Over 200 people braved a sunny but wintry Saturday morning a fortnight ago to come together to commemorate the role of Lemnos in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915.

It was wonderful to see a strong contingent from Melbourne’s Lemnian community attending the formal unveiling service at the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Melbourne’s Albert Park. This is the second annual service to take place at the memorial.

The event was organised by Melbourne’s Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, with president Lee Tarlamis as MC. Since its creation in 2011, the committee has worked tirelessly to build awareness of Lemnos’ role in the Gallipoli campaign in Australia, in Greece, and around the world. Along with its travelling photographic exhibition, historical presentations and commemorative events, the committee’s major achievement was the erection of the memorial in Albert Park designed by Australia’s pre-eminent commemorative sculptor, Peter Corlett OAM.

The memorial is the first erected in Australia to commemorate the role of Lemnos and has since been joined by new memorials in Sydney and Adelaide.

Many descendants of soldiers and nurses who served on Lemnos in 1915 attended the service, including David Weedon (the great nephew of Matron Grace Wilson), Judith Gunnarson and Deb Stewart (the daughter and grand-daughter of Nurse Evelyn Hutt), and Reverend Richard Hall (a descendent of both Elwood’s Nurse Clarice Daley and Sergeant Ernest Lawrence who were married on Lemnos in 1915).

Terry Kanelos, RSL Hellenic Sub Branch Secretary (right) and Deb Stewart read the welcome message from the Mayor of Lemnos Dimitrios Marinakis. Photo: Jim Claven

The committee was pleased to welcome the attendance of a new descendent representative – Mervyn Williamson, a descendent of Private John Joseph Sperling of the 8th Australian Infantry Battalion, who is buried at East Mudros Military Cemetery on Lemnos. Mervyn and his family had travelled from Whittlesea for the event.

Along with Melbourne’s Lemnian community were representatives of Melbourne’s Cretan and Pontian communities – many of whom are descendents of those Hellenes who welcomed the Anzacs to Lemnos or took part in the Gallipoli campaign as labourers, interpreters, guides and soldiers.

One of those is Mr Tarlamis who is both descended from the Lemnians who welcomed the Anzacs to West Mudros and Blackburn’s Private Edward Tozer of the 4th Australian Infantry Battalion who went to Lemnos in 1915.

Some of the many members of Melbourne’s Lemnian community who attended the service. Photo: Peter Ford

MPs who addressed the crowd were Martin Foley, representing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews; John Eren, Victorian Minister for Veterans Affairs; Margaret Fitzherbert representing Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy; and Maria Vamvakinou, representing federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Other MPs in attendance were Murray Thompson, Sue Pennicuik, and Inga Peulich.

A number of councillors attended the service including Cr Mary Lalios, City of Whittlesea and President of the Municipal Association of Victoria, Cr Mike Zafiropoulos deputy mayor of Manningham. The service was also attended by councillors from the City of Port Phillip, including mayor Cr Bernadene Voss and councillors Marcus Pearl and Dick Gross.

Mr Tarlamis opened proceedings acknowledging all in attendance and his pride in again holding our service at the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in commemoration of the role of the nurses, diggers and the local Lemnians and other Hellenes.

Cr Voss then addressed the assembly stating the City’s pride in hosting the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial and the pleasure in its working with the committee over the years. She spoke about the naming of Lemnos Square. A new information board will soon be erected and the mayor and Mr Tarlamis unveiled a mock-up of the new board – to the acclamation of all in attendance.

Mr Tarlamis noted that this is the first time since the establishment of the soldier settlement of Lemnos near Shepparton in 1927 that a location in Australia has been officially named in honour of Lemnos’ role in Gallipoli.

Maria Vamvakinou MP addresses the assembly on behalf of the Federal Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. Photo: Peter Ford

The keynote address this year was delivered by Colonel (Retired) Jan McCarthy, a Vietnam War veteran and president of the Victorian RSL Nurses Sub Branch. Col McCarthy’s address told the history of Australia’s military nurses and their experiences on the Island of Lemnos in 1915. She recounted the many difficulties they encountered – having to provide aid without their medical equipment for many weeks, exposed to winter cold and summer heat and coping with the suffering that surrounded them as the tens of thousands of wounded and sick Allied soldiers.

Jim Claven, historian and secretary of the committee recited the beautiful poem written in 1916 by the British nursing aide Vera Brittain, entitled ‘The Sisters Buried on Lemnos’.

The poem commemorates the role of the nurses on Lemnos and specifically the tragic deaths from dysentery of two Canadian nurses – Matron Jaggard and Nurse Munro – whose burial at Portianos Military Cemetery in 1915 on Lemnos was attended by many Australian nurses.

Every year the Greek Red Cross lay a wreath at their graves as part of the annual Lemnos Gallipoli commemorations. The poem concludes with the words: O golden Isle with purple shadows falling across they rocky shore and sapphire sea/ I shall not picture these without recalling the sisters sleeping on the heart of thee!

Paschali Kalogeras of Melbourne’s Lemnian community dressed in traditional costume stands in honour of Lemnos’ role in the Gallipoli campaign. Photo: Peter Ford

Many representatives of Melbourne’s large Greek community attended the function and laid wreaths at the foot of the memorial.

These included the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria, the Pontiaki Estia, the Cretan Brotherhood, Panmessinian Pappaflessas, The Society of Kalamata 23 March and Merimna Pontian Ladies of Oceania.

In addition, the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council, the George Treloar Memorial Committee also laid wreaths, as did both the RSL Hellenic Sub Branch and RSL Essendon Sub Branch.

Oakleigh Grammar was represented by Natasha Spanos. Nikolaos Kydas, a former Port Phillip resident and vice president of the Lemnian Community of Victoria, said members of the Lemnian community were very proud to take part in this important service.

He added that Victoria’s Lemnians were very happy to come to the memorial and to witness the naming of its location as Lemnos Square.

“This is a great honour for all Lemnians, both in Australia and on Lemnos,” he said.

The service included a blessing by Father Konstantinos and a prayer read by Albert Park Secondary College school captain Ellen Waite. A message from the Mayor of Lemnos, Dimitrios Marinakis, was read to the assembly.

Colonel (Rtd) Jan McCarthy addresses the assembly. Photo: Peter Ford

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Band – Melbourne performed the Hellenic and Australian national anthems as well as a series of hymns as part of the service.

Also attending the service was RAN Warrant Officer Michael Connors representing Captain Tim Standen, CSC, Commanding Officer.

Mr Tarlamis pointed out that it was particularly significant that the RAN participated in the service, given both the important role members of the RAN played at Gallipoli but also the fact that RAN members came to Gallipoli both in 1915 and in 1918 when the HMAS Brisbane sailed into Lemnos’ Mudros Bay.

Tragically, two of its sailors succumbed to influenza and are buried on Lemnos – Sandringham’s Able Seaman Thomas Chitt’s and Bendigo’s Stoker John Godier.

Bagpiper Shrine Governor and Squadron Leader Steve Campbell-Wright again welcomed those attending the service with a series of Scottish laments – in honour of the 3rd Australian General Hospital’s Warrant Officer Archibald Monk, a new migrant to Australia from the Island of Benbecula off the west coast of Scotland, who piped the Australian nurses ashore on Lemnos on 8 August 1915.

Members of the Royal Australian Navy Band (Melbourne) at the commemorative service. Photo: Jim Claven

The committee was particularly pleased to hear that this week BBC Scotland marked the service in Albert Park with a special Scots Gaelic language programme broadcast by journalist and presenter, Seonag Monk, the granddaughter of Archibald Monk. Further BBC programs on Lemnos’ Scottish connection through the Gallipoli campaign are planned.

Mr Tarlamis also thanked Paschali Kalogeras who dressed in traditional Lemnian costume and the 30 Army Cadet Unit who formed the catafalque party, as well as Peter Ford, the descendent of an Anzac who fought on Crete in WW2, for photographing the event, and documentary filmmaker John Irwin for capturing proceedings on film.

Tarlamis concluded the proceedings thanking all for their attendance and outlining the various other commemorative activities being planned by the committee including the publication of a new pictorial history of Lemnos’ role, a major new exhibition of its Lemnos photographic display, the location of which is soon to be announced.

The committee has a proposal for the restoration of the name of Lemnos’ Australian Pier, erected in 1915 by Australian troops and which is still used on Lemnos to this day.

Anyone wishing to participate in the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee and assist with its work should contact secretary Jim Claven at [email protected]