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One man's battle

Jim Claven guides us through Private Fred Ford's Crete of 1941

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15 May 2017

Last week witnessed another event telling one of the deeply personal stories connecting Greece, Australia, and New Zealand through the Anzac experience.

New Zealand-born Richmond resident Peter Ford formally launched the personal memoir of his father's service in Greece in 1941 and his life after the war back in New Zealand. The memoir is appropriately titled One Man's Battle.

And what better location for Peter to choose to launch his memoir than Melbourne's magnificent Greek Centre. It was my pleasure to act as master of ceremonies for the launch.

Central to the memoir is Peter's recording of the stories that his father told him of his war service in Greece and the Middle East in WW2.

Fred (Frank) Ford was born just weeks after the guns of war fell silent in 1918. When the Second World War broke out he enlisted in the 22nd Wellington Battalion of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. After his first battles in Greece in the shadow of Mount Olympus, Fred's war was like the majority of Anzacs – a fighting withdrawal across central Greece and eventual evacuation to Crete.

The memoir provides detailed account of Fred's intimate experience of the battle of Crete, especially the battles to defend Maleme airfield and the famous Kiwi charge at Galatas, which saw the advancing Germans pushed out of the village. But soon the Allied defenders were overcome and in retreat, as Fred said, "courage and rifles are no match against planes."

His account is personal, and doesn't shirk from re-telling the horrible reality of war. But he also recounts how he was hidden by a local family as he made his escape from Maleme and headed south to Sfakia. Like many other Allied soldiers, Fred arrived too late to be evacuated. But he was not deterred and had soon obtained a boat and successfully made it to Egypt.

Suffice to say, the memoir is full of surprises for the reader. One detail recounts the day that Fred met Field Marshal Rommel who advised him and his men how to avoid capture by his forces!

The memoir is also the journey of a son, telling the stories his father told him and of a son's journey to Crete to follow in his father's footsteps. And it is also a story of the personal impact of war. Fred passed away in 2007.

The memoir will be welcome to all interested in learning more about how the Anzacs came to Greece in 1941 and how the war affected them.

The launch included viewings of two audio-visual presentations on the return of New Zealand veterans to Crete in 1991, for the 50th anniversary commemorations held that year. The presentation of excerpts from TV New Zealand included moving footage of Fred Ford's part in that pilgrimage.

The second presentation was the documentary film by Philhellene New Zealand film-maker John Irwin titled In Rich Regard. The documentary focuses on the story of two New Zealand veterans who took part in the 1991 commemorations, meeting up with the local villagers who had hidden and helped them all those years ago. This footage is very moving and emotional. The strong bond created between the individual Anzacs and Cretans is palpable. A small excerpt of the documentary can be viewed online at https://vimeo.com/134683997. This documentary definitely needs to be given a wider audience.

All who attended the launch were moved by Peter's dedication in re-telling his father's story of war and peace. Many veterans of the Greek and Crete campaigns will soon no longer be with us. There is urgency in the need to document and capture these personal memoirs before it is too late. Peter has done his part in ensuring that his father's story is available for future generations.

* The memoir has been printed privately at Peter Ford's cost. Copies are available for a gold coin donation by emailing him at sheldad@iinet.net.au. Peter will apply these donations to the upkeep of memorials on Crete.

The launch event is part of the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council's program of commemorative events schedule for 2017. For more information on future events, please contact council secretary Tony Tsourdalakis on tony@tsourdalakis.com

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