Over a year ago (16 April, 2016), the Martin Place Cenotaph played host to a thousand members of the Greek and broader community who came to pay their respects and to remember one of the legendary campaigns in modern history, the Battle of Crete.
What made this day even more special was the visit of six ‘Evzones’ – soldiers of the Greek Presidential Guard, the highest level of military guard in Greece – marching through Sydney to join the ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle.
This was the first ever appearance of the guards in Australia, adding a sense of aura to the occasion. The guards visited Sydney as guests of the Hellenic Club Sydney, who had to secure special permission from the Greek Prime Minister. The guards marched with a Sydney police escort, stopping traffic as they marched from the Grace Hotel (York Street) to Martin Place, where the official memorial service was held. The Evzones also appeared in Martin Place on the 20th, 21st and 22nd for a changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Sydney Cenotaph. This was also a historic moment for Greek – Australian relations.
This year, nine Evzones will be in Australia as guests of the Hellenic Club to help commemorate ANZAC Day, whilst in Adelaide, they were supported by the Foundation for Hellenic Studies and by the South Australian Government. The Evzones arrived in Adelaide on the 20th and marched to the city’s War Memorial and a pre-game flag-raising ceremony at Adelaide Oval for the AFL ANZAC round match between Port Adelaide and Carlton.
This historic moment at an Australian sporting event highlights how important the spirit of ANZAC is to Greece and the respect afforded by the Australian community to the Evzones.
In Sydney, the Evzones will join the Allied Forces for the ANZAC Day March. Mr Arthur Balagiannis, of the Hellenic Club Sydney, told Neos Kosmos that they will “form a Guard of Honour at the Martin Place Cenotaph from 1-2pm on April 28 and 29. It is an incredible honour and privellege that the Evzones are once again be in Australia.”
The defense of Greece by the Hellenic forces, ANZACs and other Commonwealth troops is recognised by historians as one of the major contributions to the Second World War, significantly delaying the Nazis’ invasion of Russia.
– 8,900 ANZAC prisoners of war were captured in Greece, representing 83% of the Australian soldiers captured by the Nazis during the Second World War
– 646 ANZACs are buried or memorialised in Greece – 50% of which are memorialised at the Athens Memorial, as their bodies were not recovered
– It is estimated that there are over 1,500,000 people in Australia today who are connected to the Battle of Crete, whether as descendants of ANZACs who fought, or Australians of Greek heritage whose families were affected by the event.
The Evzones are also be attending a luncheon at Beta Bar on Monday 24 April to commemorate the ANZACs including Indigenous ANZACs, church services including Friday, 29 April at St Ioannis at Parramatta and on Sunday 30 April at Kogarah, a visit to St Basil’s Nursing Home and a function hosted by the Ladies Auxiliary of the St George Parish, Rose Bay on 29 April at Sofitel Hotel. The Auxiliary will be honouring the guards at what will be their 55th Anniversary gala dinner dance.
The Evzones will also visit a number of schools. This includes All Saints Grammar, Belmore, St Spyridon College, St Euphemia College, Bankstown.
The packed program will also feature a visit to hundreds of excited children at McCallums Hill Public School, a K-6 school based in Roselands. The visit to McCallums Hill Public school will take place on Wednesday, 26 April at 2.00pm. President of the P & C, Maria Rallis told Neos Kosmos that it is an opportunity for “students and their families to see up close the impressively synchronised military march of the soldiers wearing the traditional uniform comprised of a ‘foustanella’ – made from over 30 metres of fabric and featuring 400 pleats as well as the ‘tsarouchia’ – red clogs with black pom poms that weigh over 3kgs each and include over 60 nails on the base which serve to simulate the sound of battle during the movement of the Evzone! We are grateful to the Hellenic Club and our local Member of Parliament, Sophie Cotsis, for helping to make this happen.”
McCallums Hill Public School is a diverse school in Sydney’s south with a significant proportion of its 400 students possessing a Greek background. The school’s Principal, Georgia Constantisays “It is an honour to be involved in arranging this unique cultural event for the students. It will be a wonderful welcome-back surprise for them on their first day back at school for Term 2.”
For more information on the visit of the Evzones http://www.hellenicclub.net.au/news
*Billy Cotsis is the author of “From Pyrrhus to Cyprus.”