Friday, April 25, 2008

Forgotten ANZACS in Greece.

I just returned from the ANZAC day dawn service at the Hampton RSL. This year I took with me, for the first time, my four year old daughter. I dressed casual, opting to leave my own lone medal in its case.

As usual this was a sombre, relatively well organised event, and the padre’s speech was genuine, well delivered and a reminder of the sacrifices our boys made. The guard of honour reminded me of my time in PNG doing the same job in Rabaul in 1987.

As an ex member of the Australian Army, for me these ANZAC days are very moving. Aside from my memories of service, I had the privilege of visiting war cemeteries with rows and rows of young men buried there from long ago, and in many cases the head stone didn’t even read whether it was an Australian Soldier buried there or someone else. I saw these in PNG and Thailand, and of course they are sprawled across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

These young men and in some cases boys still haunt me as my lost brothers from long ago.

On my return home recounted the experience to my still sleepy wife. I told her of the event and how well our daughter had behaved. I was left with the impression that my wife, a first generation Greek Australian like myself, believed that the ANZAC day celebration had little to do with us as Greeks.

The reality is that, Greeks owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Australian and New Zealand Soldier and therefore Australia and New Zealand as countries. In 1941, 17,125 Australian and New Zealand soldiers were sent to Greece to defend it from German aggression as they moved south. Some of them spent three years fighting there, and of course many lost their lives or were POW’s as a result. They became known as "The forgotten ANZACS" as it became a guerrilla war, something quite new back then, very familiar to our boys and girls in uniform now.

As I was growing up, I had an ongoing argument with my Dad about the quality and merit of the Greek Soldier versus the Australian soldier. He had served as a Greek conscript in the late 50’s and early 60’s and I was, at the time, a Air Force Cadet Sergeant and reserve soldier with 5/6 RVR and then 2 Commando. I would later join the regular Army and was based in Townsville.

It was many years later, when I visited Greece in my late 20’s and drove into a small town with my uncle to pick up supplies that the reality of this time was driven home to me. As we walked up to the shop, my uncle introduced me as his Australian nephew who had served in the Australian Army to a couple of old Greeks who were sipping their mud coffee, engulfed in a haze of smoke from their pipes, worry beads jangling.

One gazed at me silently for what seemed a little too long and asked “ Do you know who the best soldiers in the world are my boy?”. I was immediately filled with the same sense of passion I felt when I had endured this argument with my father so many times before, but composed myself. “No, who?” I answered “who are the best soldiers in the world?”

He said; “The Australians and the New Zealanders; and I will tell you why. Not because they are smarter, better or faster, but because those boys fought as passionately along side us, ate the same dirt, and died along side us with great courage, and it wasn’t even their country….. Greece will always owe a debt to Australia and New Zealand, which it can never repay”.

Greek Australians, like many others forget what ANZAC day is about, and dash off for the long weekend. In fact many Greek Australians do not believe it has anything to do with us. This is so not the case. Our parents were kids, and probably are ignorant of this reality, and many of us in our late 30's and 40's have since lost our grandparents or never really knew then given they were back in Greece.

I know not one Greek soldier who left his country, home and family to fight for Australia and is now buried here or near by in PNG, Malaysia or Thailand amongst others.

For the record, here are the facts for Australia (as far as I know):Australian losses were 594 dead, 1,001 wounded and 5,132 Prisoners of War. The facts are here.

I wonder if 1st and 2nd generation Greek Aussies knew of this sacrifice and how grateful their own grandfathers were for the ANZAC’s, would feel the same?

My kids will know, and I hope in time, more Australian Greeks wake up to this fact. Our Paouthes and Giagiathes would certainly approve.

Kali Anastasi.

Peter Christo/Panagiotis Christofilopoulos


Anonymous Peter Adamis said...

Hello Peter,

Your story on the Forgotten ANZACS in Greece has been added to

I read your article with some interest and noticed that you had served with 5/6 RVR, then the ARA. Well done.


Peter Adamis

6:26 PM  

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