HomeCulture'Evading the Nazi's' on Crete: Australian indigenous WWII hero Reg Saunders

‘Evading the Nazi’s’ on Crete: Australian indigenous WWII hero Reg Saunders




The story of Reg Saunders, a remembered Australian war hero who evaded the Nazi’s on Crete during WWII with the help of local partisans, is the subject on the ‘In Black and White’ podcast.

Over two episodes called ‘Evading the Nazi’s’, part one and two, host Jen Kelly speaks with author Craig Collie about his new book, Where the Flaming Hell Are We? published in August 2023. The novel tells the stories of young Australians and New Zealanders who fought the Germans in Greece and Crete.

A young Reg Saunders surrounded by his mates in the Australian Imperial Force. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

On the podcast, which shares the untold stories of some of Australia’s most courageous ancestors, Kelly and Collie discuss Saunders heroic escapades as the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.

Collie is one of Australia’s leading writers of military history and author of the critically acclaimed The Path of Infinite SorrowNagasaki, The Reporter and the WarlordsCode Breakers and On Our Doorstep.

In the podcast, and book, Collie recounts the details of how Saunders and his comrades were among about men who went on the run to evade capture from the Nazis.

Before arriving in Greece, Saunders fought in Libya. He was evacuated to Crete to be part of the bayonet charge at the Battle of 42nd Street that killed almost 300 Germans and stalled their advance.

Author Craig Collie. Photo: The Herald Sun.

As the Germans overran the island, Australian and New Zealanders were evacuated, but Saunders was one of 6000 soldiers left behind on Crete.

Approximately 5000 men surrendered and became prisoners of war and about 1000 men escaped, hiding out in the hills and caves, hidden by Greek partisans.

Saunders and his comrades survived on the island for eleven months on the run with the help of Cretan locals.

“The Cretan people were quite magnificent in what they did at great risk to their own lives,” Collie said. “If they were caught hiding escaped soldiers then they would be shot – and they were.”

“But they did because these were soldiers they knew who’d come from the other side of the planet to defend their country.”

Where The Flaming Hell Are We? by Craig Collie.

The locals helped Saunders and his comrades evade the German search parties by teaching them the language and disguising them as Cretans.

Collie describes how Australians often went undetected by the Germans, by wearing “peasant clothing”, and were “unshaven”, “scruffy”, and looked like they belonged there.

“Because the soldiers were Germans, they couldn’t necessarily distinguish between a scruffy Australian and a scruffy Cretan.”

In 1942, Saunders was finally evacuated from Crete where he would rejoin his 2/7th Battalion and was sent to New Guinea to fight the Japanese.

Saunders was given command of a platoon and promoted to lieutenant in November 1944 as the first Aboriginal commissioned officer in the army.

The story also details Saunders early life in Australia, born in 1920 on the Framlingham Reserve, near Warrnambool, Victoria. His grandmother played a major role in his upbringing, as his mother passed away when he was young. His father was a veteran of World War I, as was his uncle.

Following in their footsteps, after World War II erupted, Saunders enlisted with a group of his footy friends.

The podcast

Read more: Proposal to name Sydney station after Indigenous ANZAC with Cretan ties is rejected

Source: Herald Sun

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