22nd Battalion 2NZEF
"Vrai et Fort"
Crete Commemoration 2016
The Battle of Crete 75 years on
The Battle of Crete followed hard on the heels of the fiasco that was Greece in May 1941. These were the first meetings between Freyberg's New Zealand Division and German forces. The Germans were an experienced force but the New Zealanders proved more than a match. Twice they met and twice the New Zealanders were forced to retreat. The comfort and pleasure of hot cocoa and endless fresh sandwiches served to exhausted men on British Naval ships as they were once again evacuated was becoming jaded.
Twenty thousand men (more or less - no one managed an exact count) were evacuated from Crete and several thousand were left behind. Many men took to the hills and lived with the locals for months to years until they were all rounded up, either by the Germans or the British agents who arranged for their evacuation to Egypt.
Memories of the Battle of Crete ran deep with the men who survived - and with their families. Strong bonds were forged between the people of Crete and the ANZACS who came to their aid and between individuals and local families who sheltered them at considerable risk and cost. There are many excellent books on Crete, so I will not try to retell their story here.
Over the years many of the Crete veterans have returned, especially those who needed to thank the families who saved their lives. There have been regular official commemorations too with many veterans in atttendance. But as with other commemorations, the number of veterans has dwindled, not through lack of desire but age has indeed wearied them and depleted their ranks. But in their place the next generation now stands and as I saw at the 70th commemorations of El Alamein in 2012 and Cassino in 2014 the numbers of descendents in attendance are now increasing. The 70th commemoration of the Battle of Crete was the first on Crete where the next generation dominated. It was an emotional time for many, ably described by journalist Jim Eagles in the NZ Herald. This year for the 75th there were only four New Zealand veterans able to make the arduous journey but close to 100 descendents.
So in May 2016 the next generation polished up their father's or grandfather's medals and made the journey to Crete. Although my father was too young for Crete (he joined the Battalion in Egypt later) I was not alone in making the pilgrimage. There were many others who had a similar mission. The tour I joined was run by Greg Osborne from Tempo Travel. Greg and his military advisors (Mark Wilson and Peter Ewer) put on a great trip. Our tour actually started in Istanbul so that we could travel west to spend a few days in Gallipoli. We then moved on to Greece, through Olympus Pass and then we followed the route south that the New Zealand Division took on its retreat to Athens. We then took a ferry from Pireaus to Suda Bay on Crete, just as the lucky men had done in 1941. (The unlucky men either stole boats and sailed south or were captured). The Gallipoli and Greece segments of our tour will be related elsewhere.
This is my personal diary of the 75th Commemoration of the Battle for Crete. It draws on my experiences on the trip, my photos and the shared knowledge of all those who accompanied me. This story is not in chronological order, for we had to arrange our visits around the times of the various commemorations (some of which were not decided until very close to the time). I have laid out the diary by location or event so follow the links on the menu or at the bottom of each page.
|Arrival, Stavromenos, Rethymnon, Chania & 42nd Street||We arrived in Suda Bay at sunrise. Later we attended the Australian ceremonies at Stavromenos and Rethymnon, followed at sunset by the unveiling of the memorial at "42nd Street".|
|Galatas, Prison Valley & Suda Bay Commemoration||The New Zealand commemoration service at Galatas, a visit to Cemetery Hill and Prison Valley, followed by the New Zealand commemoration service at Suda Bay Cemetery at dusk.|
|Hill 107, Tavronitis River and Maleme||A visit to Hill 107 where the 22nd Battalion held off the airborne attack, and which is now the German war cemetery, Tavronitis River Bridge and Maleme aerodrome, now operated by the Greek Air Force.|
|Over the White Mountains to Sfakia||We drove over the White Mountains, following the route taken by the 22nd Battalion as they retreated on foot to the South Coast and eventual evacuation to Egypt. The track is now a good road, sealed all the way to Sfakia.|
|A stroll down Samaria Gorge||In 1941 the rugged Samaria Gorge was used as an escape route south by many men. After they found themselves left behind, many turned around and walked back up the gorge to hide in the White Mountains. Today the gorge has a well-formed but rugged track and is travelled by thousands of people a year. But it is still a tough walk - even downhill.|
Last updated: 8 March 2022