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Greece and its ANZAC History - Then and Now
Early days in Athens Aussie and Greek soldiers at cafe

A Potted History

The ANZAC legend was created at Gallipoli in WW1 and concluded with the capitulation of Crete in WW2. Whilst the story and its rememberance (ANZAC Day) continue, the actual combined fighting force only existed between the above two conflicts. There was no ANZAC brigade in more recent conflicts - Korea, Vietnam etc.

The Battle of Greece (ie the mainland) was a disaster for the Allies and forced the mass evacuation of ANZACs (inc Nurses) and British troops, many of whom found themselves on Crete with very little equipment - most eqipment had to destroyed or left on the mainland. This lack of suitable equipment was to impeed their defence of Crete. The Germans invaded Crete using an aerial assault involving paratroopers and gliders. The defenders on Crete lacked even the basics like radios. The few tanks were old. When the Germans arrived by air on 20 May they received a surprise - the tenacity of the defence - so much so that when the battle was over and Germany had ultimately succeeded, Hitler ordered that no such aerial assaults were to be used again as the losses of both men and equipment (on the German side) were massive.

Brent, from Passport Travel has been connected to this battle from as early as he can recall due to one of his fathers freinds being in a trench at Maleme airstrip the day the paratroopers came. The father of one of his long term Australian freinds was a member of the few anti aircraft gun crews on that same strip on that day. Brent has had a few conversations with her dad on the subject! From his childhood in New Zealand he has met many veterans of Crete. Some talked about their times, others did not. Another NZ friend recalls visits to realtives and being warned (as a child) that, 'Uncle so n so', was on Crete and one would nod knowingly in silence.

Whilst we can never forget the numbers that were actually killed it was the numbers that became POW's that shocked both nations. For NZ (much smaller propluation) it was the single largest loss of forces in WW2, huge numbers when ratioed to the population. Everyone knew someones son who had become a POW from Crete. Both connections, mentioned above, became part of those statistics and their exploits as POWs is another story fit for a movie script!

It is very important to highlight the part the local Cretan population played during this time. The Germans had never experienced local citizens joining the fight - ie, not in uniform as a regular army. Many German paratroopers never made it out of their harnes, they were pounced upon by men and woman alike and silenced as they landed. At one famous counter attack by NZ troops, at the village of Galatos, (which we will pass through) locals joined in the charge. Women lashed cooking knives to poles and raced up the slope in their shirts and scarves alongside the New Zealanders. The young NZ officer who led that charge - Sandy Thomas - is still alive and lives near the Gold Coast these days.

As mentioned many became POW's, but due to an extraordinary trek many made their way to the southern coast via mountain tracks and trails where a 2nd Dunkirk was enacted and 16400 were extracated at night by the Royal Navy to Egypt.

Capture on Crete
The long march to POW camps for 1000's
After trekking over the White Mts ANZACS await rescue from Sth Coast
Some of the lucky 16500 that made it to Eygypt
There are not many photographs of the evacuations as the majority were at night. In addition, eveyone tended to have their minds on other things. Artist however seem to be able to portray the terror of the situation. This is by Charles David Cobb and currently resides at the RN musuem in Portsmouth.

Ever since these times there has been a strong bond between, Greece (mainland and Crete) Australia and New Zealand. It still exists to this day. In 2016 Brent arrived with his PLF group to a taverna for lunch and was greated by one of guests, 'Welcome back', - they knew he was the only Kiwi in the party! A friend of Brents managed to get to Crete in 1974 and after landing his nationality became known. He then found it difficult to pay for accommodation and meals as he moved about tracing some of the NZ history. Many who were actively involved in WW2 were still alive.

As we have said, the tour is primarily music focused, but other aspects of Greece's modern history are woven into the itinerary. The ANZAC connection is important to Australia and New Zealand as Crete was a marker in their combined history - the end of ANZAC as a fighting force a legend we still commemorate every 24th of April.

Other connections.

Patrick Leigh Fermor escaped mainland Greece in an open boat with a bunch of ANZAC's. He then served as a liasion officer in Herkalion and was ultimately evacuated from the Sth Coast to Egypt where he was then invited to join the SOE and the next chapter of his history began.

New Zealander Charles Upham won the frist of his two VCs at the Malame Airfield battle - the only combatant in history to be awarded 2 VC's.

HMAS Ship Perth was in action protecting the evacuation ships. Later she was lost at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Lord Louie Mountbatten (think 'Last Viceroy of India') ultimately Supreme Commander of S.E., Asia theatre, matchmaker for the Queen and Prince Philip (his nephew) and mentor to Prince Charles. He was in command of HMS Kelly which was sunk evacuating troops. Lord Mountbatten literaly stepped off the bridge as the ship slipped beneath the waves. Managed to stay afloat for a long time before rescue.

Music of Crete

We hope to enjoy Cretan music, which has a difference to other Greek forms. Like rebetika which came from the trial and tribulations of the 1920's the dark period of WW2 has forged its way into Cretan folk music.

Local music
The Lyre a major part of Cretan music.

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