The forgotten Greek ANZACs

first_imgA second batch of ANZACs who fought in an equally devastating battle in Greece – 26 years after the widely-recognised battle in Gallipoli – have never been recognised in Australia, according to author Dr Maria Hill. The ‘second Anzacs’ were reassured they would be victorious in 1941, ahead of a dispatch to Greece. But what awaited them was a brutal reenactment of the Gallipoli tragedy. The 6th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division were sent to Crete, following a German invasion that crippled Yugoslavia and Greece. But on May 20th, 23 000 German troops, some of them in parachutes, landed on the shores of Crete. Dr Maria Hill, author of Diggers and Greeks described in her book that the soldiers were caught by surprise due to leadership decisions, over which there is still much controversy, much like how it was for Gallipoli. “The soldiers sent to Greece were sent almost as a political message, even though the British were aware that it was a risky operation,” Dr Hill said. “More than 6000 Australians were captured and taken as prisoners of war to Nazi camps, where they spent four years.” In the years following the war, the Greek government tracked down every Anzac who served in the campaign and awarded them a special medal. Meanwhile, this part of history has fallen by the wayside in Australia, as the government still does not recognise the veterans from the campaign and forbade diggers from wearing the badge as it is not an Australian honour. Dr Hill has lobbied for the recognition of the ANZACs by speaking to politicians, war memorial organisations and the public about the history of the Greek campaign, but she says the key to raise awareness to the issue is education. “It is very disappointing to see only two or three lines in history books about Crete, as if the Greek contribution has been rubbed out of history,” she said. “It is important for the descendants of the ANZACs for their fathers’ efforts to be officially recognised. I have received emails from readers of my book who are grateful that their fathers and grandfathers’ stories are being told. So far they had only heard stories told to them by family members.” Some emails Dr Hill received spoke of the mental and physical struggles faced by veterans who served in Crete, and gaps in information that family members were missing out on about the lives of important men in their lives. One email, from the son of a digger who was at Crete, read: “My mother (who is 106 years old) is still alive and it would be lovely for Dad to be retrospectively awarded a service medal before she passes away.” What all responses had in common was the desire from family members to have veterans’ efforts recognised as equally as the efforts of those who served in Gallipolli, the battle of Somme, and Kokoda. 2011 marked the 70th anniversary of the battle in Crete, and the Australian government along with war memorial committees are still in talks to make it possible for service medals to be awarded posthumously. Currently, only living veterans are eligible of receiving awards. Descendants, supporters and the few remaining living veterans have signed an online petition set up by Dr Hill to make sure Crete’s veterans, even the deceased, are awarded for their service. Dr Hill says more signatures are needed before the Defence Department will consider the proposal. The support of a federal minister would then be vital to the cause. Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img read more