Last Monday night, more than 200 people came to the Moreland Town Hall for a special gathering to honour the Anzacs who fought to defend Greece and Crete 75 years ago.
The assembly was organised by the Greek Anzacs and the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign Commemorative Council, with the support of Moreland City Council, the Pontiaki Estia, the Cretan Brotherhood and the Pallaconian Brotherhood ‘Leonidas’.
As people came through the foyer to the main hall, they passed the magnificent bronze honour roll to the sound of the laouto and lyra, played by Yiannis Skoulas and George Rerakis. The roll lists all those from Brunswick who served and those who died in the First World. The names include Lieutenant William Symons, VC, and Sister Alice Kitchen, who both served on Lemnos in 1915.
Those assembled were welcomed by Greek community representatives in traditional dress, including a Spartan Hoplite and an Evzone, as the music of Sofia Vembo rose through the hall.
The night was held to honour the Anzacs who served in Greece in 1941, part of the long history of Australians serving in Greece stretching back to Lemnos and Thessaloniki in the First World War. The focus of the night was the connection between Brunswick and the Anzac connection to Greece.
The audience gave a warm welcome to two World War II veterans who attended the event – Bill Rudd, a former POW on Greece, and Gil Easton, a veteran of Tobruk, whose mother served as a nurse at Thessaloniki in 1916. Joining them was Brunswick-born Olga Black, a member of the Ithacan community who as a young girl in 1941 had participated in Greek Day community fundraising for Greece on the streets of Brunswick. A special award was made to each of these special guests, in honour of their service and in recognition of Greek Day in 1941.
The meeting was also honoured by the presence of distinguished members of the local Greek community who helped the Anzacs evade capture in Greece and Crete – Elias Rentzeris, Nick Georgopoulos and George Rerakis. Also present were former MPs the Hon. John Pandazopoulos and Lee Tarlamis, Mayor of Moreland Councillor Samantha Ratnam, councillors Jim Grivas of Manningham and John Kavanagh of Moreland, and ALP candidate for Wills, Peter Kahlil.
The master of ceremonies for the night was Christina Despoteris, vice president of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee. The various speakers who addressed the audience were warmly received. Each address was complemented by photographs from the time, displayed for all to see by Paul Sougleris.
Cr Lambros Tapinos of Moreland welcomed the assembly to Brunswick Town Hall and expressed his appreciation that such an event should be held in Brunswick. He explained how the story of the Anzacs in Greece is connected to the arrival of the first Greek migrants to the area and its growth into a thriving community following post-war migration.
Historian Dr Peter Ewer – author of Forgotten Anzacs – introduced the keynote speaker with an overview of the Greek campaign in 1941. He stressed the fact that Greece’s defeat of Italy in 1940 was the first defeat suffered by the Axis Powers in the war.
The main speaker was Phil Cleary, former MP and footballer, who spoke about his research into his family connections with the Greek campaign in 1941.
He spoke movingly of five local Brunswick boys who joined up and served in Greece. He described how the war had a terrible effect on these young men. They were all captured by the Germans and the one who escaped was later killed during the fighting in New Guinea. He described how, on their return, these men were haunted by their experiences of the war, suffering what would now be diagnosed as post traumatic stress; none of them reached beyond their 40s. Phil’s address was a reminder to all of the cost of war.
My own speech explained the display of never-before seen photographs of the Greek campaign. The photographs taken by Horsham-born Private Syd Grant of the 2/8th Battalion reveal his war in Greece and Crete. Evacuated from near Kalamata, Syd’s photographs reveal the help he and other Anzacs received from the local Greek villagers, including those from the village of Trachila. Syd survived the war and named his farm in western Victoria in honour of the people who saved his life all those years before. Syd’s daughter – Catherine Bell – will donate his collection to the State Library of Victoria later this year.
I also explained the work being undertaken to erect a memorials at both Pylos and Methone to commemorate the Allied POW’s who died and those who survived the torpedoing of their transport ships off the southern Peloponnese. One of the survivors was Mr Bill Rudd. Fundraising has already commenced and a number of donors have already pledged funds to make this a reality.
Finally, I recounted the story of Private Felix Craig, an Ararat-boy who was killed defending Greece on the night of the meeting, 75 years earlier. Felix was killed as he defended his transport convoy from German air attack near Pharsala in Thessaly. The only surviving son of his family, Felix would be honoured by being mentioned in dispatches and the erection of a magnificent stained glass window in his local Anglican church in Ararat.
Other speakers included Litsa Athanasiadis, representing the Pontiaki Estia, who explained the work being undertaken to honour Major George Treloar, who assisted over 100,000 Christian refugees from Asia Minor after the First World War. She pointed out that the Treloar family had once lived in Brunswick. Jim Papadimitriou of the Cretan Brotherhood and Mary Tsaganis of the Pallaconian Brotherhood ‘Leonidas’ expressed their communities’ support for the event and the other planned commemorations of 1941.
It was appropriate given the solemn nature of the event that it concluded with the reading of The Ode by Ange Kenos, ex-serviceman and president of the Essendon RSL. Attendees then mingled with our veteran guests and speakers, many purchasing copies of Peter Ewer’s excellent new book on the Greek campaign, Forgotten Anzacs.
For those interested in contributing to the commemoration of the Greek campaign of 1941, please contact Paul Sougleris via email: email@example.com