Our annual service of commemoration was held at the National Memorial Arboretum on 10th September 2022.
Father John (Nankivell) led the service, ably assisted, as usual, by Georgina, his wife. There were also four other members of his congregation present.
We were delighted to once again welcome Captain Ioannis Papavlachos, Greek Defence Attaché, together with Brigadier Jim Bliss, Defence Attaché, NZ Defence Force; Major Thomas Williams, RA; Captain Paul Mandzie, Royal Australian Navy, Australian Defence Force; and Captain Jonathan Nice, QRH. All our special guests laid wreaths.
Janet Parkin gave a short welcome speech and reiterated how important it is not to forget the 1941 Greek Campaign and the sacrifices made. This was followed by an address from our Chairman, David Sanderson, an abridged version of which is shown below:
“The Battle of Greece involved over one and a quarter million Axis forces against a combined Greek and Allied force of around 500,000. The German forces were not only larger, but they were also better equipped, and crucially had control over the skies. Britain had committed a force of approximately 60,000 personnel to Greece, made up principally of British, Australian and New Zealand troops, who arrived there in early 1941.
It was an ill-fated campaign. When Germany invaded Greece on 6th April 1941 the decision was soon taken to leave mainland Greece for Crete, and so a long journey started to the southern ports of Navplia, Monevasia, Raffinia and Kalamata. This was a perilous retreat, and soon became another Dunkirk. The Navy did a magnificent job, getting away around 52,000 of the 60,000 or so of our forces. Unfortunately, around 8,000 men left behind and were taken as PoWs by the Germans to Stalag 18a in Wolfsburg, Austria.
The Brotherhood was set up by Janet’s father in 1990. Edwin Horlington advertised in the National Press to find fellow veterans, and the idea of erecting a memorial in Kalamata was taken up. With contributions from veterans and with the support of Paddy Leigh Fermor as Patron, a memorial was unveiled in 1994, and an annual service of commemoration has been held ever since in Greece. A book entitled Tell Them We Were Here was published, containing accounts by veterans of their own experience in Greece. The Greek Grove in which we are now standing, was also established.
Each year I like to mention a couple of names for us to especially remember on this day. Today I’m thinking about Joe Burke and Eric Bardsley.
Joe Burke: Sadly, Joe died in 2018 aged 97. A member of the RASC, Joe had the misfortune to be involved in the evacuation from Dunkirk, and then subsequently found himself in the same position in Greece retreating to Crete. This time there was no escape, and Joe was captured on 28th April 1941. Joe followed the usual route for men captured at that time in Greece by ending up in Stalag 18A in Austria. Spending four years in the various POW camps, Joe recounted how to get more food men tried to get sent to hospital where the food was better and there was more of it. Eventually Joe found a better way forward when he volunteered for farm work, as farmworkers were fed by the farmer, enabling Joe to build up his strength over a 12 month period. Joe eventually escaped to Hungary, where he spent 12 months in relative freedom. He was a veteran who retained a wonderful sense of humour, and he would have loved to have been here today to remember his old comrades.
Eric Bardsley: Eric joined the Royal Corps of Signals in 1940 and became a wireless operator. He too was captured in late April 1941 and sent to Stalag 18A. Eric wrote about his experiences in his book “Barbed Wire and the Balkans”. Eric vividly described the extremely difficult conditions in which the prisoners lived, and how dysentery took hold of the men making them very weak. Eric was a German speaker and as such he played an important role for many of his colleagues as interpreter. What struck me about Eric was how little resentment he held for the Germans after his experiences. He was very phlegmatic about his time as a POW and truly was one of life’s “gentlemen”. Eric also became a keen supporter of the Brotherhood, and very much enjoyed the reunions and services he was able to attend.
It is claimed that the Greek campaign was not a complete disaster. By committing some of his best divisions to Greece, Hitler delayed his planned invasion of Russia by six crucial weeks. That delay meant the Germans hit the Russian winter, which undoubtedly contributed hugely to a Russian victory on the Eastern Front. I for one like to believe that that is true, and that our parents/grandparents did not go through what they did in vain. It is very important that we remember the men who lost their lives, or who were badly injured doing what they were required to do for their country, and for our freedoms today.
Thank you all for doing that, by being here today. “
Nine wreaths were laid, one by each of our guests mentioned above plus Buster Beckett in memory of the Prisoners of War; Mrs Anne Holmes on behalf of the Widows; Mark Buttery in memory of Deceased Members and David Sanderson on behalf of the Brotherhood. Geoff Swinnerton gave the oration and acted as Parade Marshall. ‘Thank You’ to you all.