It was my pleasure and honour to attend a private lunch to welcome to Melbourne the nephew of Anders Lassen, the celebrated Danish soldier who played an important part in the liberation of Greece in WW2.

The occasion was the private visit to Melbourne of Anders Dannieskold Lassen, who is the nephew of Major Anders Lassen, the WW2 soldier. The meeting was organised by Mr Jan Ranvolt, Denmark’s Honorary Consul here in Melbourne.

Over a very Danish lunch we discussed the life and service of Anders in WW2 and the Hellenic part of that service. Anders’ nephew explained some of the family memories of his uncle. Major Anders’ brother was also a soldier in the WW2, serving with the Allies behind enemy lines. He was dropped into occupied Denmark but was captured, enduring rough treatment and imprisonment at the hands of his German captors. Thankfully he survived the war, while sadly his brother Anders was killed. Anders’ nephew also served in the armed services where the military legacy of his famous uncle was well known.

Some of the attendees at the Lassen commemoration at the Danish Club in 2017, including the Danish Ambassador to Australian Mr Tom Nørring (fourth from left), the Honorary Consul of Denmark in Melbourne Jan Ranvholt (left), Ros Alatsas then Deputy Chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission (right), Paul Mavroudis of the White Tower Assocation (third from right) and Sotiris Haztimanolis of Neos Kosmos (fourth from left). Photo: Con Deves

Major Anders Lassen served with the British special forces throughout WW2, including service in Greece during the German occupation and playing an important role in Greece’s liberation. Noted for his bravery, Anders was a striking figure. Tall, blond and blue-eyed, he always impressed his fellow soldiers with his fitness and leadership skills. He appears to have had a magnetic personality; one of his commanders wrote that he was “irresistible” and of his “exuding Viking charm.” When in charge of any operation he always led by example. Since the occupation of Denmark by the Germans in 1940, Anders had been eager to engage the enemy personally. He often seemed to act without fear; some considered that he was chasing death. One comrade imagined that serving with Anders was what it must have been like serving with Achilles!

He took an active part in the Allied raiding parties which harassed the Axis occupation of many Aegean Islands throughout 1942 and 1943, leading successful raids on Crete, Symi, and Santorini to name a few. On Crete he was guided to his targets and hidden during his escape by the local resistance. His bravery under fire saw the local Cretans name him Spiro.

His loyalty to his men was legend. But this also extended to those who bravely helped them. After the capture of Samos in 1943, Anders organised the evacuation of many local civilians to safety as as the Germans would soon be returning to re-occupy the island. He left notes for the returning Germans, threatening them with retribution if they carried out reprisals against the local population. And he famously returned secretly to Symi following his evacuation to avenge the murder of a local priest and his son who had helped the Allies by the returning Italian garrison.

Most importantly Lassen took part the liberation of Thessaloniki in October 1944. Originally tasked to merely observe the German situation in the city, Anders decided to engage the German occupiers and force their surrender or expulsion before they completed their planned destruction of the city’s infrastructure. On 29 October Anders led his 40-man special forces team, including Lieutenant Mavrikis and members of the Greek Sacred Squadron, along with members of the local ELAS resistance, in a successful assault on the German occupation of the city. After much fighting, the remaining Germans abandoned the city the next morning. Thessaloniki was finally free.

Thomas Harder’s biography of Major Anders Lassen. Photo: Supplied

Prior to his service in Greece, Anders had taken part in raids on West Africa and the Channel Islands. After Greece he served in northern Italy, where he was killed leading his men against a German position, the defenders shot Anders after they’d sought to surrender. He was 24 years old.

His personal qualities saw him promoted in the field from Private to Major in just five years. He was awarded three Military Crosses as well as numerous other medals – including the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry awarded in the Commonwealth.

Jan explained the size and importance of Hellenic community in Melbourne and how the memory of Anders has provided an opportunity to bring the local Danish and Hellenic communities together. This relationship was sealed with the holding of the major event in November 2017 to honour Major Anders Lassen and his war service in Greece, especially the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1944.

One of the Greek musicians who performed at the Lassen commemoration at the Danish Club in 2017. Photo: Jim Claven

It was my pleasure to assist in the organisation of this unique event in collaboration with the Honorary Consul, the Danish Club, Melbourne’s White Tower Association and the Battle of Crete and Greece Committee. The event was hosted by Jan and attended by over 100 people, including diplomatic (including Tom Nørring, the Danish Ambassador to Australia), political, RSL and other community representatives (including Greek Community of Melbourne President Bill Papastergiadis and White Tower Association President Paul Mavroudis amongst many others). The event blended Danish and Hellenic hospitality, with live traditional Greek music welcoming attendees to the consulate. It was my pleasure to make a historical presentation on Anders and his service at the event.

During out meeting it was my honour to present both Anders and Jan with complementary copies of my volume on the Anzacs in Greece – Grecian Adventure – which was published by the Pammessinian Brotherhood Papaflessas in 2022 with the support of the Victorian Government & Victorian Veterans Council as well as a number of Greek Australian community organizations and individual veteran’s relatives. I explained that although my book does not address Anders’ war in setting out some of the key stories of the Greek campaign of 1941 it demonstrates the depth of the connection that was forged between Greeks and Australians by the war.

Much discussion was had on how we might rekindle the Danish-Greek-Australian connection in the future, especially as we approach the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Greece and Thessaloniki from Axis occupation. I look forward to working with Melbourne’s Danish community in future commemorations of Anders and his important part in Modern Greek history.

Those interested in reading more about Anders Lassen can find more in the other articles published by NK by myself or in the excellent biography of Anders written by Thomas Harder titled Special Forces Hero: Anders Lassen VC MC** and published by Pen & Sword.

The Lassen Memorial Plaque on display at Melbourne’s Danish Club. Photo: Jim Claven

Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and published author. He has researched and written about Major Anders Lassen and his service in Greece in WW2, visited many of the sites in Greece connected to his service and initiated the Lassen commemoration at the Danish Club in 2017. His latest book is titled From Imbros Over The Sea: Imbros and Gallipoli Revealed which was published by the Imvrian Society of Melbourne He can be contacted via email