Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Battle for Crete: 70 Years On - As Relevant as Ever!

Source: Wikipedia
"Regardless of what the future historians shall say, what we can say now, is that Greece gave Mussolini an unforgettable lesson, that she was the motive for the revolution in Yugoslavia, that she held the Germans in the mainland and in Crete for six weeks, that she upset the chronological order of all German High Command's plans and thus brought a general reversal of the entire course of the war and we won."

- Sir Robert Antony Eden (Minister of War and the Exterior of Britain 1940-1945, Prime Minister of Britain 1955-1957 - Paraphrased from a speech of his to the British Parliament on 24/09/1942)

 Early in the morning of May 20th, 1941, the Nazi air assault against the island of Crete began, primarily around the Maleme airfield just outside Chania. Initially squadrons of bomber and fighter aircraft pounded the area, until about 7:30 am when five bomber aircraft dropped a string of 1,000 kilo bombs on the Tavronitis and Platanias area. 

As those bombs subsided, the Cretan sky filled with German transport and glider planes which parachuted soldiers and supplies down on to the Cretan lands.

The Battle for Crete had begun!

In May each year, the island of Crete, and many Greek Communities around the World hold remembrance celebrations of the Battle of Crete - a battle which lasted for 11 days, from the 20th  to the 31st of May 1941, and was one of the most significant battles of the Second World War..

Members of Greece's elite Presidential Guard 
Battle of Crete commemorations May 1992
Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church 
Hania Street, Wellington, New Zealand   

This year is the 70th Anniversary of that epic battle, and as always, some of the last surviving veteran soldiers of the battle are in Crete along with representatives of the allied governments to remember and pay tribute to all those heroes, both military and civilians, who fought and died so the rest of the world could be free, to honour and to be honoured... 

The Cretan people, the Greek people do not forget those who fought to defend the island and always reserve a special welcome for them.
The ties of friendship forged on the battlefields of Crete remain strong to this day and is a unique chance for the younger generations, not just of those who fought, but of all those who attend the annual commemorations to understand the significance of this historic and epic resistance of the island of Crete.

Led by New Zealander, Major-General Bernard Freyberg  the Allied Forces on Crete, consisting of New Zealand, Australian, and British troops, worked with Greek troops and largely unarmed but dedicated and determined Cretan civilians, to fight off a huge German airborne attack, codenamed Operation Mercur (Ermis)  on the island of Crete.

To the world's amazement and to their credit, they almost succeeded. Everywhere on the island, Cretan civilians, men, women and children, armed and otherwise, fought them with all their strength, joining the battle with whatever weapons they could find -  ancient rifles last used against the Turks, kitchen knives, pickaxes, sickles, sticks, walking sticks, or even clubs. 

Source: Wikipedia

Many German parachutists were knifed or beaten to death in the wild and rough Cretan countryside as soon as they touched the ground. It was the first time in the war that the Germans had encountered such widespread and ferocious resistance from a civilian population, and this, coming at a very critical point in the campaign, threw them.  The heavy casualties to the invading forces were such that Hitler himself forbade further large-scale airborne operations.

The Germans’ reaction once they had recovered from the initial shock of such determined and continuous resistance was brutal, and eventually the island was occupied. The delays they experienced in Crete, however, were so significant that historians went on to say that the Battle of Crete was pivotal to the outcome of the Second World War - without the delay in Greece and Crete, Germany would have invaded Russia earlier and not had the catastrophic effects of the Russian winter to fight against, and the outcome of World War II may well have been totally different!

"You fought unarmed and won, small against big. We owe you gratitude, because you gave us time to defend ourselves. As Russians and as people we thank you."
Moscow, Radio Station When Hitler attacked the U.S.S.R
The resistance of the Cretan people continued, even as the occupying forces took over the island. Many families sheltered the allied servicemen who were wounded or stranded in and helped them escape over the rugged mountains to the port of Sfakia where they could be evacuated to North Africa.

The Bay at Hora Sfakion, the embarkation point for 
allied soldiers escaping to North Africa and the Middle East 

 The Memorial at Hora Sfakion

Despite the fierce and deadly reprisals which were certain if they were discovered, the Cretan people did not hesitate. Each family in Crete did what they could and has a story to tell...

My own father-in-law was one of those valiant Cretans who gave assistance to one of these soldiers, a  New Zealander who had lost his way and was stranded. They set out by foot from the village, with my heavily pregnant mother-in-law,  to go over the Madara mountains on the way to Sfakia and to freedom. Having covered a large part of the distance and with the sea in their sights, the New Zealander couldn't bear the thought of this courageous but very pregnant lady trekking through the mountains any more and told them to go back, that he now knew where he was going. They refused but he too refused to move on...When he had finally persuaded  them to leave him, the New Zealander, wanting to thank them for their courage and bravery, and not having anything else, tore a button off his uniform and gave it to them and went on his way down the mountains to Hora Sfakion to be evacuated.

To this day we don't know if he made it to freedom but we sincerely hope he did...

The Memorial at Hora Sfakion
The highlight of the ongoing resistance by the civilians of Crete was the kidnapping in 1944, by British and Cretan resistance fighters of the Commandant for Crete, General Kreipe, a kidnapping masterminded by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and the only one of its kind - an incredible success for the Allies.   

One of the legendary figures of the Cretan resistance movement involved in this kidnapping was George Psychoundakis, from the village of Asi Gonia, 21 when the German invasion started. Psychoundakis was one of the many who guided Allied soldiers over the mountains to the south coast to be evacuated. Psychoundakis, a small wiry man in his youth, eventually became a runner, carrying messages, weapons and equipment between villages and secret wireless stations, always on foot, always in danger, often exhausted and hungry, over some of the most precipitous terrain in Europe.  It was physically exhausting as he spent many freezing nights out in the cold and rain in the mountains, mountains that even in the middle of the hot Cretan summer make a warm jacket a necessity...(We found this out firsthand a couple of summers ago when we stopped at Imbros Gorge on the way to Sfakia and had to resort to makeshift shawls in the form of beach towels!)

Imbros Gorge, on the way to Sfakia, Crete

In 1942 he met Patrick Leigh Fermor who would later translate his experiences, The Cretan Runner, into English. Patrick Leigh Fermor, who continues to live in Greece to this day, said this about his friend Psychoundakis:

George was a one-off, as they say.  Nobody was remotely like him.  Touchstone and Ariel spring to mind, and there is a dash of Kim.  It was the oddity, independence, charm, curiosity and imagination that gave him the cover-name of "Changeling" in our dispatches from Crete.  It seemed strange that someone so inventive could, when he took pen in hand, be so truthful, and it was puzzling that the war-like but unlettered mountain-world could give birth to anyone so gifted.  His pluck, flair and defiance of fatigue and danger were of the greatest help in many contingencies, particularly in rushing signals from cave after cave arranging the departure of General Kreipe.  He was happiest when writing.  His last work was a poetic dialogue with Charon who, in modern Greek folklore, is not only the ferryman of the Styx, but also Death himself.  We never lost touch.

I had the honour of meeting George Psychoundakis and Antoni Kosmadakis, along with other Cretan resistance veteran fighters at the Battle of Crete Commemoration celebrations  in Chania one year.

The accounts of their encounters with the Germans during the Resistance years and the colourful tales of their experiences were all so vivid that it was almost as if they were left untouched by the advancing years...

Many books have been written about the Battle of Crete.

One of the most recent books on the Greek and Crete campaigns has been written by Dr Maria Hill, Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy at the University of New South Wales and is titled

In an article in the Australian Neos Kosmos newspaper in 2009, Dr Hill asked why the Australian and Greek authorities ignore the significance of the Battle of Crete? 

While this is not the case for the Greek authorities who honour the event every year and has sent representatives to all communities abroad celebrating the events for many years, including the elite Presidential Guard, it may well be the case for the Australian, New Zealand and British Governments who apart from organising the events during the Battle of Crete Commemoration celebrations, and apart from the significant anniversaries, 60th, 65th do not always send  high level representation. 

This year is the 70th anniversary and may well be the last major anniversary that surviving veterans from Australia, New Zealand and Britain will be able to attend.

Already some of those who came from New Zealand on a pilgrimage for the 65th Anniversary are no longer with us. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of that pilgrimage, just as it is to be part of this year's 70th. This year the veterans were welcomed by a visibly moved President of the Hellenic Republic, who thanked them on behalf of the Greek people for their contibution to our freedom.

The Greek Government  honoured those who came and the families of those who were unable to make it. In Athens, in 2006, they were warmly welcomed by then Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and the Mayor of Athens, Theodore Behrakis, with receptions given in their honour before going on to Crete.

Former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, Minister Bakoyannis'  father, himself a veteran of the Crete campaign, was also present to honour the New Zealand veterans. 

May 2006
 NZ Battle of Crete Veterans listen to Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis   
Source: Jim Christie

We hope that as many of the surviving veterans as possible from the Allied forces make it to Greece for these commemorations and that the descendants of those who are no longer with us continue to come to pay their respects to those who fell on the battlefields of Crete so that the next generations would be free.

We join Dr Hill in encouraging everyone to lobby the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Britain to ensure that the epic Battle of Crete is given the same importance and recognition as Gallipoli so that the younger generations, who are in such need of solid role models, and positive leadership can learn what it means to serve your country and die in the name of peace and democracy.


Update: 20 May 2014
For a full programme of the 73rd Anniversary Battle of Crete Commemorations organised by the Region of Crete see below
In Greek:  Heraklion, Rethymnon
In English: Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion

Sources: Wikipedia 
             Prefecture of Chania

Related Articles:

Ned and Katina: A Real-Life Love Story that started with the Battle of Crete 

Seeking Leadership, Heroism, Courage, and Unity, in Greece's Politicians Today  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

EUROVISION 2011: Greece, Good Luck! Ελλάδα, Καλή Επιτυχία!

Watch My Dance
Loukas Yiorkas and Stereo Mike 
Zeibekiko and hip-hop together!

For all those not in Greece - Vote for Greece
Douze Points please!

And for those who don't know, we have another Global Greek in this year's Eurovision Song Competition, don't forget Antony Costa with Blue representing the United Kingdom! Good luck! (thanks Vangeli T)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Athens' Megaron Mousikis: Last Day for the Exhibition 'Maria Callas and La Scala '

«Maria Callas and La Scala » 
The Athens Concert Hall Organization – Teatro Alla Scala-Milan

Last day today, May 8, 2011, Mother's Day in Greece and in a large part of the world, for the tremendous exhibition on Maria Callas and her historical appearances in La Scala.
Entitled “Maria Callas and La Scala”, this exhibition includes a large number of rare costumes worn by Callas in her great operatic roles, as well as photographs, objects, videos and original recordings of her performances. 

There is also a section dedicated to the history of Milan's landmark operahouse,  La Scala, the centre of world opera. 

This prestigious material has never been presented outside Italy and is a result of the cultural cooperation between the Athens Concert Hall and Milan’s “La Scala” opera house, and was planned as a parallel event to this year's performances of Donizetti’s opera “Maria Stuarda” at the Megaron Mousikis Athinon.

If you can get there today don't miss it! It's well worth the effort! 
Ground Floor Foyer Athens Megaron Mousikis 
Dates/ Opening hours: 9 March- 8 May 2011: Daily 10:00 - 18:00

Student and youth: € 3
eneral admission: € 6
Family ticket: € 10

Thursday, May 5, 2011

5 May 2010 - Remembering Marfin and All Those who Fell in the Line of Duty ...


Flowers and  messages left by passers-by at the impromptu shrine set up in front of the burnt out Stadiou Street branch of Marfin Bank, after last year's senseless, heartless, murderous attack by brutal thugs, an attack which sickened everyone in Greece  and resulted in the loss of four lives, Epaminondas Tsakalis, Paraskevi Zoulia and Aggeliki Papathanasopoulou and her unborn child - employees at Greece's Marfin Bank who did not take part in the strike and remained at their desks, on duty - a tragic waste of lives. 

Today one year later, the bank's branches are all closed as a mark of respect and mourning and our hearts go out to those three families whose lives have changed forever from that day ...

What we wrote last year is just as relevant today, on the first anniversary of that black day for Greece

'For the people of Athens and Greece it is time to take stock and think carefully about what is next, where do we want to see this country go? Why do we allow the minority to consistently ruin it for the majority?

Let's reflect on something one of our much wiser ancestors said many many years ago...

"Η Δημοκρατία μας αυτοκαταστρέφεται διότι κατεχράσθη το δικαίωμα της ελευθερίας και της ισότητας, διότι έμαθε τους πολίτες να θεωρούν την αυθάδεια δικαίωμα, την παρανομία ελευθερία, την αναίδεια του λόγου ισότητα και την αναρχία ευδαιμονία."

Ισοκράτης (436 - 338π.Χ. )

"Our Democracy is destroying itself because it abused the rights of freedom and equality, because it taught it's citizens to consider insolence as a right, illegal acts as a freedom, rudeness as equality and anarchy as prosperity".

Isocrates (436 - 338 b.C.)

This post is dedicated to to Epaminondas Tsakalis, Paraskevi Zoulia and Aggeliki Papathanasopoulou and her unborn child, and to all those men and women who have lost their lives so totally unnecessarily, in the line of duty, whether directly or indirectly, whether at their desks or in a fighter plane, whether fighting bush fires or pursuing armed and ruthless criminals...

The beautiful song, Ηλιος Θεός ( Sun - God) sung below by Vasilis Skoulas, was written for Kostas Iliakis, who fell heroically on the 23rd day of another fateful May some years before in of Greece's many heroic pilots who have lost their lives trying to repel Turkish fighter planes in the dangerous zone over the Aegean in order to keep Greece a safe place to live...

Lest we forget

Σαν το σύννεφο φεύγω πετάω
έχω φίλο τον Ήλιο-Θεό
με του αγέρα το νέκταρ μεθάω
αγκαλιάζω και γη κι ουρανό.

Και χωρίς τα φτερά δεν φοβάμαι
το γαλάζιο ζεστή αγκαλιά
στα ψηλά τα βουνά να κοιμάμαι
στο Αιγαίο να δίνω φιλιά.

Λευτεριά στους ανέμους ζητάω
έχω πάψει να είμαι θνητός
ανεβαίνω ψηλά κι αγαπάω
δίχως σώμα χρυσός αετός.

Και χωρίς τα φτερά δεν φοβάμαι
το γαλάζιο ζεστή αγκαλιά
στα ψηλά τα βουνά να κοιμάμαι
στο Αιγαίο να δίνω φιλιά.
Σαν το σύννεφο φεύγω πετάω
έχω φίλο τον Ήλιο-Θεό
με του αγέρα το νέκταρ μεθάω
αγκαλιάζω και γη κι ουρανό

Monday, May 2, 2011

1st May 2011 - Happy MAY Day To All! Καλή Πρωτομαγιά σε Όλους!

Camomile flowers all over... an experience for all senses
We can share the beautiful view (Double-click on the picture to enlarge it)
but not the incredible  camomile-scented atmosphere.
Just close your eyes and imagine you are in the field with us...

Ist May, Πρωτομαγιά 

May Day today, a beautiful day in Athens and a wonderful day to do what we normally do on this day... enjoy the beauty of the countryside!


After a great lunch - salads, souvlakia feta cheese and our own homegrown Cretan wine and extra virgin olive oil - we set off to go up to Pendeli Mountain to spend precious quality time enjoying the Athens' Spring and the magnificent colours of nature all around us and, of course, picking wildflowers for our usual May Day Wreath or Stefani! 

Blue in close-up...





Blue and Purple...

Purple again...


Green, green, beautifully green hills...
the benefits of an unusually rainy Athens April

Love this mixture ...grass flowers inter alia

Luscious green Pendeli mountain side

 Athens at our feet...

 One of the burnt out tree (devastation) but at it's roots
a small pine tree can be seen struggling to grow...(hope)

 It really is marvellous seeing all the new life - the small pine trees that hundreds of volunteers have planted springing up all over the mountain...

 Rock where the soil has gone...

 Lots and lots of marble...
after all this is the mountain that gave 
the Parthenon its sparkling white marble

We gathered our flowers and carefully made our May Day wreath...but as we couldn't decide which May Day wreath photo to share, we decided to leave them all!

Kai tou xronou!

Hope your day was as beautiful as ours!
Καλή Πρωτομαγιά!

Kali Protomagia! 

Happy May Day!


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