John Raftopoulos passed away peacefully on Thursday 27 August 2020, aged 97.
John was amongst the 2,500 Greek Australians that served in the Australian Forces during the Second World War from 1939-45.
In 1922 as a 20 year old, John enlisted in the Army to serve his country like many other thousands during the war. His Unit was the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion which saw action in New Guinea and other areas in the Pacific, till the end of the war.
Prior to his death, John was one of the only two surviving Greek Australian soldiers from the New Guinea Campaign.
John’s father and mother were born in Ithaca. His father was born in 1889 and his mother in 1904. His Father arrived in Australia in 1906, and in 1912, he, like many other Greeks in Australia, went to Greece to fight in the Balkans in the First World War. He survived the war and in 1921 married the love of his life Olga, which coincidentally had the same surname as he, although they were not related.
John was born in Ithaca in 1922, and was an only child. His Father decided to return to Australia, as times in Greece were very difficult, with little employment during the depression.
In 1939 his father decided to bring his family to Australia for a better life.
In 1942, John was conscripted into the Army until 1946. He served with the 28th, 32nd, and 38th Australian Infantry Battalions. According to John, the majority of the men including himself, ended up serving with the 28th Battalion. The men in the Battalion prepared themselves with lots of training at places such as Gerang, later moving to 5MD West Australia, camping at Chidlow, Geraldton, Bushmede, Irwin and Midland Junction. The unit was later moved to Queensland for a course in jungle training, followed by more extensive training in the Atherton Tablelands inland from Cairns and in the Northern Territory. The Battalion was now ready for overseas service, including John.
John survived the war, returned home, and was discharged from the Australian Forces in 1946.John met and married a beautiful girl named Nina Dellas in 1950. They had four children, Peter, Olga, Denise, and Leo, ten Grandchildren and twelve great grand children.
READ MORE: Greece honours Australian WWII veterans
In his later years, following his retirement, John spent his time enjoying his family, lots of time in the garden and in his workshop. John loved wood work.
I had the honor of meeting John at his home some 10 years ago. Like many other veterans, he said very little about his war service, which is common in 90 per cent of veterans. They prefer to stay silent about the difficult times they had endured as young men/soldiers during the war years. The only times they may have opened up, was amongst themselves, when they got together for special commemorations.
In the many times I’d spoken to John on the phone, he was always thankful for the happy life he had lived with all his family and the people he come across throughout his lifetime.
And I can also say, old soldiers never die, they only fade away.
LEST WE FORGET
Steve Kyritsis OAM, President Hellenic RSL Melbourne.