Melbourne commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, one of the most dramatic battles of the Second World War, earlier this year with a number of events.
Over 12 days in May 1941, a mixed force of Australian, New Zealand, British and Greek troops worked together to fight off a huge German airborne attack, the first which used parachutists and glider borne troops to secure a foothold on the island.
The battle ended with the evacuation to Egypt.
To mark the 20 May anniversary of the dramatic battle, Greek and Australian officials sent out special messages.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “In May 1941 Australian, New Zealand, British and Greek soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with the Cretan people to defend their island from invasion. Vastly outnumbered and facing an enemy buoyed by recent success, almost 800 Australians were killed or wounded, and over 3000 captured. And although the island ultimately fell, we will never forget the heroic Cretan struggle to retain control of their homeland, nor the compassion of those who sheltered Allied soldiers following defeat.”
The Prime Minister did not fail to point to the “enduring bonds” between Greece and Australia. “Today, the friendship between our communities remains strong, underpinned by our long-standing political and people-to-people links and shared history in war and peace,” he said.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pointed t the battle as “one of the most representative historical examples of the struggle for freedom and independence”, pointing to how it weakened the “invasion of the invaders, influencing the development of Axis military operations in the wider region” while remaining one of the most representative historical examples of the struggle for freedom and independence.”
In his message, Archbishop Makarios – of Cretan descent himself – said, “The heroes of 1941 were the genuine descendants of the heroes of 1821, thus, confirming that in all our veins flows the blood of martyrs, who died for our Faith and heroes, who fought for the liberty of our Nation. For this reason, we pay tribute to their sacrifice and honour their integrity and valiant spirit. They were not afraid to give up their life because, through their faith, they overcame death. Their entire life was a journey in eternity. They already tasted the sweet fruits of eternal union with Christ and this was the secret that gave them the fortitude to bravely confront death and not flinch at the prospect of the temporary departure of the body. Those who fought in the Battle of Crete were genuine Hellenes, who not only learned to live but who also learned how to die. Death was not loss; it was victory and gain.”
“It is our sacred duty, to learn from our glorious history and to pass on to the future generations, the values of our Hellenic heritage together with the convictions of our deep and unshakeable Orthodox faith. Only in this way, can we claim to honour this commemoration and be genuine children of our stout-hearted ancestors. It is my prayer and hope that these thoughts will find a practical application in all our lives,” he said.
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Remembrance by Australian Cretan groups
Tony Tsourdalakis, President of the Cretan Federation of Australia and New Zealand, said the Battle of Crete will be “etched in our memory forever” and pointed to how the “Golgotha” has “changed the mentality of the people, it has brought ups and downs in their world economies, but nevertheless we will not let this pandemic derail us, our thoughts about the struggles of the Cretan people and not only during the Battle of Crete. Given the self-sacrifice of our ancestors, and the struggle they gave in Crete in 1941 against the Germans, we will keep them as a torch of light and shining examples for us future generations that have a sacred obligation to continue to commemorate the great historical event we promote to our children, but above all to commemorate the dead.
Emanuel Starakis, President of the Pancretan Association of Melbourne and Victoria was quick to point out that the “unprecedented resistance” of Allies “forced the Third Reich to invade the Soviet Union in winter and as such, fight on an unwinnable front.”
Michael Houdalakis, President of the Cretan Brotherhood of Melbourne and Victoria, pointed to the legacy of the battle. “Since the end of the Second World War, Crete has become a place of pilgrimage for the Australian, New Zealand and British troops who fought there and their families. The legacy of the battle that started in Crete on 20 May 1941 has united the Cretan and Australian and new Zealand People. A friendship bound by history and mutual respect that will last an eternity.”