ANZAC Day prelude: Melbourne’s tribute spotlights overlooked Battle of Kalamata

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By Mary Sinanidis

On Sunday, April 21, around 30 people gathered for a commemorative service at the Australian Hellenic Memorial, located at the foot of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. The service honoured the ANZACs and other Allied soldiers who fought in the Battle of Kalamata on April 28, 1941.

A month-long series of events for Greek National Day likely contributed to “patriotism fatigue,” leading to a smaller turnout compared to last year.

All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis lays a wreath.
battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne
battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne

Society of Kalamata 23rd March President Sam Vlachos told The Greek Herald, “We’ve been commemorating the Battle in this way for about eight years. It’s a ceremony that wasn’t established by previous generations. Our Cretan friends pioneered WWII memorials. Peter Andrinopoulos thought it would be fitting to commemorate this Battle when the second generation took over. There’s a corresponding ceremony held in Kalamata at the same time.”

Vlachos highlighted the strong support from various community groups. Paul Sougleris, representing the Papaflessas Pammessinian Brotherhood, laid a wreath. Melbourne boasts of several associations covering the city of Kalamata including Papaflessas, the Trifyllia Association, and the Pelians.

battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne
battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne

He guesstimates there may be around 50,000 Victorians with connections to Kalamata, the southern Peloponnese city situated at the head of the Messenian Gulf along the Nedon River. Their connection is so strong that there is even a Kalamata Square in the City of Darebin.

Raising awareness

While the area is steeped in history, Vlachos admitted his involvement with the association led to his first exposure to the Battle of Kalamata.

“To be honest, I knew very little about it until I took up my role with this Association,” he says, adding that it’s important to increase awareness, especially considering the strong role that ANZACs played.

battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne
battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne
Jim Claven, Sam Vlachos and Giorgos Kotsirilos

John Delia, representing the Air Force Association, confirmed his group’s annual presence at the memorial. However, when questioned about the Battle of Kalamata, he was unaware of it.

“I have no idea,” he said.

Asked about their presence, two young girls from Oakleigh Grammar, Melina and Eva from Year 6 and Year 7 respectively, said they came to lay a wreath and honour Greece’s history.

“We were at the march last Sunday,” said Eva, “and we’re learning about this Battle at school this week.”

battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne
battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne
battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne

Joseph Young, representing the New Zealand Defence Force, said he researched the Battle when invited to participate in the wreath-laying and was impressed by what he learned.

“I had never heard of it before, and yet it was an important battle for the Anzacs,” he said of the evacuation involving more than 60,000 Commonwealth British, Indian, Palestinian, and Cypriot men who gathered to aid Greece in its defence against the invading Italian troops.

On April 6, 1941, Germans entered Greece in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The campaign leading to the Battle of Kalamata began with the defence of the Corinth Canal in April 1941, where Allied troops stopped German paratroopers from capturing the bridge across the canal. By April 26, between 18,000 and 20,000 troops assembled in Kalamata, including Palestinian, Indian, Cypriot, and Yugoslav troops.

While more than 40,000 troops were successfully evacuated, not all Allies waiting on the waterfront could escape. By April 28, 6 pm, German troops with artillery launched a fierce attack on Kalamata and the 8,000 troops left behind.

battle of kalamata shrine of remembrance melbourne

Continuing the legacy

Greek Consul General of Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis, said, “We are gathered here 83 years later to commemorate a battle that hasn’t yet received the recognition it should.”

“I think even in Greece, it was in the late 60s that we had the first commemoration of the battle itself, but for Greek Australians, there is another significance because the Battle of Kalamata is one more link of this relationship of Greece and Australia that starts from Gallipoli and continues to this day.”

Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis gives a speech.

Sophia Mandoukos’ parents, Ioannis and Aikaterini Yiannacoulacos, were founding members of the Society of Kalamata 23rd March. She feels closer to them by being part of the group now that they have passed away.

“When they created the Society in 1983, it was a wonderful way for them to give to their community, network, and reunite with people,” she said. “Now it is our turn. I hope my daughter someday takes over the rein.”

Steve Kyritsis, President of the Australian Hellenic Memorial Foundation, told The Greek Herald that the commemoration of the Battle of Kalamata is one of the 10 regular wreath-laying events that take place at the monument. Each year, without fail, it takes place near ANZAC Day, reminding Greeks and Australians of their shared history.

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