The 82nd anniversary of the Battle of Crete was commemorated in Melbourne, Victoria over the weekend of May 20 – 21 with a series of special events.
The commemoration began with a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance, which was organised by the Battle of Crete Remembrance Council.
Many officials were present on the day including a military delegation from Greece consisting of Lieutenant General Georgios Kiriakou, Chief of Staff of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff; Commander Stylianos Mitsiotis from the Hellenic Navy; and Colonel Ioannis Fasianos, Defence Attaché from the Embassy of Greece in Canberra.
Lieutenant General Kiriakou spoke first and was followed by Captain Ainsley Morthorpe, who stressed the important role of Australian and New Zealander soldiers during the Battle.
Kat Theophanous MP, representing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, spoke about the “deep respect” people have “for those who fought for freedom” and stressed how “a friendship between nations [Australia and Greece] was cemented.”
Bishop Kyriakos of Sozopolis then said a prayer and the Shrine guard took his post before official guests laid their wreaths.
‘An example for future generations’:
Immediately after the ceremony, guests visited the Hellenic War Memorial, where Hellenic RSL President Steve Kyritsis spoke first.
“Many books have been written about the fact that the Battle of Crete stands high among all the battles that took place in World War II. That’s why today we have responsibility to honour those who fall,” Mr Kyritsis said.
Mr Kyritsis said 17,000 Australians and 7,000 New Zealanders fought in Greece, while 840 Australians and 1,040 New Zealanders lost their lives.
Georgia Mpotsou, representing the Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis, said: “The Cretans fought with heroism and self-sacrifice next to the Allied powers… proving that life has no value if man cannot live free.”
Lieutenant General Kiriakou also spoke and stressed the strong friendship forged between Australians and Greeks during the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign in World War II.
“Their will and determination led to the protection of freedom and justice. A truly moving example for all of us today and for future generations,” he said.
The gathering ended with the wreath laying.
‘We must never forget’:
The commemorations for the Battle of Crete anniversary continued on Sunday with an official luncheon at the Cretan Village in Wantirna South. 104-year-old ANZAC veteran, Charlie Parrott, was present at the lunch and was presented with an honorary medal.
The event was also attended by a number of official guests and there were plenty of speeches on the day.
The Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis, gave a detailed description of the battle in his speech.
“4,700 parachuters, 1,500 soldiers and more than 10 airplanes were the German casualties,” Mr Kakavelakis said and referred to the delay that the Battle of Crete caused to the Germans, resulting in the British army being better prepared in Egypt.
In his speech, Lieutenant General Kiriakou said: “During the evacuation, Cretan villagers risked their own lives providing food and shelter for many ANZAC troops who remained on the island, hiding them from Nazi forces.”
“The ANZAC sacrifices during the Battle of Crete were immense and we must never forget the courage and selfishness they displaced,” the Lieutenant General added.
Nick Staikos MP also spoke on the day as a representative of the Victorian Premier. He referred to the Battle of Crete as “one of the numbered examples in history of Australians and Greeks working hand-in-hand against tyranny fascism and Nazism.”
A representative for the Leader of the Victorian Opposition, John Pesutto, said in his speech: “The heroism and sacrifice made by the people of Greece and Australia in the Battle of Crete is only one of the many examples of deep friendship.”
The anniversary’s importance was then hailed by the President of the Cretan Federation of Australia and New Zealand, Tony Tsourdalakis.
“This anniversary never stops being marked in our memory for ever. Cretans, and even more specifically the second generations, our grandparents, gave a big effort next to the Australians for whom today we are proud,” Mr Tsourdalakis said.
“The Battle is an enlightening example for us and the next generations, in order to continue protecting the holy land of Greece and the right of freedom, denying in any way any conqueror who is trying to take our land.”
The Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council President, Natasha Spanos, said: “it is important to remember that the sacrifices of our ancestors were the beginning in order for us today to live free with dignity.”
The event concluded with an exchanging of gifts and then Cretan dances were performed by the youth, alongside traditional Cretan live music.
*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Giorgos Psomiadis.