dressings. The Marietta was intact and its personnel safely ashore with all the supplies. Before long more aircraft returned and one of them seeing the merchantman sunk, made straight for the Marietta. The others attacked the party ashore who had been ordered not to return fire so as to save ammunition. Smudger, Wally, Ron and John had a lucky escape whilst running towards a house for cover. It was blown to pieces in front of them by a stick of bombs. Fragments of bombs, timber and bricks flew over the ditches where they had taken cover. The R.E. party were unharmed but six men of the Royal Signals who had taken shelter in the house were killed.
In the evening they joined the other two Kaikis on the other side of the bay by an old farmhouse and a windmill. On Sunday they sought out further supplies, washed and rested while waiting for the rest of the detachment to arrive at Milos. This they did although all on one kaiki, as another had been sunk in an air raid on the way. On Wednesday 30th April because of a problem with the St Nicholas Constantine, it was sunk and half of that party came aboard the Marietta and the other half aboard the Evangelistria. In the early evening, all three remaining kaikis set sail for Crete. Spirits having been lifted Ali ordered a generous rum issue to celebrate the departure. Look outs were posted and anti tank guns mounted on the main hatch. In the morning, on approach to Crete the Marietta’s skipper ran up the Greek flag and passed a bottle of Ouzo round. They received a terrific welcome at the harbour of Chania.
After unloading, they had a breakfast of eggs and tinned sausages cooked on oil burners on the quayside. In the meantime, Major West had acquired some horse drawn wagons, on which they loaded their kit and marched beside them through the town, and up into the olive groves to make camp. The Germans invaded Milos on 1 May 1941, the day after they had left.
Bill had been burnt about the face and arms by petrol on mainland Greece and had not received any proper attention. Much to his dismay he to be left behind in a field hospital but was later evacuated before the fall of Crete, on the hospital ship ABA to Alexandria. He eventually caught up with his unit and went on to serve in Egypt, Palestine and in the invasion of Italy. Some of the other men he served with were Lt Evelyn Hunter Rodwell, C.S.M Francis Mills Yapp, Sgt Walter Edward Paige, Spr Ray Watson and Spr Vic Woodhead.
Bill married Nora Emily Cornes and demobilised in 1946. He worked as a carpenter on building sites until the early seventies when he became the groundsman at the Suffolk Showground until his retirement in 1983. Bill passed away in Ipswich Hospital on 29 October 2009 aged 91 after a short illness. He is survived by his two children Joyce (Joy) and Michael.