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Stella Tzobanakis on ‘Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete’ revamp

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Stella Tzobanakis went from a byline to a headline with the release of her debut book Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete but it was just this year, the battle’s 80th anniversary, that Creforce’s dedicatee picked up the book for the first time. 

“He’s just read the book as he is now 10… I know he’s biased, but he actually loves [it]. It was so rewarding to… give meaning to his heritage…

“…now the pieces of our family jigsaw puzzle are coming together and he’s really curious.”

Creforce gives readers as young as 10 a front-row seat to the Battle of Crete. 

There’s a reason why it’s on the Premier’s Reading Challenge List across Australia. It was funded by the Australian Council for The Drum series and remains one of the few children’s books that passes down Anzac stories from the Battle of Crete. 

Children are typically introduced to Roald Dahl in a different way, but in Creforce, he’s not the only familiar real-life ‘character’. 

Tzobanakis’ now 10-year-old son, Otto, at Souda Bay Cemetery in Crete (Supplied)

Creforce features the likes of Australia’s first Aboriginal Army officer Reginald Saunders, The Cretan Runner George Psychoundakis, and Horrie the Wog Dog.

“…there were two ANZACs – Charles Jager and Ben Travers – who were harbored by the Cretan people… [who] dressed them up as Cretan yiayiades and [taught] them how to walk, talk in the dialect, force them to stop smoking and swing their arms when they’re walking down the street like a soldier, and it helped them to escape the island and survive and write their story of their experience.”

But others weren’t so lucky, Tzobanakis says. 

“There are still, I’m sure, so many stories out there that we don’t know about and that’s why it’s really important that the spotlight is put on this battle a lot more because their stories will just get lost if they’re not told,” she says. 

“It’s up to us to keep those stories alive so we can learn from them, too.” 

Creforce got a revamp last year, with a new cover, revisions, and updated information. 

Writing Creforce was a “very emotional” two-year process, Tzobanakis says, involving vigorous fact-checking and a full immersion of Crete. 

Horrie the Wog Dog was a little terrier who became an unofficial mascot of the Anzacs. (Picture: The Australian War Memorial)

“I would play sounds of the Ju87 Stuka dive Bombers [German planes] … the screaming sirens of those planes as they were nosediving, just to get an image of how the people of Crete, or any ANZACs and Allied soldiers, would have felt to hear that noise and how terrifying it was.… 

“I really feel like I kind of lived it a little. I was really trying to mentally ‘go there’ and I hope that the book does that to some extent; transports you into their world so you can imagine a little bit of what they might have experienced.”

“The second Anzacs and the people of Greece and Crete really fought together, risked their lives for one another and now have bonds that will last a lifetime.

“It’s an extraordinary largely untold story and hopefully through this book and other initiatives, will become as well-known as Gallipoli.” 

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete is available at http://stelitsahome.bigcartel.com

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