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Greek Island of Lemnos Commemorates Anzac Day

Anzac Day Lemnos
Annual Anzac commemoration day on Lemnos Island. Credit: Cultural Association of Moudros Pavlos Kountoriotis/Facebook

The island of Lemnos commemorated Anzac Day (April 25) with the annual ceremony taking place without any public in attendance due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ambassador of Australia to Greece, Arthur (Athanasios) Spyrou; Regional Governor Konstantinos Moutzouris; Lemnos Metropolitan Ierotheos; Mayor Dimitris Marinakis; Army officers and other local leaders attended the ceremony.

The memorial ceremony took place at the Allied Cemetery of Moudros, the place of the Allied base during World War I (1914-1918) where the Australian and New Zealander troops landed.

Members of the Pavlos Kountoriotis Cultural Association of Moudros, in traditional Lemnos clothing, were also part of the proceedings.

April 25 is dedicated to the Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”

It commemorates the date the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25, 1915, marking the first time the two armies fought together away from home, for the noble ideas of freedom and democracy.

Anzac Day is also a remembrance day for the 102,000 Australians who sacrificed their lives there.

Anzac Day Lemnos
Australian troops landing at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915. Public Domain

Australia and New Zealand in World War I

It was the first campaign for the Anzacs, a year after World War I (1914-1918) broke out. The aim was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) and kick the Ottoman Empire out of the war, as the Ottomans were allied with Germany.

The Anzacs joined the Entente (Britain, France and Russia) in the Gallipoli Campaign. The campaign is often considered to be the beginning of Australian and New Zealand national consciousness.

The Gallipoli campaign lasted eight months, with fierce battles that cost the lives of dozens of thousands of soldiers on both sides. The Anzac casualties were 8,709 Australians dead and 19,441 wounded and 2,779 New Zealanders dead and 5,212 wounded.

Yet, the Gallipoli Battle was the only one the Ottomans won, forcing the allies to withdraw from the area and move to Egypt.

The Anzacs in Greece

Twenty-five years after Gallipoli, the Anzacs returned to the Mediterranean for World War II. Over 17,000 brave men served with distinction in the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign.

On the 6th of April 1941, when the Germans invaded Greece, it was one of the first engagements of the Australian Army against the Nazis in World War II.

Many of the Anzacs of Greece and Crete had also fought in Gallipoli and are known as rare “Dual Anzacs”. Several of the Anzacs of Greece and Crete even came from Greek Australian migrant families.

The Greek and Crete Campaign included Australia’s highest ranked indigenous Australian soldier, Captain Reginald Saunders, who was supported by the Cretan people for nearly a year. Their human bonds are an important Australian story.

The relationship the Anzacs developed with the Greek people during the war saved over one thousand Australian lives.

It is estimated that the descendants of Anzacs who fought in Crete and Greece, together with Australians of Greek heritage, are in the order of over 1,500,000 people.

Of the 1,686 Anzacs from Australia and New Zealand, 646 Australians are buried or memorialized in Greece in Phaleron, Athens, Rhodes and Souda Bay in Crete.

The bodies of over 50 percent of Australians who fell in battle were never been found or are unidentified; they are memorialized at the Athens Memorial.

Approximately 8,900 Anzac prisoners of war were captured in the Battles of Crete and Greece, representing 83 percent of the Australian soldiers captured by the Nazis in World War II.

Greece-Australia to build new Anzac Memorial on Lemnos

Greece and Australia are now in high-level discussions to build a new Anzac Day memorial on Lemnos.

Greek Deputy Minister of Defense Alkiviadis Stefanis and Australian Minister for Veterans and Defense Personnel Darren Chester MP had an online meeting in February with the Ambassador of Australia to Greece, Arthur Spyrou, participating.

During the meeting, the Australian minister presented a new proposal for the construction of new infrastructure on Lemnos, to enhance the commemorative Anzac Day experience for visitors.

The purpose of the new memorial is to further demonstrate the contribution of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the Gallipoli campaign.

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