UK Reunion – 82nd Anniversary 9th September 2023

We were pleased to be able to hold the service outside at The Greek Grove and we were delighted to welcome Captain Nikolaos Filias, HN, Greek Defence Attaché. Father John (Nankivell) led the service and two members of his congregation accompanied him. Four standards were carried by the following ‘volunteers’: Colin Pleavin, Peter Simpson, Barry Parkin and Ted Gummer. Janet Parkin gave a short welcome speech and reiterated, as always how important it is not to forget the 1941 Greek Campaign and the sacrifices made.

Our Chairman, David Sanderson, was unable to attend the service this year. He did, however, prepare something for the Service, which was read out by Geoff Swinnerton on David’s behalf.  An abridged version of it is shown below:

“By way of a reminder, the Battle of Greece involved over one and a quarter million Axis forces (by which I mean Italian and German 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, as we now know, an ill-fated campaign. When Germany invaded Greece on 6 April 1941 the decision was soon taken by the allies to leave mainland Greece for Crete, and so a long journey started to the southern ports of Nauplia, Monevasia, Raffinia and Kalamata. This was a perilous retreat, and soon became another Dunkirk. The Navy did a superb job, getting away around 52,000 of the 60,000 or so of our forces. Unfortunately, around 8,000 men were left behind,  and most of them were taken as POWs by the Germans to Stalag 18a in Wolfsberg, Austria.

We have with us today Ian Brown, who established the Stalag 18a website, and who has done so much to remember those men who ended up at Wolfsberg.

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 Patrick (Paddy) Leigh-Fermor as Patron, a memorial was unveiled in 1994, and an annual service in commemoration has been held ever since in Greece. A book entitled Tell Them We Were Here was also 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 we like to mention a couple of names for us to especially remember on this day. Today I’m thinking about Len Abbs and Captain Malcolm Young, both of whom were keen supporters of the Brotherhood.

Len Abbs, RAF 211 Squadron

Unusually for this group Len was in fact in the RAF, and trained in RAF photographic work. He was posted to 211 Squadron. Finding himself in Argos, he walked over mountain passes to Kalamata, where he was able to board HMS Hero. He was in a convoy of 7 merchant ships, 5 cruisers and 12 destroyers. In Len’s words: “It was not long before we were attacked. High-flying dive bombers. First attack they hit one merchant ship. Two cruisers, one each side, held her upright until they took 1,500 men off (500 lost). We limped into Alexandria harbour the next day”.

Len eventually left Egypt for the Far East, to Sumatra, where he was eventually taken as a POW. His story is well worth reading on our website.

 Captain Malcolm Young, Royal Engineers, 292 Company

Born in 1918 Captain Young was born in Leigh on Sea where his father ran a fleet of shrimp boats. The youngest of 11 children, he was taught to sail, which came in very useful when he tried to escape from Kalamata by buying and sailing a local fishing boat. Malcolm arrived in Greece in October 1940, to build and improve airfields for forthcoming RAF operations.

After purchasing a caique (fishing boat), Young and his nine fellow escapees were machine gunned by Stukas. One of his comrades was killed, and another badly wounded, forcing Captain Young ashore to seek medical treatment. There he was captured by an enemy patrol, and, after a forced march to Kalamata, taken to holding camps in Corinth and Salonika, and then by cattle truck to Oflag V-B near the Swiss border. The journey took a week. The windows were nailed up and the men transported in darkness. Many died. After the war Captain Young joined Young’s Seafoods and became a director.

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. “

Five wreaths were laid, one by the Greek Defence Attaché 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 Mrs Carole Brown on behalf of the Brotherhood.  Geoff Swinnerton gave the oration and acted as Parade Marshall.  ‘Thank You’ to you all.