This month will see Melbourne and the City of Monash welcome Greece’s famous Evzone Guard to Australia.
As the Presidential Guard of the Hellenic Republic, this important ceremonial military unit guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion in Athens, and with its iconic and distinctive historic uniform, the Evzone is known the world over.
We welcome their visit to Melbourne also as a tribute to the link between Greece and Australia through our Anzac tradition, for indeed the Evzones are inextricably linked to Australia’s Anzac tradition.
When war broke out in 1939, Melbourne’s Hellenic community joined with the rest of Victorian’s to support the war effort and send much needed aid to the civilian victims of the Axis invasion of Greece, and so was born the famous Greek Days which were held across Australia.
Nearly 100,000 people flocked to Melbourne’s CBD in February 1940 in one of the biggest Greek Day rallies ever held during the war. Greek and Australian flags featured at these popular events – and of course photographs from the time show young local Greek-Australians dressed in the famous evzone uniform.
The iconic uniform would also feature in one of the most famous photographs taken as the Australian troops arrived in Greece. War photographer Damien Parer arrived in Athens with the Anzacs in March 1941. Walking across the Acropolis, Damien came across a group of Australian soldiers chatting with their Greek comrades – three Evzone guards on Greece’s National Day – 25th March – in 1941. This image would typify the strength of the connection between Greece and Australia, forged in war and enriched with the waves of post-war migration.
What better location for them to celebrate this link but in Melbourne – the largest home of Greece’s overseas diaspora – and in Oakleigh, one of Melbourne’s distinctive Hellenic precincts.
Oakleigh’s link to Greece’s Anzac connection goes back to Private William Withers who served in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and is buried on the Island of Lemnos, in the waters of the northern Aegean while Oakleigh’s War emorial was re-dedicated by Brigadier Ned Herring, an Australian artillery officer who served both in the Salonika Front in the First World War and in the Greek campaign of 1941.
These are only some of the reasons why the visit of the Greece’s iconic Evzone Guard to Melbourne – the largest home of Greece’s overseas diaspora – and to Oakleigh – provides an opportunity for all Australians to celebrate the Hellenic link to Anzac.