Mike Grey in Paratrooper fatigues, 1944Mike Grey
Paratroopers from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, take cover on a street corner in Athens during operations against members of ELAS, 6 December 1944. Official War Office photograph.Mike Grey
Mike Grey (centre) and paratroopers of the 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade on the Acropolis, October 1944.
Paratroopers of the 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade on the Acropolis, October 1944.Mike Grey
5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion dropping into Megara, Greece, 15 October1944.Mike Grey
"I watched a soccer match where the other side parachuted in, one sergeant doing a stand-up landing. I asked him if he didn’t need to roll over and he said, “I have my best battle dress on, sir, I didn’t want to get it dirty.”"
I hoped to become a pilot in the air force [Royal Air Force] but failed my eye exam as I am red/green colour blind. In March 1942, I was old enough to join the army. I left my job with the tobacco company, WD & HO Wills and was sent to Bovington, where I was selected to attend OCTU [Officer Cadet Training Unit] and eventually Sandhurst Military Academy where I was commissioned in the Royal Armoured Corps. The passing out parade ended with the adjutant riding his horse up the front steps and through the front door. We both liked the march ‘Imperial Echoes,’ which was played during the march past.
To join the Suffolk Tank Regiment, I was sent to North Africa wearing the black beret. Before I got there, I watched a soccer match where the other side parachuted in, one sergeant doing a stand-up landing. I asked him if he didn’t need to roll over and he said, “I have my best battle dress on, sir, I didn’t want to get it dirty.” That helped me decide to join [the 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion,] the Parachute Regiment and I hoped to go back to England to train. Instead, I trained in Italy and ended up with 33 jumps, one at night. I was now wearing the red beret, the airborne colour.
I was a signals officer and apart from the fighting, picked up a case of hepatitis and was sent to the Italian Riviera to recuperate, a blessing from the front line where the trenches were filled with water and it rained and rained. I missed the landing in southern France [August 1944] but was there for the jump into Greece [October 1944]. The Germans were retreating but the Communist Party [KKE, Socialist Labour Party of Greece] were trying to take over. I landed at Megara, the Athens airport in high winds on a concrete runway and broke my ankle. A telegram was sent to my father, as next of kin that "he [Mike] had been wounded. He was being well looked after by Princess Alice" - that’s [Prince] Phillip’s mother - "who came to ask if he would like anything. He ended up with the matron’s radio."
They [5th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment] were sent to Salonika before coming back to Athens, where the street fighting was the worst and I was on top of the Acropolis with a great field of fire when I was hit with a piece of stone from a bullet. Another wounded telegram home. It was Christmas 1944 and heavy fighting. My 21st birthday there and the first of the terrorist attacks we now know more about. The enemy didn’t wear any uniform.
I was trying to keep the Jews and Arabs from killing each other and stopping the European Jews from landing in Palestine. Another terrorist war and I was very impressed by the Jewish Kibbutzim, where I was invited to see how they made the desert bloom. The terrorist gangs, the Stern and Irgun Zvei Leumi were determined to make Israel their state and some of the biggest names in politics and setting up a Parliament, or Knesset, were members of these groups. I was made a company commander of the Defence Company and spent time speeding in convoy, keeping headquarter personnel safe.
I thought I might join the regular army and I came home for Christmas on an aqdjutant’s course, which included how to Troop the Colour on the Queen’s birthday. I really wanted to stay home and came home in February 1946 to be de-commissioned.