This week saw a dedicated crowd gathered on a beautiful summer’s day at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance gardens to witness the formal dedication of a tree and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque honouring the role of Lemnos in the Gallipoli campaign.
An initiative of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, this tree dedication and plaque unveiling formally recognises the role of Lemnos in Melbourne’s pre-eminent commemorative space.
The service took place as part of this year’s Armistice of Mudros commemorative service at the Shrine. This recognises the Armistice for its bringing World War I across the Western Mediterranean and the Middle East to an end, releasing thousands of Allied prisoners who would begin the long journey home as the Armistice took effect on 31 October 1918.
It was my honour to address the assembly, drawing their attention to the significance of the day in the history of the Hellenic link to Anzac. Not only did Lemnos play this important role in the ending of the war but the same Mudros Bay where the Armistice was concluded aboard the British warship HMS Agamemnon, was also the place where the Anzacs had assembled before the landings at Gallipoli more than three years earlier.
Lemnos and the shores of the bay had played host to the tens of thousands of Australian and other Allied troops that came to Lemnos throughout the campaign – whether that was to train, be treated in its many field hospitals or to rest and recuperate. There were 130 Australian nurses who served in two of the three Australian field hospitals on the Island throughout the campaign providing essential medical care to the wounded and sick. And 148 Australians were buried across East Mudros and Portianos Military Cemeteries, amongst the other 1,300 Allied dead buried there. But these Australians also enjoyed the hospitality of the island, visiting its villages and churches, eating its food and drinking its beverages, bathing in the Islands mineral springs baths and otherwise enjoying this beautiful island in the northern Aegean.
For all these reasons it is appropriate that Lemnos is now recognised in the grounds of the Shrine. In my address I pointed out that we could not have found a better location, situated as the tree is in the WWI section of the gardens, with nearby plaques commemorating many of the units that served on Lemnos, with the great Shrine building nearby. On behalf of the Committee I thanked the Shrine Trustees for their support for this initiative.
The event was attended by many dignitaries, including Mr Dimitrios Michalopoulos, the Consul of the Hellenic Republic, The Hon Ted Baillieu former Premier of Victoria and chair of Victorian Anzac Centenary Committee and Shrine Life Governor Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Lombardo. The Presidents of the Nurses RSL Sub-Branch Col (Ret) Jan McCarthy ARRC, the Hellenic RSL Sub-Branch Mr Steve Kyritsis OAM and the Essendon RSL Mr Ange Kenos were all in attendance. Mr Antonis Tsourdalakis, Chair of the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council and Ms Arlene Bennett, President of the Nurses Memorial Centre as well as representatives of Victoria’s Lemnian and Krythian communities were also present.
The Committee was particularly pleased to see the attendance of descendants of those who served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign, joining the Committee’s Executive Member Deb Stewart, the grand-daughter of Staff Nurse Evelyn Hutt of the 3rd Australian General Hospital.
The service itself was a moving one, with Australian Army Cadet Chaplain Darren Thomas performing the dedication ceremony and prayer reading, followed by Colonel (Ret) Jan McCarthy’s reading of the Ode and the singing of the Australian National Anthem by Mr Simon Gibson from the Victoria Police Band. The service was accompanied by the music of Ms Stacey Harris, the bagpiper for the day, along with the Victoria Police band. The Shrine Guard also stood post as part of the dedication ceremony. The whole conduct of the event underscored the significance of the occasion. The Committee’s Vice President Christina Despoteris conducted the event as Master of Ceremonies.
As part of the service Committee President Mr Lee Tarlamis OAM was joined by co-patron Colonel (Ret) Jan McCarthy ARRC in unveiling the plaque, with Lee laying a wreath on behalf of the Committee, with others invited to lay a poppy at the end of the service.
During the ceremony the assembly welcomed the important announcement by Master of Ceremonies Christina Despoteris of the news that Lemnos’ authorities have invited the Victorian Chief Commissioners of Police Mr Grahan Ashton and the Shrine Guard to attend the annual commemorative services to be held on the Island on 20-21 April next year. This will be the first time that Melbourne’s Shrine Guard will take part in commemorative services in Greece. Their presence will include a special commemoration of those Victoria Police members who served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign.
The Committee has been working with the Shrine Guard and the local authorities on Lemnos to bring this proposal to a reality. Committee President Mr Lee Tarlamis OAM said that this be a very special occasion, as the Shrine Guard, dressed in their First World War uniforms, will walk on Lemnos following in the footsteps of the Anzacs. “It will be a spectacular site to see them take part in the commemorative services on Lemnos,” he said. He also paid tribute to the work of Committee Vice President in promoting this visit to Lemnos.
READ MORE: Lemnos Gallipoli Heritage Trail announced
Next year’s commemorative service is building up to be a major event, with the planned local launch of my book Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed as well as the participation of many dignitaries from Australia, including Mr Stephen Cook, Principal of Albert Park College, and many members of Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee.
Plans are also underway to install a new commemorative plaque on Lemnos, honouring the service of Sappar Basil Passa from the village of Kontopoulou, who was the only Australian soldier in WWI to come from Lemnos. This will join the Committees unveiling of the Australian Pier memorial on Lemnos last year, as another step in our creation of the Lemnos Gallipoli Heritage Trail on Lemnos.
Both Consul General Michalopoulos and the Hon Mr Baillieu addressed the crowd, praising the work of Mr Tarlamis, Ms Despoteris and myself, along with the rest of the Committee, in raising awareness of the role of Lemnos in Gallipoli. Mr Michalopoulos noted the many achievements of the Committee, in Australia and in Greece, in such a short period of time. Mr Baillieu praised the book Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed in its ability to identify some of the many threads that connect Lemnos to Australia through the lives and experiences of the young Australians who served there.
Mr Tarlamis thanked all for coming on this important day for Lemnos and the recognition of its part in the Gallipoli campaign and the Armistice of Mudros. “This is another important step in our work to increase awareness of the Hellenic link to Australia’s Anzac story,” Mr Lee said. The ceremony concluded with Lee’s invitation to all to come to Lemnos in 2020.
- Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer, Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and author of Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed: A Pictorial History of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org