As I walk into a newly-renovated room at Maroba aged care home in Newcastle, Sydney on Thursday, July 21, I was instantly greeted by the huge and cheeky smile of 105-year-old ANZAC and Battle of Crete veteran, Alf Carpenter.
“Lovely to finally meet you,” Alf said softly, while firmly shaking my hand and maintaining eye contact.
For me, the moment was a poignant one.
Having previously spoken with Alf over the phone for an interview to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Crete last year, I jumped at the chance to meet him in person and join the President of the Cretan Association of Sydney & NSW, Terry Saviolakis, and Vice President, Emmanuel Vitetzakis, on their trip to Newcastle to present Alf with the award of Honorary Life Membership of the Cretan Association.
The award ceremony itself took place at Maroba with Alf surrounded by his care staff and closest friends.
Mr Saviolakis approached the front of the room first and gave a small speech explaining how at the Cretan Association’s last Annual General Meeting (AGM), members unanimously voted to award Alf with honorary life membership “on behalf of the Greek Australian community and the Cretan people for his service in the Battle of Crete and Greek Campaign in 1941.”
After Mr Saviolakis presented Alf with the honorary award, Mr Vitetzakis gave Alf a white sariki (Cretan head scarf) on behalf of the Vice Governors of the Region of Crete, Mary Lioni and Kosta Fasoulakis, who visited Australia earlier this year for the Battle of Crete commemorations but were unable to visit Alf due to COVID-19 restrictions.
During his speech, Mr Vitetzakis explained to the residents the significance of the sariki and how it is worn to remember the tears and mourning of war.
At the conclusion of these official proceedings, Alf cheekily piped up and asked “may I say something?”, drawing loud applause and laughter from everyone in attendance.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is indeed an honour. Thank you for anointing me as a life member of the wonderful Greeks,” Alf said, before describing what it was like fighting in the Battle of Crete as a Regimental Sergeant Major of the 2/4th Australian Infantry Battalion.
The 105-year-old later continued this reminiscing over morning tea as myself, Mr Saviolakis and Mr Vitetzakis listened to him share memories from his childhood and the war.
At one stage, Alf was enjoying a lamington, an Australian staple, and even shared how “that was exactly how my mum made them.”
All in all, it was a fantastic day of nostalgia and pride, something which Mr Saviolakis summed up nicely as we said our goodbyes to Alf and I asked him how he felt.
“It was truly an honour and privilege to formally recognise 105-year-old ANZAC, Alf Carpenter, as a life member of the Cretan Association of Sydney and NSW today,” Terry answered.
“It was an unforgettable experience to visit Alf.”
Indeed it was.
*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.