Kalamata in 1941 ‘Worse than Dunkirk’
Edwin Horlington MBE , the founder and first President of the Brotherhood, always maintained that Kalamata was “worse than Dunkirk”. Kalamata was literally the end of the road in April 1941 and for a force of 58,000 British, Australian, New Zealand and Cypriot troops they only had the sea as a possible escape route. It was not just a short distance over the Channel, there was no host of small boats. The RAF in Greece had been completely wiped out earlier in the week. The Royal Navy had to operate in darkness during the last few days as the Germans had guns on the docks and mole. Kalamata was packed with troops, with more coming in all the time. (There was also action at other locations on the Peloponnese including Nafplion, Tolon and Argos where many lives were lost and prisoners taken.)
Allied losses in dead and PoWs were far worse, in proportion, than Dunkirk. The losses at sea also exceeded the losses at Dunkirk, many boats being sunk fully loaded with evacuated troops. There were Army photographers and others who filmed Dunkirk. There was no media at Kalamata, and the defeat and surrender were hidden most effectively for 50 years. Over 10,000 were left on the beaches.
One of the lasting tragedies of the 1941 Greek Campaign is that people did not know of it and still do not. It was swept under the carpet and never exposed to public view. Many veterans have tried, and continue to try, to bring people’s attention to the campaign through their various books, hoping that when they are gone, as they soon all will be, what they did had not been in vain.
Kalamata today ‘Lest we forget’
The veterans felt it especially important that the Greek Campaign and the Battle of Kalamata should not be forgotten. This is why the Annual Service of Commemoration in Kalamata is so important and why the service in 2016 – 75 years after the event – will be even more poignant as so few of the original veterans will be with us.
Edwin, with the support of veterans and many others, was instrumental in getting a permanent memorial erected in Kalamata, at the southern end of the railway park – from where, in April 1941, the trucks left loaded with PoWs. The memorial was unveiled in 1994 and an annual Service of Commemoration has been held in May at the site ever since. The Mayor and City Council of Kalamata always make us extremely welcome and are great supporters who have promised to uphold this tradition in perpetuity.
We have been delighted, and honoured, to receive representatives from various embassies at previous ceremonies, including Brigadier Stephen Saunders in May 2000 – which must have been one of his last such engagements before his tragic and untimely death just a few weeks later. Colonel Tony Morphet and other dignitaries attended our 2011 70th anniversary service.
Edwin was made an honorary citizen of Kalamata, along with Sir Patrick (Paddy) Leigh-Fermor, at which time they were both also granted the Freedom of the City of Kalamata.