‘Not an old war veteran’s place’: Manny Karvelas on the importance of RSL clubs

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At 11:00 AM on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. 

German leaders signed an Armistice to end World War I, and subsequently, the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month became associated with commemorating those who passed in the great war.

After World War II, the Australian and British Government changed this commemoration to Remembrance Day, as an occasion for the nation to come together and remember those who suffered and those paid the ultimate price in all wars and armed conflicts. 

Unlike ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day is not a public holiday in Australia but on a year that marks the 60th Anniversary of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, President of Melbourne’s Returned Services League (RSL) Hellenic Sub-Branch, Emanuel (Manny) Karvelas, urges the community to take a moment and reflect on the importance of local RSL clubs.

L to R: Members of the Hellenic Military Historical Society Jim Anagnostou (L) and George Kypros (R) dressed in period correct World War two Greek Army uniform and Flight Sergeant Deese Tyris (L) and Warrant Officer Class 2 Ken Tsirigotis. Photo: Supplied

“Many people picture the RSL as very old war veterans’ place or as a place to get a good meal at one of the commercial restaurants. It is a bit more than that,” he says, “some have not even heard of the Hellenic RSL. Some get confused and ask what are Greeks or Greek Australians doing in the RSL?”

For many years, RSL sub-branches across Australia have played an integral role in connecting veterans to services, developing social networks, enhancing support services and providing practical support.

“In the RSL we have veteran members that have served in either the Australian or Greek Military. Of the Australian veterans, we have had veterans that were deployed in World War Two and have veterans that served in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, East Timor and various peace keeping missions,” Karvelas says.

Greek Australian veterans about to start their march down St Kilda Rd on Anzac Day, 25 April 2022. Photo: Supplied

“The Greek Australian War history is quite rich and we are proud of it. Most members of the RSL are well aware of it. People have heard about the Greek campaign, including the big battle of Crete during World War Two.

“However, not many people know that in the Korean War (1950-53) the Australian 3RAR unit received a US Presidential Unit Citation after the famous Battle of Kapyong. During the Korean war, The Greek forces received two US Presidential Unit Citations.”

There were approximately 2500 Greek Australians that served in World War Two in the Australian Armed Forces.

“We know of at least 15 Greeks that served in the World War 1 Gallipoli campaign. One of them, Sergeant Rados, was killed in action,” he explains.

More than four decades after the Hellenic Sub-Branch of the Victorian RSL was formed, Greek-Australian veterans continue to march under their own banner down St Kilda Rd on Anzac Day and do presentations at school assemblies. 

“We also support Australian Army and Navy Cadets,” Manny says, reminding people to also show support for the veteran community by buying and wearing a poppy through RSL’s Poppy Appeal. 

*For more information about the 11 Days of Remembrance activities and the Victorian State Remembrance Service, please visit https://www.shrine.org.au/remembrance-day-2022. To support the Poppy Appeal visit: https://poppyappeal.com.au

READ MORE: Ken Tsirigotis: Army veteran recognised as support symbol for thousands in Melbourne Legacy

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