In the footsteps of the Anzacs

Jim Claven, Honorary Member of the Greek Veterans group, Australian Historian and Journalist, has been researching the Anzac Trail across Greece from the archives in Australia and also on the ground in Greece, with a view to having memorial plaques erected at appropriate sites.

Tens of thousands of Allied troops made their way across the Peloponnese in the latter days of the Greek Campaign on the mainland.  This fighting retreat saw a number of deadly engagements – Corinth Canal, Tolos and finally at the waterfront at Kalamata.

The trail concept is to connect Greece’s existing Anzac-related memorials and work to erect new ones. Not only will this commemorate Greece’s link to Anzac but will also assist descendants and other commemorative travelers in their desire to walk the footsteps of the Anzacs in the First and Second World Wars.

Three plaques were unveiled as part of the Anzac Trail in 2018 – at Lemnos, Pylos, and Methoni. Six other memorials were due to be erected and unveiled this year –  two at Corinth, two at Lemnos, one on the Kalamata waterfront to commemorate the battle fought on 28th April 1941 and one at Trachila, about 33 miles/53 kms south of Kalamata to commemorate the evacuation of allied escapers and evaders from the coastal villages of the Mani.

However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic these have been postponed until 2021. We are hoping that we will be able to co-ordinate our visit to Kalamata in May 2021 with the Kalamata and Trachila unveilings.

Virtual commemoration held for 79th Kalamata anniversary

As previously posted,  we weren’t able to hold our usual service in Kalamata in May.  Instead, we held a virtual gathering on Tuesday 14 May by Zoom. There were 17 of us with representatives from UK, Greece and Australia. Our virtual ceremony included photos from last year, an oration, as well as the last post, silence and a reveille. And although there was no official commemoration in Kalamata, a wreath was laid by the Mayor Mr Athanasios Vasilopoulos and three other dignataries on behalf of the the Municipality.

 

The planned commemoration in Kalamata for 79th anniversary has been cancelled due to COVID-19

We are very sorry to announce that the Service of Commemoration for the 79th anniversary of the  1941 Greek Campaign in Kalamata due to be held on Tuesday 12th May 2020 has been cancelled. We received an email from the Mayor of Kalamata this week. Here is an extract from his message.

“According to the information so far and the prohibitions applied to our country… we are not in the position of fulfilling this year everything we would wish to. Not being able to know the evolution of COVID-19 pandemic within the next two weeks, we have decided to cancel the ceremony for the 79th anniversary of the historic Battle of Kalamata. In honour of the people who lost their lives, a wreath will be laid by the Municipality. 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the historic Battle of Kalamata and we will ensure that this ceremony will cover this year’s cancellation. I hope you are well and soon positive information on COVID-19 treatment to be released.

Yours faithfully, The Mayor of Kalamata Athanasios P. Vasilopoulos “

 

78th service of commemoration held in Kalamata

Our 78th anniversary service was held on Tuesday 14th May 2019.  The Mayor was unable to attend the service but was represented by the President of the Municipal Council, Mr Pavlos Bouzianis. Also in attendance was the Defence Attaché from the British Embassy in Athens, Captain Tim Ferns; the Serbian Ambassador Mr Dusan Spasojevic and the Honorary Consul of New Zealand, Mr Constantinos Kotsilinis.  In addition, we were pleased to welcome military personnel, the town band, members of the ex-pat community and a group of school children.

Janet Parkin gave the welcome introduction stating once again, that the sacrifices made by our fathers and grandfathers should not and must not be forgotten. Janet also passed on greetings from our President, Frank Gill and paid a heart-felt tribute to Nikos Zervis, which was both personal and from the Brotherhood.

Mr Pavlos Bouzianis gave the following speech on behalf of the Mayor:

“Dear Representative of Serbia, Dear Representative of Great Britain, Dear Representative of New Zealand, Representatives of Greek Authorities,Representatives of the Brotherhood of the Veterans, Dear visitors from Great Britain. On behalf of the Mayor Mr. Panagiotis Nikas, I welcome all of you to Kalamata on the occasion of today’s commemoration ceremony.

In April 1941, tens of thousands of British, Australian, Jewish, Serbian, Greek, New Zealand, and Cypriot soldiers fought against the Germans in mainland Greece and attempted to flee to Crete and Egypt. Thousands of them gathered in Kalamata for this purpose but many of them didn’t manage to do so and got captured.

Every year we commemorate these events. During the 13 years of tenure of the current Municipal Authority, this ceremony has taken place annually with splendor and has been attended by representatives of many states, while in 2011 the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team “Red Arrows” and a warship of Great Britain visited us.

Nikos Zervis, the link between Kalamata and the Brotherhood of the Veterans, was always with us. Unfortunately, he passed away a few months ago. His legacy, however, as well as what he offered to local history through his books shall be our heritage.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Greek Military Campaign in April 1941 and the Battle of Kalamata are important historical events. The Municipality of Kalamata has always done and shall continue to do whatever is necessary to preserve the historic memory and to highlight what happened. Our efforts are the least we can do to honor those who fought and gave their lives for the freedom of the nations. May they rest in peace.”

Laurel wreaths were laid by Mr Bouzianis and the other dignitaries.  Poppy tributes were laid by the Defence Attaché, Captain Ferns and by the following Brotherhood members: Noah Scott in Remembrance of the Prisoners of War, Mrs Elizabeth Matthews on behalf of the Widows, David Sanderson in Memory of Deceased members, Doug (Buster) Beckett on behalf of the Brotherhood of Veterans of the Greek Campaign and Mrs Di Billinge on behalf of the expatriate community.

After the service we enjoyed refreshments in the railway park, generously hosted by the City Council. Once again, the Kalamata service was a well attended and successful commemoration event.

We paid our respects to Nikos Zervis

As reported previously, we were very sad to announce that ‘Our Man in Kalamata’, Nikos Zervis, had died suddenly and unexpectedly on 15th February 2019 aged 92. Nikos was a great friend and supporter of the Brotherhood. He was a great historian, a fount of knowledge and a prolific author. Without exception he had attended all of our services in Kalamata and, until recent years, had translated our speeches.

On Monday 13th May 2019 a short service was held at the Kalamata cemetery. A number of us from the UK as well as a few ex-pats, together with Nikos’ wife, Phoni, his son Yannis (John) and grandson Nikos came together to pay our respects to Nikos. We laid a poppy cross on his grave and a Greek priest officiated.  One of our members, Doug (Buster) Becket read out a short prayer, which he had written.

Sadly our dear friend Nikos Zervis has passed away

We very saddened to hear that our very dear and great friend in Kalamata, Nikos Zervis, died on the 15th February, aged 92. We will publish a proper tribute to Nikos in due course.  However, in the meantime, we are in the process of trying to organise a short service for Nikos, to pay our respects in May, when we will be in Kalamata for our annual commemoration of the 1941 Greek Campaign. If you would like to know more or wish to join  us at this service please get in touch at greekveterans@gmail.com

Kalamata 2018 – 77th anniversary ceremony, another memorable occasion

The ceremony took place on Tuesday 8th May 2018. This was attended not only by the Mayor, Panagiotis E. Nikas and members of the City Council but also Mr Konstantinos Cotsilinis, Honorary Consul General of New Zealand and Mr Andrea Biggi, Deputy Head of Mission, from the Australian Embassy, Athens.

Also a group from Israel attended, the Jewish Pioneer Corps whose ancestors fought in Greece as part of the British Expeditionary Corps. They were accompanied by Captain Zvika Shahar, Defence and Military Attaché of the Embassy of the State of Israel. Also present were military personnel, the town band, ex-pat friends, local people including a group of students and of course, our Man in Kalamata, and very good friend, Mr Nikos Zervis.

Janet Parkin gave the welcome introduction and passed on greetings from our President, Frank Gill . This was translated by Mr Kostas Kontothanasis, the Mayor’s Press and Public Relations Officer. The Mayor gave a speech, the content of which is below and at the end he paid a very pleasing tribute to Nikos Zervis.

“Dear representative of Australia, Dear representative of New Zealand, Dear representative of Israel, Greek officials, Dear representatives of the Brotherhood of Veterans, Dear representatives of Greek Diaspora organisations, Dear visitors from Israel, Australia and Great Britain, I welcome you all to Kalamata, on the occasion of today’s Service of Commemoration, in honour of the fighters and the victims of the Battle of Kalamata. Seventy seven years have gone by since April 28th, 1941, the time when 58,000 British, Australian, Jewish, Serbian, Greek, New Zealander and Cypriot soldiers, fought the final battle against the Germans, on mainland Greece, in an attempt to escape to Crete and Egypt. It is true that this important event does not occupy the place it deserves in the history of World War II, despite the books that have been written and the efforts of many veterans. Still, we must try to keep the memory of this event alive in our memory. We owe it to the fighters, we owe it to those who gave their lives in the great struggle for the freedom of all peoples. May their memory live forever! Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Nikos Zervis for his contribution in organizing this ceremony and for being the “bridge” with the Veterans.”

Laurel wreaths were laid by the Mayor and other dignitaries. Poppy tributes were laid by David Sanderson in memory of the Prisoners of War, Mrs Elizabeth Matthews on behalf of the Widows, Mr Roger Hadwin in memory of Deceased Members, Mr Doug (Buster) Beckett on behalf of the Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1941 Greek Campaign and Mrs Di Billinge on behalf of the expatriate community. The band played the appropriate national anthems. After the service we had refreshments in the park, hosted by the City Council. Once again, a very memorable and successful occasion.