Topic: James Fredrick Seymour (1916-2011)

Topic type:

Staff Sergeant James Fredrick Seymour died in November 2011. The following year (Feb 2012) the 66th Official Newsletter of the 6th Battalion (Hauraki) Regimental Association ran the following Obituary in commemoration of his life.

Staff Sergeant James Fredrick Seymour

18 March 1916 – 28 November 2011

Staff Sergeant James Fredrick Seymour was born on the 18th of March 1916 in Te Awamutu and recently died in his 96th year. Like many soldiers who served their nation during World War Two, he seldom discussed his war efforts, but from the snippets he had revealed over the years, plus additional research, his particular exploits, whilst on Crete demonstrated great commitment.

In 1934, as an 18 year old youth, he joined the Territorial Force Hauraki Regiment which saw him parading at Paeroa. That meant he had to cycle some 50 kilometres over muddy horse trails to attend this training – but he couldn’t commence this journey until the cows had been hand-milked. He then had to make sure he was back at the farm in time to start milking at 4.00 am the next morning. Perhaps it was this training that contributed to his later devotion and determination during his exploits in Crete. For his service in the Territorial Force, the Governor General awarded him with an Efficiency Medal in 1998 – only 53 years after he was entitled to receive it!

At the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, Jim Seymour was one of the first to enlist. He was required to parade at Hopu Hopu Camp, just out of Ngaruawahia, but on arrival he found, much to his chagrin, that he had been allocated to the First Ammunition Company – not because of his skills – but the Army wanted his Indian motor bike. He managed to convince the authorities that he should join his Hauraki mates, now forming up as B Company of the 18th Battalion, but he never saw his motor bike again.

On the 5th of January 1940, Jim Seymour sailed off to the Middle East with the First Echelon. Thirteen months later he fired his first shot in anger whilst occupying Servia Pass in Northern Greece. A couple of days later the fighting withdrawal through Greece commenced which resulted in Jim Seymour and the 18th Battalion being evacuated off Greece to the idyllic island of Crete. This is where the rubber really started to hit the road.

Jim, as a Platoon Sergeant, along with a young and inexperienced Second Lieutenant and about 18 soldiers, were tasked with protecting the King of Greece and his entourage, having managed their escape out of Greece and away from the German clutches. The Platoon guarded the King and his party in a house on the outskirts of Crete’s capital of Canea but when the German invasion commenced, a hurried decision was made to evacuate the King and his party off Crete from the southern coast. The group took the indirect route across the rugged White Mountains – a snow-covered mountain range which bisected the 35 kilometre-wide island. The height of these mountains is about 300 metres lower than that of Mount Ruapehu and as rugged as the Southern Alps are in the vicinity of Arthur’s Pass. A difficult task made even harder with German paratroopers landing all around them.

The group finally reached the summit having travelled the 20 kilometres, as the crow flies, in four hours but on arrival at the end of this first stage, the King found that he had inadvertently left a suitcase, containing something very important, back in the Canea house. Sergeant Seymour and a couple of his men were ordered to return to the house and retrieve this case. On arrival, Jim Seymour would claim that he knocked on the door, only to find the house was now occupied by the Germans. His request to enter was denied and he was sent away empty-handed. This is not the story that those soldiers who went with him would tell.

They struggled back to meet up with the awaiting King and gave him the bad news. He had now travelled 60 kilometres. Hunger and the frozen conditions were eased somewhat by the killing of a mountain goat, but fearing the German presence, this was eaten raw. After the fresh raw meat meal and a short rest the party were again on the move and finally reached their target – the fishing village of Ay Roumeli. The King and his party were then safely evacuated to a waiting naval ship that was loitering offshore. But then, without warning, rank showed it did have its privileges. The young Second Lieutenant decided that he would also go off with the King and take with him all the soldiers who were now suffering physically from their arduous journey. The order probably went something like this: “Sergeant Seymour, you take the 8 fittest men back with you, along with all the ammunition taken off the unfit men; get back over the White Mountains and rejoin the Battalion because they will need all the men and ammunition that they can get”. It is doubtful if Sergeant Seymour replied with “Yes Sir”. But an order is an order and so Sergeant Seymour and his eight men trudged back across the mountains. On reaching the Battalion position he had now covered 110 kilometres. The Battalion was nowhere to be seen. During part of this journey, he and his party were targeted by German Stuka aircraft. They were pinned down for about 12 hours but were saved by the protection afforded them by an olive grove.

He and his group then realised that a general withdrawal was underway. He joined the exodus and halfway back up the White Mountains he was halted at a control point and ordered to declare who he was and who the 8 men were that were with him. On answering that he was from the 18th Battalion he was told that the entire 18th Battalion had been killed and that they were most probably the only 9 survivors.

Greek Gold Medal with Crossed Swords

 He was ordered to wait in the area to see if any other 18 Battalion soldiers had managed to escape the German onslaught. Some hours later, Sergeant Seymour claimed he saw a formed body of troops literally marching up the mountain road. As they drew near, he identified it was his Commanding officer – Lieutenant Colonel John Gray leading his Battalion. 

They hadn’t all been killed – only half of them had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Sergeant Seymour and his 8 men rejoined the Battalion and continued the journey across the White Mountains to the departure beachhead of Sfakia. By the time he arrived there he had now travelled some 145 kilometres, whilst constantly under German interference – and he did this by constantly walking for about 30 hours. He was a tough determined man.

History now shows he was the last Kiwi soldier to officially get evacuated off Crete. He disobeyed orders to achieve this distinction.

For his actions, the King of Greece honoured him with the Greek Gold Medal with Crossed Swords – one of only two New Zealand soldiers to ever receive this honour.

He died on the 28th of November 2011 as a proud soldier of the 18th Battalion and as a proud Hauraki

Jim Seymour in the Hauraki Camp 1939

The photographs was taken at the "Hauraki's Annual Camp in Papakura in March 1939". Jim is on the left and the
individual in the centre is marked as an "A.Denovan". The one on the right is not named

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

James Fredrick Seymour (1916-2011)

Year:1916 and 2011
First Names:James Fredrick
Last Name:Seymour
Date of Birth:18/03/1916
Place of Birth:Te Awamutu
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:28/11/2011
Military Service:World War II (1939-1945)