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Regimental History - 20th Century

Second World War 1939-1945

1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster

Leros, November 1943

By William Moss, November 1991

I have been researching the battle of ‘Leros’ in the Dodecanese Isles, Aegean Sea, which took place around 1943. While on this island, I served under Major G H Duxbury, who was mortally killed, also Major W T P Tilly who was wounded and reported missing. I was captured twice on this island, and also escaped twice, thus managing to return to my original positions on Mount Clidi.

The Lance Corporal who was with Major Tilly, Lance corporal J Hall, I served alongside many times. I was torpedoed on the way to Cyprus, and this Lance corporal shouted to me in the water before I was rescued by HMS Hero. I often wondered about the men of my Regiment. I can give you a few names of casualties while on Leros. In my Platoon of C Company there was Sergeant Underhill wounded in the mouth by enemy snipers while firing a Vickers Machine Gun, his Number 1 had already been severely injured in the abdomen and was in a critical condition.

(Our section) While on the way to attack an enemy position, we had to go in forward, suddenly our Section came under small arms fire, which I presumed to be snipers. Para-troops had descended by now, and were getting organised, at about 14 50 hours this attack got more severe. We took up firing positions. Our weapons were hand grenades, one Bren Gun, one Boyes Anti-Tank Rifle and Tommy Guns and Lee Enfield Rifles. With us, at the time was Lieutenant Tiplady, I often wonder if he recovered – he ran into the fire and was wounded, he fell like a log.

After a while, all was quite eerie, it was ‘take cover’ and ‘keep a sharp look-out!’ It must have been 100 yards away when in the sky were blobs of men falling, many were hit. We decided to make an attempt on this position, which we had previously been briefed on. It was a small hill, rising sharply. So we moved on slowly, and cautiously, when suddenly out of the blue came shots, from, I am not certain, a sniper, who was able to pick us off one by one. I was moving on steadily when our Corporal, named, ‘Hicklin’, got shot in his leg; that left myself not to take Command of the remainder of my section. We took up our positions again, for any attack, while doing so Private J Woodward, of Salford, was mortally wounded in his forehead, there was little we could do. So I gave the orders to the remainder of my section to stay with me for orders. At that moment Private Vines was wounded, he was a South Wales Borderer originally.

Now I was left with Private D Hibbert, of Hyde, Cheshire, who was a South Lancashire soldier, a very brave man indeed. Private McDougal from Warrington, Cheshire, Private H Acton (Motor Transport platoon). In the distance was Private Robinson of Bradford, near Belle Vue, Manchester, spotted a transport on the ground which was off-loading supplies and men, it seemed to be in difficulty. So I gave the order to my Bren gunner to fire a few bursts of automatic fire, while the remainder of my Section returned to their own trenches on Mount Clidi under this covering fire.

It was like an ambush, but luckily we got back safe and sound after losing some very brave pals of my section.

The next time I escaped was after Major Tilly gave an order to counter attack to the forward positions on ‘Fortress’. Our positions had now changed hands, but we took it back again. Sergeant Lea was capable now of turning the enemy’s weapons on them. This man had a first class training on weaponry. Staff Sergeant Johnson, of the South Wales Borderers, was now getting worried with all the Stuka Dive Bombers, he was surprised to see us back and we reinforced his section, capturing a few prisoners.

I was given an order to take my section around the perimeter of Mount Clidi; we had no sooner got dug in when the enemy attacked in force. We were taken prisoners, and searched, and our steel helmets were snatched from our heads. Then we got escorted back to the German positions, where my section was put in a pigsty on a lonely road running through the village.

Time went by, when we had to form up in single file, and were made to carry mortar bombs for the enemy and now we were being treated as ’human shields’ amidst the fire of our own Troops.

We had now gone about a couple of miles, stopping for a breath, and trying to delay the action of the enemy. There was rifle fire, small arms and Bren now being fired on us. Going down a small path we cam across a house, it seemed to be unoccupied, so in we all went, including the escort who also was now getting worried by all this action around.

We placed a red cloth, which draped the mantelpiece, and took a white table cloth, to give the impression of a first aid post. No sooner had we got in this house, our young sentry, or escort, called us out to carry on down the track. This narrow track was very familiar to me now, I knew we were heading towards the Bay and we were only a few minutes away to our relief. When we got to our destination, I found that the building we were going to be taken in now, was a base hospital, and it was surrounded with armed German troops.

Inside this hospital in the Bay of Alinda, we sheltered for a while tending to the wounded, and a Surgeon was operating on a casualty on a table. A War Correspondent cam up to me in a suit of brand new khaki, he looked like he had just come out of a tailor’s shop. We were weary now, no food or drink. I decided to go to the door of this building, it was getting dark and very windy, in the near distance I could vaguely see the silhouettes of a few British Tommies, they were rushing towards the caves. I believe the War Correspondent was none other, but Marland Jander, he wrote a book I am told, and then was killed later in another war zone.

It must have been very near 2100 hours, when all at once, without any warning, a huge loud explosion occurred. It was a naval shell, which came from one of our ships in the Bay. Private Viner, of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then said to me, “The next salvo and I’m away, how about you?” I answered, “Yes, I’m off too.”

The first salvo had scored a direct hit – it left a gaping hole in the side of this building. This is where the two of us made our dramatic escape once again. After a moment, we had gone just 50 to 100 yards, when a voice in the darkness shouted “Halt! Who goes there?” A great relief seemed to come over me. “Go to the front of the column!” When we reached the front we were escorted to a cave, where a Lieutenant Colonel, or maybe a higher ranking officer, gave us a good interrogation.

“What have you two been up to”, he said, but before I could speak he said, “Stand to attention when you speak to me.” I was now the appointed spokesman, so I said, in a good military-like fashion, “You will excuse me Sir, but we have just escaped, we were taken POW. Your patrol, or reinforcements, have just passed about 500 Germans.”

“Quartermaster,” he shouted, “Give these men two blankets and some soup and put them up for the night.”

We didn’t get much sleep, but the rest did a world of good, thanks to this Officer.

Morning came and we were told where out positions were, and off we went to fight again.

We arrived on Mount Clidi again and gave a good account of ourselves, but later on a Lieutenant Horne, (1st King’s Own) gave us all an order. He said, “I am sorry to inform you men, you have done a wonderful job, but now I have to tell you that the Island has been split in two, at the weakest point, between Alinda and Gurna Bays, and we now have to capitulate and all meet at a given reference point.”

“Hand in your small arms weapons etc.”

The journey now was to be transported to Athens, en route by ship, we were packed in like sardines. Some of the Officers went in flying boats. We journeyed on and on until we came to Munich, after 14 days in cattle wagons, and placed in Stalag 7A. From 7A we were moved passed Dachau Concentration Camp about ten miles off Munich to 17A Stalag, where there were many nationalities; Russians, Serbs, Italians, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians etc. After a while we formed up again and sent to Veiner Newstadt, about ten miles from Vienna, and we had to go out on working parties and it was heavy graft breaking stones on the quarries, it was a small Alcatraz, felling trees, working on roads and in factories.

After many thousand bomber raids through the bleak Austrian winter, frostbite taking its toll on everyone, it was now the survival of the fittest. I had Malaria, and I was sent to the hospital to have a huge abscess lanced on my left thigh.

While I was in this hospital in Vienna, I was in bed upstairs and a bombing raid was going on nearby. I was showered with glass from the window and then I was carried down stairs by a party of Belgian POWs who shared my room and put in the basement. The place shook, it was like being on a ship in a storm.

However, after my operation I was transported back to the 17A Transit Camp, but on my way the wagon we were in got a shock – we were attacked by Russian snipers, no one was injured.

I have praise for the Doctor who operated on me, also the Nurse, who gave me courage.

This camp seemed to be a mass of Troops all forming up to go on a long march across Germany. I decided now what I was going to do, I spied my chance. I went in, grabbed my sick report, and I have it to this day and have also had it photo-copied. This was it, out I went, and there were Russian soldiers advancing in Indian file, making their way to Vienna. I tramped on, sometimes by night depending on the moon and the conditions of the weather, sleeping in outhouses, farms, barns etc. and living off the land, making my way to Budapest, Rumania, and then onto Odessa, where I was greeted by the Right Honourable Lady Churchill and the International Red Cross Commission.

They put me in a group and took my photo with the Honourable Lady, put me on a boat to Italy, in hospital for ten days, and then I was flown to England in a Liberator Bomber, after almost three years in captivity.

I shall be eighty years old on 10th December 1991, when I shall celebrate my birthday with some of my comrades who fought by my side in the Western Desert in Africa.

W H (Bill) Moss, Veteran, Survivor of ‘Leros’ and ‘North Africa Campaign’
Ex-1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Regiment.


Available from the museum shop:

Churchill's Folly - The Last Great British Defeat of World War Two.  By Anthony Rogers.  The 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment were on Leros in November 1943 when the island was over run by Germans.  Recommended reading for anyone interested in the 1st Battalion at that time.  Price including UK postage £8.50  SORRY - OUT OF STOCK AT PRESENT

How to order this item.

Travels with a Leros Veteran by Pauline Bevan.  A book in which Pauline Bevan records her father's exploits with 1st King's Own on the Island of Leros in the Second World War, and then as a Prisoner of War of the Germans.  An excellent record of the Leros campaign.  Price including UK postage £19.

How to order this item.


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