You resisted at a time when Nazism seemed invincible.
But it encountered your determination and courage, your thirst for freedom.
And Hitler suffered one of his greatest losses, his elite parachutists.
That of course impacted on his immediate plans for the aerial invasion and control of Great Britain.
You came from faraway, from New Zealand and you shed your blood in Greece.
Our two peoples are united with bonds of blood and there is no greater bond.
We are grateful and thank you for this great sacrifice.
I am extremely moved that I am meeting you today.
But it is also a great honour and a pleasure for me to shake hands with you all.
You were young men when you came face to face with Hitlerism. You didn't cower.
We also have something else in common, I too fought as a 15 year old against Hitlerism in the mountains of my homeland
I thank you"
With these emotionally charged words, the President of the Hellenic Republic, His Excellency Mr Karolos Papoulias, to the Presidential Mansion in Athens. In a simple but warm and emotional ceremony by Greece's Head of State , the New Zealand Battle of Crete Veterans were welcomed as heroes, showing them how truly appreciative the Hellenic people are of the sacrifices they made during those days in May 1941...
The surviving Battle of Crete Veterans continue to be so greatly committed and motivated as to undertake such a long journey, despite their advanced age (they are all now into their 90s) and any health problems they may face. A living testament of the friendship between Greece and New Zealand are truly inspiring and an honour for all of us.
The delegation of New Zealand veterans of the Battle of Crete and families, The Enduring Legacy Group, was led by the former Mayor of Wellington, Kerry Prendergast, who despite her recent personal tragedy put on a tremendous effort. The group arrived in Greece on the 16th May 2011 for the 70th Anniversary celebrations of that epic battle and their first appointment was with the President of Greece.
Our honourable veterans Bill Bristow, Brant Robinson, Roye Hammond, Jim Wilson and Bain McKay, along with Kerry Prendergast, Angelo Papageorgiou, a recipient of Greece's Order of the Phoenix and a Greek Community representative on the Organising Committee, Robin Klitscher, immediate Past President of the RSA and Robin Lloyd whose uncle fought in Crete, and myself made up the small party that was received by the President of the Hellenic Republic.
Photo Source: ANA-MPA
In a private meeting with the delegation, President Papoulias listened carefully to the personal stories of each of the veterans and, visibly moved, recounted his own experiences as a young lad in the resistance.
President Papoulias then presented each Veteran with a gift, a symbolic gesture of gratitude from the people of Greece to these largely unsung heroes, who came from the other side of the world to fight for humanity and peace.
The photos below are my photos from the reception at the Presidential Mansion
- the impressive entrance of the Presidential Mansion
As President of the Hellenic New Zealand Association, I was immensely pleased to have been able to organise this very significant meeting with the President and honoured to be part of such a historic event. We are grateful to the staff at the Presidency and especially Ambassador Dafaranos, who are to be commended for their cooperation and invaluable assistance.
In the evening of the same day we also organised a cocktail dinner in honour of the delegation at their hotel.
It was an honour and a privilege for the members of the New Zealand community in Athens and indeed all those present, to be with the veterans and the families of veterans as well as the other members of the Enduring Legacy Group before they set off for Crete and the celebrations there.
Message of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
on the occasion of the New Zealand Veterans’ Delegation to Greece
for the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Crete
The Battle of Crete, whose 70th anniversary is celebrated this year, marks an important moment in the Second World War, symbolically and strategically. Fighting against a superior number of Nazi elite troops, the heroic combatants of the united allied forces together with the civilian population of Crete fought for the values of freedom, dignity and democracy and sacrificed their lives defending their love for independence against the threat of a tyranny.
According to many historians, the Battle of Crete altered the course of the Second World War, since the Nazi troops, apart from their great losses in the battlefield, slowed down their planning to expand the theater of war to the Soviet Union, initially scheduled to take place in a favorable, climatologically, season.
Honoring the memory of the heroic defendants of the island we also honor our Australian and New Zealand allies, with whom the Greek army and civilian population fought side by side. The loss of the New Zealanders, Australians and Greeks defending their ideals, forms an inextricable bond uniting past, current and future generations of our countries.
Our common history, not only in Crete, but also in other fronts of the two World Wars will always remind to us and to our children that the sacrifice of one’s life for a great cause is the most noble act of all, the one that creates history, elevates human nature and leaves a precious legacy to future generations.
Welcome Speech on the occasion of the function held in honour of the NZ WWII
Veterans visit for the Battle of Crete at the Hotel Parthenon, Athens, Greece
Athens 16 May 2011
Dear Veterans, Kerry, Costa members of the Enduring Legacy Group and friends,
Kia Ora! Kalos Ilthate! Welcome!
Today has been an incredible day. Earlier today I was honoured to be part of a small group of people received by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Karolos Papoulias - a very memorable and moving meeting with the veterans, Kerry, Angelo, Robin and Robyn.
On behalf of the New Zealanders living in Greece, or Griwis as we call ourselves, it is once again an honour, and a privilege, to welcome you to Greece, a land that cradles in its arms so many New Zealand servicemen who came to the other side of the world and fell in the course of duty.
We welcome you to Athens, the first stop of your pilgrimage, on your way to Crete, to take part in the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the epic Battle for Crete.
The strong spirit of friendship, which exists between the Hellenic and New Zealand people, was forged and strengthened by the devastating experiences shared by them during those historic days in May of 1941! The Battle of Crete is the next most significant event in New Zealand history after Gallipoli.
The bonds forged on that battlefield still hold strong today. They continue to be built upon in the day-to-day intermingling of the two peoples and remain unique in a world of increasingly materialistic values and objectives.
Your pilgrimage is evidence of this. Some of you, are yourselves, revered veterans of this battle; some of you are family members, representing, and honouring, those who are no longer with us, or who are unable to undertake this long trip; Whichever is the case, you are all here on a spiritual journey, to relive and trace those very significant moments in your personal family history, a personal history, which left its mark on world history itself.
It is no secret that the delay experienced by the German forces as they fought harder and longer than anticipated to take control of Crete and Greece, was instrumental in delaying the campaign, ultimately affecting the possible outcome of the War.
Many of us here today have relatives who gave unstintingly, offering whatever they could - food, shelter, protection, nursing care for the wounded, or guidance over the Cretan mountains to eventual freedom. They knew that what they were doing was extremely dangerous but deliberately ignored the cost of their actions, forever grateful to soldiers who had come to the other side of the world to fight with them.
My own father-in-law is one of those valiant Cretans who helped a New Zealand soldier escape over those mountains, hopefully to safety. Both he and my mother-in-law, 8 months pregnant at the time, considered it an honour until their final days to have helped him, even though they don’t know if he made it.
There are others here who have a similar tale; maybe you can help.
We welcome you all to Greece for the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the sacrifices you, your forbears, and fellow soldiers made, so that we, and all the future generations, could live in a free, democratic and peaceful world.
Hellenic New Zealand Association
New Zealand's Honorary Consul-General in Greece, Mr Costas Cotsilinis also welcomed the veterans and advised them of the procedures to be followed once they were in Crete.
On Wednesday 18 December, the Enduring Legacy Group along with the other NZ Veterans group from New Zealand laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament in Syntagma Square.
This was followed by a second wreath-laying ceremony at the Commonwealth Cemetery in Alimos.
Presidency Programme 16 May 2011
Presidency Press Release
In the video shown below, Battle of Crete Veteran Roye Hammond shares some of his memories with us just before the Enduring Legacy Group set off from New Zealand for the 70th Anniversary celebrations in Greece.
You may like to read the story of Ned and Katina, which is the real life love story of Ned Nathan, a wounded New Zealand soldier from the Maori Battalion who was cared for by a Cretan family, and Katina Torakis, the daughter of the family, who eventually married Ned and moved to New Zealand.