William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)
Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
I believe the house will
be interested in having read to it a statement which was made by the Right Hon. Winston Churchill in the British House of Commons to-day. The statement was communicated to our government by the British government in advance. It relates to the question of the evacuation of the empire troops from Greece. It is as follows:
As I am most anxious to give the house, the nation and the empire information at the earliest possible moment, and also in view of the extravagant claims made by the enemy, I think it right now to give the figures, so far as they are known to us, of the evacuation of the empire forces from Greece.
Up to the time when evacuation was seen to be inevitable, we had landed about 60,000 men in Greece, including one New Zealand and one
Australian division. Of these at least 45,000 have been evacuated. Considering that our air force was, through the superiority of the enemy, forced to leave the air fields from which alone it could effectively cover the retreat of the troops, and that only a small portion of it could cover the points of embarkation, this must be considered remarkable.
The conduct of the troops, and especially the rear guards, in fighting their way so many miles to the sea, merits the highest praise. This is the first instance where air bombing, prolonged day after day, has failed to break the discipline and order of the marching columns, who, besides being thus assailed from the air, were pursued by no less than three German armoured divisions, as well as the whole strength of the German mechanized forces which could be brought to bear in the actual fighting, principally on Mount Olympus around Grevena, and at Thermopylae.
About 3,000 casualties, killed and wounded, are reported to have been suffered by our troops. This was a very small part of the losses inflicted on the Germans, who, on several occasions, sometimes for two days at a time, were brought to a standstill by forces one-fifth of their number. Nor of course does it take any account of the German losses incurred in their assaults upon the Greek and Yugoslav armies.
It will, I dare say, be possible to give a fuller account in the debate next week, but I think I have said enough to show the house that, painful as are our losses, we have much to be thankful for, and the empire forces have much to be proud of.
The Foreign, Secretary, Right Hour. Anthony Eden, in answeT to a question asked to-day, also made the following statement in reference to the evacuation of the troops from Greece. It is in the nature of a communication which passed between the Greek government and the British government just prior to the evacuation. What I am about to read is the text of a translation of the document given some [DOT] days ago-I should think on or about April 21, the day on which the Greek government left Athens to go to Crete. The Foreign Secretary, after having read the document, supplemented it with the following words:
From the document the house will see that the decision to withdraw the British forces from Greece "was taken at the instance of and in full agreement with the Greek government.
This is the translation of the document:
The Greek government, uiiile expressing to the British government and to the gallant imperial troops their gratitude for the aid which they have extended to Greece in her defence against the unjust aggressor, are obliged to make the following statement:
After having conducted for more than six months a victorious struggle against strong superior enemy forces the Greek army has now reached a state of exhaustion, and moreover finds itself completely deprived of the resources indispensable for the pursuit of the war, such as munitions, motorized vehicles and aeroplanes, resources with which it was in any case inadequately supplied from the outbreak of hostilities. This state of things makes it impossible for the Greeks to continue the struggle with any chance of success, and deprives them of all hope of being able to lend some assistance to their valiant allies.
At the same time in view of the importance of the British contingents, of the aviation at their disposal, and of the extensive front heroically defended by them, the imperial forces have an absolute need for the assistance of the Greek army without which they could not prolong their own resistance for more than a few days.
In these conditions the continuation of the struggle while incapable of producing any useful effect, would have no other result than to bring about the collapse of the Greek army and bloodshed useless to the allied forces. Consequently the royal government is obliged to state that further sacrifice of the British expeditionary force would be in vain and that its withdrawal in time seems to be rendered necessary by circumstances and by interests common to the struggle.
Subtopic: EVACUATION OF EMPIRE TROOPS FROM GREECE- MR. CHURCHILI,'S STATEMENT