Lemnos – timeless mateship

It was from the coast of Lemnos that the first ANZACs embarked on the Gallipoli campaign forever forging a partnership between Greece and Australia

The gods may have provided the setting, but the locals provide the rest.
More than a place to soak up the sun and the archaeological sites, the sprawling island of Lemnos exudes a very special blend of history and hospitality.
With a scalloped coastline, postcard-gorgeous landscape, proud mountains, well preserved hidden attractions and welcoming locals, Lemnos (located in the most unspoiled corner of the northern Aegean) could well be the perfect holiday destination.
One of Greece’s delightful little secrets Lemnos, an exceptional beauty and ambassador for the best aspects of Greece, has only recently been discovered by visitors in search of something a little different.
Like a frappe, its treasures are best enjoyed slowly. Dotted with small villages and winding roads the island is typically rocky and desolate and at the same time, green. In a magical way however all facets of the island are charming in equal measure.
While there are stories to be told all over Greece, on Lemnos it is the ANZAC story that has been captured forever, strengthening the position of Greece on the global map as well as our pride.
As Australians know, it is the ANZAC legend perhaps more than anything else which has defined our young nation. On the road less travelled, the small white-washed houses on Lemnos today reach out with friendship and hospitality to the curious visitor just as they did nearly 100 years ago to our soldiers.
In fact, it was from the coast of Lemnos that the first ANZACs embarked on the Gallipoli campaign forever forging a partnership between Greece and Australia in the fight for democracy and freedom.
Despite my Year 10 studies in Australian history however, it was here in Lemnos that the untold chapter came alive for me – the unfolding of the shared narrative between Australia and Lemnos and most particularly, the role this tiny and remote island played in the forging of the Australian identity.
On 25 April 1915, at the breaking of dawn, Australian soldiers together with their comrades from New Zealand left from Lemnos’ Moudros Harbour to take their fight to the shores of Gallipoli.
Incredibly, the tiny and remote Lemnos was the primary logistical support base for the Gallipoli campaign. With two Australian hospitals and nearly 100 Australian nurses based on the island, it was here the ANZACs found shelter and refuge in the warm embrace of the Lemnian people.
Unknown by many Australians, it was also the place where the ANZACs practised their beach landings before their ill-fated attack on the shores of Gallipoli, approximately 100 kilometres to the north east of Lemnos.
Today, the island’s locals are ensuring that the ANZAC spirit is alive not only in Australia and New Zealand. Here in this very special part of the world, one also feels the pull of the past and an overwhelming sense of what it still means in the present.
A place where history is still warm, there are two military cemeteries on either side of the island’s capital, Moudros, which according to local records are now the resting place of 148 Australian and 76 New Zealand soldiers.
The space may be small but there is nothing diminutive about the commitment of the locals who in an environment of authentic Hellenic hospitality nurture it daily with tender, loving care.
Just a stone’s throw away, a road named in their honour – ANZAC Street – is a proud and permanent reminder of our soldiers’ presence and contribution to democracy as we know it today. Perhaps more importantly, it is a testimony to the eternal bonds of courage, pride and mateship between the Australian and Lemnian communities.
Currently the Council of Lemnos is proposing to establish a museum which will further showcase the ANZAC story. One of its key themes will also be the role of Lemnos – most particularly Moudros Bay – and its crucial part in the ANZAC story as the springboard for the Dardenelles campaign and its ongoing provision of logistical and medical support.
The legacy of Australians is alive and well on Lemnos where the locals still remember and respect the sacrifice of our diggers who travelled to such a faraway place to defend shared vales.
Some places leave an indelible mark on the traveller. Lemnos, an unassuming Greek treasure where past and present coexist in harmony, is such a place.
Our links may well have been born out of the horrors and hardships of war, but they now have a permanent place not only in the Australian story, but also in our hearts.
Lest we forget.