War through Hellenic eyes
Ex-warrant officer Peter Adamis shares with us his personal account of what it’s like to be a Greek Australian soldier fighting for your country and what the spirit of ANZAC means to him
One cannot but stop and reflect for a moment at such monuments honouring past warriors. It’s not until you begin to read the names and at times the ages of these men and women that its strikes you close to the heart at their relative youthfulness. You drive away from each town wondering how those who were left behind managed to find the courage and determination to pursue their tomorrow and beyond with a growing casualty list and so many of the youth who would never return.
During my military career, there have been times when I have laughed, joked, cried like a baby, almost given up under stress and/or duress, experienced grief and sorrow, howled like wounded animal, fought like an demon, drank like a fish, but in the end I always got on with the job and made sure that I never let my mates down. To let your mates down was a mortal sin in our book, followed closely by thieving from your own mates which was not the Australian way and certainly not in the spirit of the ANZAC legacy.
As such, in a quiet moment, I have often reflected on my military career and wondered, what was the one thing that kept me going and not giving up? Was it my faith in my God, my faith in the Royal Australian Regiment motto “Duty First”, my ancestor’s blood flowing through my veins and/or the ANZAC legacy that we who wore the uniform of Australia inherited? After much soul searching and talking it out with my closest mates, I finally came to the conclusion that it was all of the above.
When I travelled to Greece in 1991 for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Greece as a Warrant Officer of the Australian Regular Army, I was most moved by the reception the Hellenic Government gave to all the countries who had sent a contingent to commemorate the anniversary. I was most moved and became emotional to see my own country of origins playing the host to my adopted country Australia.
Everywhere we went; we (the Australians) were greeted with much love and hospitality.
What was of interest to me was that I had served with some the successors to the Battalions who had fought during the Battle of Greece and Crete in WW2 and as such it became a personal matter to me. I am unabashedly ashamed to say that I was somewhat a little mischievous during our trip in Chania Crete. During one dark and warm evening with a slight breeze blowing, a friend and I were returning back from the seaside cafes after a few ales of wine, olives, fish, salad and possibly little ouzo. As we were walking through the town, I spied this Hellenic flag flying outside a building.
I looked around and saw that no one was about and quick as a flash I scampered up the pole and liberated the flag. Stuffing it under my coat, we started to walk briskly towards our accommodation.
Suddenly a vehicle turned the corner with its lights on heading towards us. Geezers, I said to myself, there goes my military career, and we are in deep trouble now.
Fortunately and luckily it was just a passing taxi and it travelled into another direction. I still have the Hellenic flag and when the time comes for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Greece and Crete, I believe it would be only just to return it back to its original owners. On a side note, it is of relevance to note that the German flag also went missing and it is believed to be in the possession of another soldier whose father had served during the battle for Greece and Crete (but that’s another story).
During our travels throughout Greece and Crete, at no time were we made to feel like outsiders and it was reminiscent of the Australians who were fighting alongside the Greek nation in WW2, where Henry Joe Gullett whilst in the Battle of Greece and Crete said “that the Greeks made us (Australians) feel like their one of their own people”. (Henry Joe Gullett – Soldier Officer Ambassador to Greece and Politician).
Again some 15 years later I revisited Greece and Crete with my lovely wife Yovanna and made a pilgrimage to some of the battles locations at Crete. At Souda Bay, I visited all of the Australian graves and silently wept when I read the inscriptions of the fallen that were lying beneath, clothed in Cretan soil and bathed by a Hellenic sun. I quietly walked away retracing my steps happy in the knowledge that these men were not resting in some foreign land but in a country they could call home.
In 1972, whilst training in Papua New Guinea with the 1st Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment, we were given the opportunity to visit the cemetery at Lae in the highlands and speak with the locals. The graves dedicated to Australians are quite visible alongside others of other nations. The battalion exercise, Treble Change in Papua New Guinea was the toughest, hardest and most gruelling that I have ever had to experience in my 30 years as an Infantry man.
As we trudged along the highlands with its many winding, muddy and quite often slippery tracks with our weapons, heavy packs containing bedding, water bottles, ammunition and rations. I wondered how the bloody hell did the young Aussies of the 39th Battalion (a Victorian Battalion) endure such hardship without the luxury of our modern equipment.
I said to myself if the ANZACS of yesteryear could do it then how could I who had a heritage that went back in time for thousands of years let the ANZAC spirit die.
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