Battle of Crete

I rise this afternoon to honour those who took part in the Battle of Crete. I was fortunate enough to represent the Minister for Defence at a wreath-laying ceremony last weekend at the Australian Hellenic Memorial here in Canberra to commemorate all those who fought in this battle. I was joined there by His Excellency Mr Alexios Cristopoulos, the ambassador of the Hellenic Republic —he is here today; welcome, Excellency, thank you for joining us; His Excellency Major General Martin Dunne, the High Commissioner of New Zealand; Rear Admiral Ken Doolan; John King and Nick Vardos from the RSL; George Katheklakis, who is President of the Cretan Association of Canberra and Districts— and he is also here today; Mrs Skevi Stavropoulou, who represented the High Commissioner of Cyprus; Paul Levantis, who is the President of the Greek Orthodox Community and Church of Canberra and Districts; Georgia Alexandrou, who is the President of the ACT Cyprus Community; and Con Poulos, who is the President of the Parish Church of St Demetrios in Queanbeyan, in my colleague the member for Eden Monaro's electorate.

During the battle, some 40,000 Allied forces stood against the Nazi Germans and Italian forces to defend the island. This included over 7,000 Australian troops from the Australian 6th Division. The battle for Crete is important for a number of reasons. It marks the first time airborne troops had been used in combat as the major attacking force. It marks the first time the Allied forces made significant use of intelligence gained through the tracking of the Enigma machine, and it marked the first time that the Axis powers had faced resistance from the civilian population.

After 10 days of heavy fighting, and despite the heavy resistance from Allied forces and the local population, the German forces ultimately took control of the island—but not before they suffered heavy losses in manpower and equipment, losses they felt later in the campaigns in North Africa and the Eastern Front. It also forced Hitler to abandon his plans for the use of paratroops in the future. At the same time, the Allies also realised the potential of paratroops, a potential that would later become pivotal in the liberation of France. During the battle 781 Australians lost their lives with another 3,000 captured, which was around half the 6th Division. However, I would like to take special note of the action of the Cretan population, who rose up against the invasion. The population was armed with old rifles that had been brought up from old hiding places, but in a lot of cases they took whatever they could from their homes to meet their invaders in the olive groves of Crete. Their resistance brought about brutal reprisals from the Nazi forces, who felt no constraint by international convention. Their bravery in the face of this threat is to be commended.

The wreath laying ceremony was attended by a wide collection of people from Canberra's Cretan and Greek communities. It was a lovely and fitting ceremony at the beautiful Australian Hellenic Memorial on Anzac Parade to honour those who defended Crete.

Although Crete ultimately fell, many enduring friendships were formed between the Cretan citizens and the allied forces—friendships that endure to this day and that are represented in the strength of the Greek and Cretan communities in Canberra, the district and the region. They are communities that contribute so much to the social fabric of my local community and that of the member for Eden-Monaro. They may be small in number, but they maintain a very large place in the heart and soul of Canberra and the region.

The Greek and Cretan communities have contributed an enormous amount to Canberra. They have enriched our cultural, spiritual, linguistic and business life and have generously helped those in need, along with youth community organisations and sporting organisations. I would like to acknowledge a few of them today for their work in recognising the contribution of the Greek and Cretan veterans of World War II, as well as their ongoing support of their communities. For their efforts in recognising the Battle of Crete I would like to thank Mr George Katheklakis again, Mr Stellios Kotsifakis, Mr Jim Katheklakis, Mr Tony Katheklakis and Mr John Harkiolakis, who is no longer with us. Special mention should be given to Mr Spero Vardoulakis OAM, who died in May. Mr Vardoulakis was the last Greek soldier living in Canberra who fought during the Battle of Crete. I would also like to mention the late Sir William Refshauge, Ian Gollings, Steve McDougal and George Pererakis and their committee for the efforts they made to build a permanent memorial here in Canberra to the Greek and Australian soldiers who died in defence of Greece and Crete.

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