While much of the ANZAC story is well-documented, there are aspects which are little known.
Helping give voice to these stories is journalist Mike Sweet, who was commissioned by ABC Radio National to produce a documentary based on his research.
To be broadcast next week as part of Radio National’s Earshot series, Sweet’s program explores how an Australian and a Kiwi soldier, Reg Saunders and Arthur Lambert, trekked across Crete together and were protected by the Cretan people.
Sweet drew on interviews he recorded with Cretans who, as children, helped the Allies.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Crete in recent years researching stories, and every time I’ve been there it’s been an inspirational experience,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“One can’t help but be moved by the immense affection the Cretan people still have for Australians and New Zealanders because of the shared wartime experience.”
As the Crete campaign drew to a close and the Allies surrendered, hundreds of soldiers were looked after by the Cretan people, who by doing so were risking their lives; a kinship that daughter of Captain Saunders, Glenda Humes, is extremely thankful.
President of the Friends of 42nd Street Trust, she understands first-hand the significance that this documentary holds for her own family and those of other veterans involved in the Battle of Crete.
“This is an amazing thing for our family … to have that story told about those soldiers that went on the run and were looked after by the Cretan villagers,” says Humes.
Reflecting on her first visit to Crete in 2010, with fondness she recalls retracing the journey of her father, during which she had the chance to meet members of the Zacharakis family who had helped look after him.
“We knew part of the story, like a lot of other veterans’ families do, but when we went there, it was amazing that we were able to meet Areti and Yanni … and the story that they were able to tell of taking him food and caring for him.
“They showed us the church where they hid him, so it then became just so emotional for us,” she remembers.
It was at this moment, she says, that they were inspired to ensure the story was told.
The documentary’s broadcast will hold extra significance on Thursday, coinciding with the dedication of a memorial at the site of the battle of 42nd Street, near Chania, where until this point Humes says there was nothing that would tell anybody, Australian or Cretan, that an important battle had taken place.
“I remember we had one young fellow who was doing some filming for Mike and he wondered what we were doing there. When he found out that we were filming around this important battle that had taken place, and he grew up not far from 42nd Street, he didn’t know the history.
That made us then more determined that the local community, especially schoolchildren, would know a part of their history as well.”
Sweet managed to carry out extensive new research for the radio documentary, commencing in the village of Chora Sfakion on the south coast, and winding up on one of the secret evacuation beaches in Heraklion province.
“A lot of time was spent trying to find people who as children remembered helping soldiers on the route taken by Saunders and Lambert, and one of the most interesting areas was the Amari Valley, south of Rethymno.
“That area and community were crucial to helping the Allies during the occupation, and still today that story is largely untold,” says Sweet, who is honoured to have had the chance to embark on this journey.
“Whenever I tell these kind of stories, I feel privileged to be able to tell them. The story of Crete in the war, how ordinary Cretans protected the Anzacs, is such a rich, inspiring story, I just set out to try and do it justice.”
Escape from Crete will be broadcast on ABC Radio National on Thursday 19 May at 11.00 am, and will be repeated on Saturday 21 May at 1.30 pm. It will also be available for download on the ABC Radio National website.