On Sunday 3 October, many of Melbourne’s Peloponnese community came together to discuss promoting tourism to their region through the creation of an Anzac trail. The focus of the day was a presentation by historian Jim Claven explaining the connection between the region and the Anzacs in WW2.
The meeting was hosted by the Pam Messinian Society “Pappaflessas” and was attended many members of Melbourne’s Peloponnese community. Those attending included Ms Catherine Bell, the daughter of Private Syd Grant, a digger who served in Greece and was evacuated from the Mani in April 1941, local Melbourne Film Producer Nikita Ballas, whose new feature film will be screened as part of the coming Greek Film Festival and two Kalamatiani who witnessed the Anzac’s in Kalamata.
Mr. Claven’s presentation explained the deep connection between the region and the Anzacs who came there in 1941 and beyond. He took the audience on an illustrated walk with the Anzacs across the Peloponnese.
He explained how the Peloponnese was the location of the last battles of the Greek campaign in WW2 – at Corinth Canal and on the Kalamata waterfront – and from where thousands of Allied troops were evacuated from the harbours and beaches at Tolos, Nafplio, Monemvasia and Kalamata. Some stopped at Argos as Australian nurses did and Captain Edward “Weary” Dunlop rested in Nafplio writing a letter home to his wife – as they both waited to be evacuated.
By the 26 April some 20,000 Allied troops, including thousands of Australians had made their way to Kalamata’s harbor. The morning of 27 April would see Allied warships and transport vessels evacuate the largest number of troops of all the evacuations from Greece, over 8,600 troops. Even the famous “Horrie the dog”, the mascot of Australian diggers, was saved and evacuated from Kalamata.
Kalamata waterfront would witness the last battle of the Greek campaign on the mainland and see two Anzacs decorated for their bravery – Victorian Captain Albert Gray and New Zealander Sergeant Jack Hinton, the latter being awarded the Victoria Cross.
Many Allied soldiers escaped capture by moving off to the east and west of the city, assisted by the villagers as they moved along the coast. Private Syd Grant and many others would be supported by the villagers at Trachila, Sellintisa and Limania on the Mani. Others would be helped to escape by the villagers of Vassilitsa and Koroni.
These diggers would never forget the generosity and bravery of the locals. Syd Grant would return to Australia and name his farm “Kalamata” in their honour. And his photographs of the people of Kalamata and Trachila stand as a vivid record to their assistance to these diggers in need.
The region’s connection with the Anzacs would continue as those soldiers who failed to be evacuated were imprisoned in Corinth’s old Greek Army barracks, including thousands of Jewish members of the British Palestine Pioneer Corps. And late in 1941 and 1942, two Italian POW ships were torpedoed and the survivors landed at Methoni and Pylos. One of those who survived – Australian Bill Rudd – lives today in Prahran.
Ms Catherine Bell told of how her father had recorded his memories of the war for his family and future generations. Together with his hundreds of photographs they are a unique record of not only Kalamata’s but also Greece’s connection to the Anzacs in WW2. Early next month Catherine Bell will donate her father’s collection of photographs from the Greek campaign and associated memorabilia to Victoria’s State Library.
Mr. Claven ended his talk with an appeal for the creation of an Anzac trail across the Peloponnese, linking the various sites he has identified as an aid to future commemorative tourists to the region. This could include the erection of memorial plaques or information boards or new displays at the region’s museums, such as the Kalamata war Museum.
He also mentioned were moves to create a new documentary, featuring interviews with survivors of Kalamata and the region during the war. During his research trip Mr Claven had been introduced by Melbourne’s Rico Soublis and his sister Laila to Ms Voula Pierakou-Vounelakis and recorded her personal testimony of when the Germans came to Kalamata. This could form part of this exciting new documentary. There is already growing support for this project from veterans families in Israel and elsewhere and Mr Claven appealed to Melbourne’s Greek community to come together to support it.
Mr Claven thanked all in Melbourne’s Peloponnese community who have encouraged and supported him to undertake this research as well as the assistance of local historians and journalists at Kalamata – including Panagiotis Andrianopoulos – and Pappaflessas’ Paul Sougleris in helping identify some of the exact locations the Anzacs walked in 1941.
The President of “Pappaflessas”, Mr. George Kallianis thanked all those who attended, especially Ms Catherine Bell and her husband James, who had travelled all the way from Lorne on the Great Ocean Road to take part.