The defenders of Kalamata of 1941 honoured in Greece and Australia

Jim Claven is a good friend of the Brotherhood and what follows are extracts from a recent article by Jim, published in Australia.

 By way of background, Jim is a freelance writer and trained historian holding both Bachelor and Masters Degrees from Melbourne’s Monash University. He has researched the Anzac trail in Greece across both World Wars, and especially the Hellenic connection to Anzac through the role of Lemnos in the Gallipoli campaign. He has been Secretary of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee since its creation and is a member of the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign Commemorative Council. Jim can be contacted at jimclaven@yahoo.com.au

The defenders of Kalamata of 1941 honoured in Greece and Australia

” In May of this year, events were held in both Greece and Melbourne to commemorate the battle of Kalamata that took place in April 1941, the last engagement on the mainland of the Greek campaign.

As you drive down through Kalamata, one thing is true – all roads lead to the water. Indeed one of the attractions of Kalamata is its magnificent waterfront, with its views of the large bay to the south and the stretching arm of the Mani coast, almost tapering out to infinity.

Standing on the waterfront today it’s hard to imagine the scene we would have witnessed in late April 1941. We would have seen hundreds – indeed thousands of Allied troops – making their way along the city’s main north-south thorough-fares to the waterfront. Most would have made their way to their allotted assembly or rest areas on the outskirts of the town. The Anzacs among the throng would have made off to olive groves on the eastern end of the town. You can still see some of the surviving olive trees to this day.

You would have heard lots of languages and accents – along with the Aussie’s and Kiwi’s with their distinctive accents, British troops from across the United Kingdom and volunteers from Palestine were all there. And of course, those who came all the way from Cyprus to defend Greece would have been seen conversing with the Greek troops and locals.

The archives and memoirs are full of accounts of the welcome these poor soldiers received as they made their way through the town. People cheered them as they passed, older women offered the tired soldiers cake and retsina. And this made many of the soldiers sad and emotional.

For they had come to Kalamata’s waterfront at the end of a campaign that had seen many of them travel the length of Greece, only to fight a dogged retreat from Macedonia in the north, through the passes of central Greece and into the Peloponnese. And now they would await evacuation – most to Crete, some on to Egypt.

Thousands were evacuated, and yet thousands remained, facing either captivity or the uncertainty of evading capture. And only after they had fought and defeated the German advance guard that entered the city, hoping for an easy victory.

The events commemorated the battle that took place on the waterfront at Kalamata on the evening of the 28th April 1941, a battle that saw Australian, New Zealand and British troops defeat their German opponents. Amongst the honours awarded to the soldiers that night one– New Zealand’s Sergeant Jack Hinton – was awarded the Victoria Cross and another – Mildura’s Captain Albert Gray – the Military Cross for their bravery on that day. The commemoration also honours the role of Kalamata as one of the main embarkation points for Allied troops escaping capture and the support of the local population for their Allied defenders. Thousands were evacuated but thousands were captured when Allied ships could no longer safely embark troops from the harbor as the German forces approached…..

In May, the Kalamata authorities held a service at the Kalamata Memorial to the Greek campaign, which stands near the waterfront where the battle took place 76 years ago. This memorial was erected by the Brotherhood of Veterans of 1941 Greek Campaign (the Brotherhood) in 1994 and has been the location of the service for a number of years. I was fortunate to attend last year’s service. The Memorial inscription reads:

“In memory of the allied forces and the Greeks who fell at the Battle of Kalamata 28 April 1941 or who were taken prisoner or who escaped to fight again that the world might be free. Dedicated by the veterans of the campaign 17 May 1994.”….

This service in Kalamata was followed by a similar service at the Australian Hellenic Memorial organized by Melbourne’s The Society of Kalamata “23 March” and supported by the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council.

This service was also well attended. The convenors of the Victorian Parliamentary Friends of Greece – Mr. Steve Dimopoulos MP for Oakleigh and Mr. Murray Thompson MP for Sandringham – both took part in the commemorations, as did representatives of the Australian military, the Hon John Panadazopoulos (World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Union), Cr Kris Pavlidis (City of Whittlesea), Ms Christina Despoteris (Vice President of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee), various Greek community organizations and a number of descendents of Greek campaign veterans – including Ms Shirley Devery (daughter of Tom Devery of the 2/6th Battalion), Mr. Aron Segal (nephew of one of the Palestine Pioneers who served in the Greek campaign) and Mr. Peter Ford (son of Frank Ford of the New Zealand forces who took part in the campaign).

Mr. Sam Vlachos, Society of Kalamata Treasurer, delivered a presentation outlining the Greek campaign of 1941 and the battle of Kalamata , the last major engagement on ther Greek mainland of that campaign.

Mr. Peter Andrinopoulos, Society of Kalamata Public Relations Officer, thanked all for their attendance and reiterated the importance of holding this annual commemoration:

“The people of Kalamata welcomed the Anzacs to their city in April 1941, offering them their hospitality, all the while knowing that the campaign was drawing to an end. Many diggers wrote later over how moved they were by the kindness shown to them by the people of Kalamata. On this day Australians and Hellenes come together to honour both the Anzacs who fought to defend Greece and the people of Kalamata who aided them.”

Both services concluded with the reading of the Ode from Lawrence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” which ends with the words “We shall remember them” – appropriate given the services that continue to be held in Melbourne where many Anzacs came from and in Kalamata where they served.