This week members of Melbourne’s Greek community met with the Royal Danish Honorary Consul General in Melbourne, Mr Jan Ravnholt, to commence planning a major commemoration of one of WWII’s lesser known heroes – Major Anders Lassen, VC, MC, and Two Bars.
The meeting brought together myself, Mr Iakovos Garivaldis OAM, Vice President of the Thessaloniki Association ‘The White Tower’ and Mr Tony Tsourdalakis, Chairman of Melbourne’s Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council.
Over the past few years, as a historian, I have been fascinated by the story of this brave Danish soldier who helped liberate Greece in 1944.
Danish-born Anders Lassen was a decorated Special Forces officer in the Second World War. He had taken part in many successful raids in German-occupied Europe as part of British commando and Special Boat Section (SBS) units, before moving to lead Allied raiding operations harassing Axis-occupying forces across the Aegean throughout 1943 and 1944.
In late October 1944, Major Anders and 40 soldiers of his SBS unit – including Greek soldiers of the Ιερός Λόχος or Sacred Band came to Greece’s second city to observe German occupation forces and link up with the local Greek Resistance. Taking the initiative, Anders led his forces, supported by the Greek Resistance, in attacking the remaining German forces in the city, forcing their departure by the morning of 30 October. Thessaloniki was liberated and the German plans to destroy the city’s important infrastructure were averted. The people of the city joined in celebrating their freedom, embracing and garlanding Anders and his men with flowers.
Anders went on to serve in Crete and then in the Italian campaign, being killed during a raiding operation in north-eastern Italy in the final weeks of WWII. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross – the only non-Commonwealth soldier to be so awarded in WWII.
This week’s meeting resolved to hold a commemorative event later this year at the Royal Danish Consulate-General in Melbourne to honour the service of Anders Lassen.
The event will include an historical presentation by myself, and the donation of a specially commissioned commemorative gift to the Royal Danish Consul General. This gift will then be on permanent display at the Royal Danish Consulate-General in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne.
Senior diplomatic representatives from Greece and Denmark are expected to be in attendance at the event, as well as representatives of Melbourne’s Danish and Hellenic communities. Further details of the event will be released in coming weeks.
Mr Tsourdalakis took the opportunity to present Mr Ravnholt with a copy of Dina Gerolymou’s The Battle of Crete – The Untold Stories as well as the council’s program of commemorative events for 2017. He also invited Mr Ravnholt to take part in the council’s wreath-laying service at the Shrine of Remembrance on Saturday 27 May.
Mr Garivaldis said that the Thessaloniki Association is committed to celebrating the history of Thessaloniki, Melbourne’s sister city. He added that over the years the association had hosted events commemorating the Anzac link to Thessaloniki across both world wars.
“Thessaloniki – along with the rest of Greece – suffered the long night of occupation during the Second World War. Its vibrant Jewish community was devastated by the German implementation of the Holocaust in Greece. The service of Anders Lassen and his men – working along with the Greek resistance and soldiers of the Greek Sacred Band – helped bring this terrible period to an end. We hope this small commemoration will bring this story to a new generation.”
Mr Tsourdalakis said it was an honour for the council to assist in recognising the contribution of Anders Lassen to the liberation of Greece in 1944.
“Our council has been working over the years to ensure that many connections between Greece and the Anzacs are commemorated both in Australia and Greece. Recognising the service of Anders Lassen brings this story to a new level – bringing together Melbourne’s Hellenic and Danish communities.”
Mr Ravnholt welcomed the planned commemoration which would be the first collaboration between the Hellenic and Danish communities in Melbourne. He hoped that it would be the beginning of an annual collaboration.
“Hellenes and Danes have made a major contribution to Australia. I look forward to working with Jim Claven, the Thessaloniki Association ‘The White Tower’ and the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council to commemorate Anders Lassen and this important link between Greece and Denmark.”
The meeting concluded with a toast to Anders Lassen and Hellenic Danish friendship over a glass of good ice-cold Danish akvavit – not unlike Cretan raki – and the shout of ‘Yia sas!’.
For more information about this event, please contact [email protected]