Anzac Day morning in Athens this year opened with a clear and brilliant sunny day. It reminded me of the comments of the Australian soldiers who came to the city in March and early April 1941 who wrote of the “Australian sunshine” in Greece.
Over 100 dignitaries and other attendees assembled at Athens’ Phaleron Commonwealth War Cemetery for the annual Anzac Day service organised by the Australian Embassy in Greece.
The Minister for National Defence of the Hellenic Republic, the Chief of the Hellenic National Defence general staff, and ambassadors and deputy heads of mission of 15 countries were in attendance – from New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Canada, Italy, Pakistan, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Australia, and Greece. Many other organisations and individuals made the journey to the seaside location from near and far.
Lee Tarlamis led the Australian delegation from Melbourne’s Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, which included Deb Stewart, the granddaughter of Sister Evelyn Hutt who served on Lemnos in 1915. Steve Georganas MP attended representing the Australian Parliament. The delegation from the Victorian Government was led by Khalil Eideh MP, and Richard Della-Riva MP and included Kim Wells MP and former minister and John Pandazopoulos MP.
A large military presence from the Hellenic armed forces took part in the ceremony, with their band playing the various national anthems and the last post and rouse.
In addressing the crowd, Kate Logan, the Australian Ambassador to Greece, emphasised the Anzac connection to Greece having begun with the role of Lemnos in 1915. To add to this theme, two readings were included read by local school students.
Emmanuel Psaromatis from Athens’ Campion School read a letter sent by Australian Major George Herbert Bourne from Gallipoli in 1915 in which George remarked that the casualty lists from the peninsula “would stagger Australia.” Poppy Grace Dardanis from Athens’ St Lawrence College read Australian nursing sister Anne Donnell’s remarks on leaving Lemnos on 20 January 1916, ending with the famous words: “Goodbye Lemnos. We take many happy memories of you. I would not have liked to miss you.”
Another noteworthy address was by Costa Cotsilinis, New Zealand Honorary Consul-General to Greece, who read from Perikles’ Funeral Oration, including the words: “Each has won a glorious grave . . . not that sepulchre of earth wherein they lie, but the living tomb of everlasting remembrance wherein their glory is enshrined . . . [and] that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.”
Many wreaths were laid, including by Mr Tarlamis on behalf of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, assisted by Ms Stewart. It was my honour to lay the wreath on behalf of Melbourne’s Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council, assisted by Malcolm McDonald. A wreath was also laid on behalf of Australia’s Pan-Korinthian associations.
It was my honour to point out to Mr Georganas the name of Melbourne-born Private James Zampelis, whose father came to Australia from Lefkada, etched on the memorial Walls to the Missing. He was the only Australian soldier of Greek heritage to serve and be killed during the campaign in Greece and Crete in WW2.
I was also able to show Ms Logan the grave of Sydney-born Sergeant Robert Patterson of the 2/32nd Australian Infantry Battalion who, as a POW, died during the MV Nino Bixio tragedy off Pylos on 17 August 1942.
This tragedy will finally be recognised in Greece with the erection of the new memorial plaque at Pylos on 6 May, followed on the same day with a similar plaque and unveiling ceremony at Methone commemorating the Sebastiano-Veniero tragedy on 9 December 1941.
This event has been organised by the Municipality of Pylos-Nestor, following the production of the memorial plaques in Melbourne by Nino Bixio survivor Bill Rudd, the Melbourne Papaflessas and Navarino Brotherhoods and myself.
The Australian Embassy will be represented at the unveiling of these new memorials.
Also in attendance were the teachers and students from Athens’ Voula Secondary School. They had visited Melbourne recently under the guidance of Christina Despoteris of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee.
It was my pleasure at that time to take the visitors on a guided tour of the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial and the Shrine of Remembrance, pointing out the Hellenic connection of various features and displays.
Following the service, Manolis Tsoulos, head gardener at Phaleron, took me on a tour of the graves connected to the Nino Bixio tragedy.
These include many New Zealand, as well as British and South African, soldiers such as New Zealand Private IG Pavicic of the New Zealand Infantry, Trooper WF Mottram of the 40th (The King’s) Royal Tank Regiment RAC, and South African Corporal Seaton. Another is the grave of a young Jewish British soldier, 22-year-old Private MS Mills of the East Yorkshire Regiment, whose family had the following poignant words etched into the stone of his grave: “We grow old and sad. But he beyond the reach of time will always be our lad.”
Mr Tarlamis said that it was a great honour to again take part in these important commemorations, ensuring that Australia was well represented.
He was particularly pleased with the mention of Lemnos and its role in the Gallipoli campaign during this, the main Anzac service in Greece.
I look forward to the day when more Australian Greek, and other commemorative organisations are represented at this important event on the Australian Greek commemorative calendar.
* Jim Claven is a trained historian and freelance secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and a member of Melbourne’s Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council. He is currently visiting Greece to further research the Hellenic link to the Anzacs, conduct tours, and participate in the commemorative services held on Lemnos, in Athens, Kalamata, Pylos, and Methone.