Anzac Memorial Plaque Trail across Greece

Jim Claven, Australian author, historian and journalist has been working on the provision of memorial plaques at strategic sites across Greece. The plaques for Lemnos, Pylos and Methoni were installed in 2018.  Further plaques, including one for Kalamata and one for Trachila, were due to be erected in 2020 but due to Covid and subsequent customs problems this has not yet happened.  The plaques have now cleared customs.  Jim had discussions with the Mayor of Kalamata this summer when he was in Kalamata and is due to see him again in Melbourne. The proposal is to have the Kalamata plaque placed on the waterfront, on a corner where the final engagement took place.The wording on the Kalamata plaque is as follows:

Battle of Kalamata Waterfront Memorial

To the memory of the servicemen of all nations who fell during the battle of Kalamata waterfront which took place near this spot on the morning of 28 April 1941, and to Captain Albert Gray of Red Cliffs in Victoria, Sergeant Jack Hinton of Colac Bay in New Zealand and the Australian, New Zealand and British troops who took part in the successful assault on the German position on this waterfront during the battle.  For their bravery that day Sergeant Hinton was awarded the Victoria Cross and Captain Gray the Military Cross.

Lest We Forget

Kalamata and UK Reunion 2023 – 82nd anniversary of the 1941 Greek Campaign

Kalamata We currently do not have a date for the anniversary service to be held in Kalamata next year, but it will be sometime in May.  If you would like to join us, please email greekveterans@gmail.com so we can let you have the date when this has been agreed.

Lichfield The UK Reunion will be held at the National Memorial Arboretum on Saturday 9th September 2023. Further details to follow in due course.

81st UK anniversary service held September 10th 2022

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.

UK Reunion 81st anniversary 10th September 2022

As previously advised, this year’s service will be held in the Greek Grove, National Memorial  Arboretum, Lichfield at 11.30am on Saturday 10th September 2022, or, if wet, in the chapel at 12 noon.  Arrangements at the Arboretum are the same this year as in 2021. All visits must be pre-booked – up to two weeks in advance.  If booking online the email address is http://www.thenma.org.uk.  If you are arriving by car, please note that one ticket is required per four wheeled vehicle (cost £4.00) and  all passengers are included in the ticket.  If you cannot book online, phone NMA 01283 245 100. Please email us at greekveterans@gmail.com if you would like to join us for a buffet lunch after the service. Lunch will be held at a nearby venue, for which there is a small charge per person, payable on the day.

 

Back in Kalamata for the 81st anniversary service

For our UK group, having missed the 2020 and 2021 services, it was absolutely wonderful to be back, once again, in Kalamata.  The commemoration was held Tuesday 10th May at 11.00 a.m. at the Memorial in the Railway Park.  The Mayor, Mr Athanasios Vasilopoulos, was unfortunately unable to attend, but was ably represented by the Deputy Mayor, Mr George Favas.  Also in attendance was Captain Alex Bush,  Defence Attaché from the British Embassy in Athens, as well as other civic and military dignitaries.  The Deputy Mayor gave an address, followed by Captain Bush. Then Janet Parkin said a few words – once again reiterating that the Greek Campaign must not be forgotten, and thanked the City of Kalamata for continuing to be so supportive and for organizing “this important Annual Act of Remembrance”. Barry Parkin gave the oration.  Laurel wreaths were laid by the Greek dignitaries and poppy tributes were laid by Captain Alex Bush and by the following Brotherhood representatives:  Lorraine Gill in Remembrance of the Prisoners of War;  Mrs Di Billnge on behalf of the Widows;  Mrs Tricia Cruise In Memory of Deceased Members;  Doug (Buster) Beckett on behalf of the Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1941 Greek Campaign and Jane Thomas on behalf of the British Residents of Kalamata.  We were also joined this year by Mr Ronen Polovian who laid a wreath on behalf of the Jewish Pioneer Families Association. After the service we enjoyed refreshments in the Railway Park, generously hosted as usual by the Kalamata City Council.  Many thanks also go to Astri Mavrea, Press and PR Officer at Kalamata City Hall for all her help and support.

 

English translation of Nikos Zervis’s book: Kalamata – Occupation – Resistance – Liberation available to buy

The Brotherhood is pleased to announce the translation into English of Nikos Zervis’s book “Kalamata – Occupation-Resistance-Liberation”.  With kind permission of the Zervis family, David Sanderson, Brotherhood Chairman, has arranged for this translation by Nigel Davidson and Vasiliki Kyriazopoulo.

Nikos was “Our Man in Kalamata” and he supported the Brotherhood at all its services held in Greece. Nikos was born and lived in Kalamata, witnessing first-hand the experience of occupation by Germany and Italy.

His book includes notices posted by the German occupiers, restricting hours of circulation by Kalamata residents, and the closure of shops. Private citizens were forbidden from coming into contact with English prisoners, or of supplying food to them, for which they would be shot. Any Greek hiding or protecting or who knew the whereabouts of any English soldier (which of course included any allied soldier) had to declare the fact to the nearest police authority within 24 hours, or face arrest and being shot. Fortunately many Greeks ignored these orders, despite the very grave risks involved. The Italians took over control of Kalamata from the Germans on 6th June 1941.

Nikos describes the difficulties of living with the occupiers with early evidence of it displayed in Autumn 1941 at the High School for Boys. A Zoology class had been asked to name the enemies of the hen. These were easily identified as the fox, predatory birds and other creatures, but a pupil then suggested that another enemy was the Italian soldier! This caused the pupils great hilarity, but for the teacher it was no laughing matter – if it got back to the Italian authorities – there could be severe consequences. A full enquiry into the incident had to be undertaken to avoid such problems.

Nikos outlines how organised resistance started as early as June 1941 with the birth of the New Friendly Company, formed by the people’s fighters, a communist group. News articles were published and distributed at great risk to the participants. The growth of the resistance parties is then described.

One hundred copies have been printed, and are available from our Chairman, David Sanderson, who can be contacted by emailing him at greekveterans@gmail.com. The price of the book (UK mainland only) is £19.95 inclusive of postage. We hope to make copies available beyond the UK in due course. All profits made by the sale of the book will go to the Brotherhood of Greek Veterans so by purchasing the book you will be supporting the Brotherhood.

 

Kalamata 81st anniversary service 10th May 2022

This year’s commemoration in Kalamata of the 1941 Greek Campaign has been scheduled for Tuesday 10th May 2022 (depending on Covid situation). Several airlines fly direct to Kalamata: Ryanair and Jet2 from Stansted, easyJet from Gatwick and Jet2 from Manchester. Some of us stay at the Haikos Hotel which we book directly. In addition, Thomas Cook offer package holidays to Kalamata. Please email us at greekveterans@gmail.com if you would like to join us for the ceremony and/or would like more information.

 

Veteran Story: Jane Pugh

This week we are pleased to feature Jane Pugh. Jane was a Nursing Sister with the 26th British Military Hospital in Athens. Jane arrived in Greece in November 1940 and was there until April 1941, when she was evacuated from Megara to Crete and then on to Egypt. Jane joined the Territorial Army Nursing Service (TANS) in 1938 and went on to serve with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) throughout the war as a Lieutenant. Here is an extract from her story: 

“Within days of the German invasion 26 General Hospital was the only functioning military hospital in Greece. Soon bed space was scarce, tents were erected in the grounds as extra wards, and these had neither water supply nor sluices. The nurses worked like machines, admitting patients, preparing them for surgery, washing, feeding them then evacuating them. German air attacks on the Thessalonica to Athens road increased, and the sound of guns could be heard at Kiffisia. In addition to wounded allied soldiers, wounded German soldiers were being nursed. Doctors operated day and night and wore revolvers all the time. There were air raids, but the hospital itself was never bombed, although being close to Menidi Airfield, bombs fell close by.”

We are very grateful to her son, David Grant, for Jane’s story from his family history website. 

Please click on the link below and scroll down to STORY to read about Jane’s experiences. 

Read Jane Pugh’s Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veteran Story: Len Abbs

This week we are pleased to feature Len Abbs.  Len was one of the early members of The Brotherhood of Greek Veterans. He joined the RAF in 1938 where he trained in RAF photographic work before being posted to 9 Squadron then to 211 Squadron. He arrived in Greece in November 1940 and was there when the Germans invaded in April 1941. He was fortunate in being evacuated to Egypt.

Len was later posted to Sumatra where he was captured by the Japanese and became a PoW. He was one of the lucky ones to survive. He married Betty in 1947, had five daughters and lived to be 93 years of age before he passed away in 2014.

Please click on the link below and scroll down to STORY to read about Len’s experiences as well as information on 211 Squadron. 

Read Len Abbs’ Story  

Len is also featured on the website ‘Heroes of our Time’  https://heroesofourtime.co.uk/len-abbs.html