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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 31 October 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 31 OCTOBER 2015 21 GREECE the Australians at Vevi By dusk German armour had penetrated deep into the Australian lines and the battalion began to fall back, passing through the village of Kleidi. Platoons and sections became separated in the confusion. Entering the valley floor, they came under heavy machine gun fire. Exhausted men were ordered by their officers to discard unnecessary weapons. Making their way overland, they marched 16 kilometres through heavy mud, reaching Sotir by 9.00 pm and Rodona by 11.00 pm. On their route some of the battalion were fired on by British tanks, presumably near Sotir. Despite a valiant defence in hastily prepared positions, the 2/8th Battalion was badly mauled at Vevi. The bravery of the Battalion is reflected in the fact that one Victorian member of the 2/8th, Corporal Henry Moran from Waubra near Ballarat, was mentioned-in-despatches for his service during the battle. From the 29 officers and 619 other ranks that had arrived in Greece only weeks before, the Battalion was reduced to 250 weary men who made it safely to Rodona throughout the night. Vasey wrote that their commander, Lieutenant Colonel J.W. Mitchell, arrived "completely exhausted". While the infantry pulled back under fire from the advancing German units, Allied artillery and demolitions impeded the Germans as they moved down the valley. The successful retreat under fire of the New Zealand machinegunners earned the Military Cross for its commander, Lieutenant WF Liley. At 5.00 pm the 2/4th Battalion began its 20-kilometre hike to its transport at Rodona. During this withdrawal a mixed group of Anzacs were captured by the Germans and shepherded into a field near Xino Nero. The next day, along with other British and Greek prisoners, they would be caught in a deadly firefight between Allied and German troops during the rearguard action at Sotir. Thirty were wounded and those killed included 21-year-old Lieutenant John de Meyrick of the 2/4th Battalion. Sotir was one of the few tank battles of the campaign and again halted the Germans. As the Australian defenders of Vevi crossed the Aliakmon Australian and Greek soldiers in Athens, March 1941. PHOTO: GEORGE SILK. River, they were welcomed by two Australian padres handing out tots of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky and packets of Sao biscuits. Amongst the Allied losses, some 28 Australians and one or two New Zealanders were killed at Vevi, along with 40 Greek soldiers killed or wounded. As the day ended, the Australian and New Zealand troops would have been unaware that from 6.00 pm on 12th April the Second Anzac Corps had been formed with the announcement: "…that the reunion of the Australian and New Zealand Divisions gives all ranks the greatest uplift. The task ahead though difficult is not so desperate as that to which our fathers faced in April 26 years ago. We go to it together with stout hearts and certainty of success." The formation of the Second Anzacs at Vevi in Greece lay in the footsteps of the first Anzacs who had walked on Lemnos in 1915. The Australians would continue their fighting retreat across mainland Greece and Crete, adding new battle honours to the Anzacs. Some of the troops that survived the battle at Vevi would be killed or captured during the retreat. Others survived. New Zealand machine gunner Private B.B. Carter survived Vevi and Greece, making an audacious escape from Crete with three others, including two Australians. Corporal Henry Moran of the 2/8th was another Vevi veteran who was evacuated from Kalamata on 26 April and took part in the defence of Canea in the battle of Crete. After service in the Middle East, Henry would survive the war and return to Ballarat. Another Vevi veteran, Kevin Price of the 2/1st AntiTank Regiment, would survive Greece and the war, returning to Malvern in Melbourne, only to find that his local fish and chip shop was now under the management of a Greek family who had witnessed the battle of Vevi. Looking north up the valley towards Kleidi and Vevi. The German army attacked down this road in April 1941. PHOTO: JIM CLAVEN. The battle would be remembered by the locals and memorials erected to the honour of those who fought there. At Xino Nero stands a war memorial erected by the locals on the initiative of the village president, Athanasios Altinis, commemorating the battle. I have been fortunate to attend the memorial service held here to honour the Allied soldiers who served and those who fell. Another grand memorial to the battle stands tall on a hill as you enter the Kleidi valley from the south, and as you enter the village of Vevi and turn into its main square, the war memorial contains a plaque dedicated to: "The members of 2/4th Aust Inf Bn. 6 Aust Div A.I.F, the Greek Armed Forces, and the people of Vevi, who gave their lives in the defence of Greece in 1941." The battle of Vevi deserves to be commemorated. At the beginning of what was an ill-fated campaign, fought against overwhelming odds, the Anzacs fought bravely against some of the most elite German troops. Enduring terrible conditions, enemy armour and air superiority, they had succeeded in holding up the German advance for three days. We should ensure that the memory of those brave Anzacs - like Ballarat's Corporal Henry Moran - along with their Greek and British comrades, who began the defence of Greece at Vevi on 10 April 1941, is restored to its rightful place during the 75th anniversary of the battle of Greece and Crete in 2016. * Jim Claven is a historian and published author who has been researching the Anzac trail in Greece for a number of years. Jim will be giving a presentation on the Battle of Vevi at the Thessaloniki Association ‘The White’ Hall, High Street Northcote at 3.00 pm on Sunday, 22nd November. All are welcome. For information about Xino Nero's Kontosoros Guest house & Restaurant, see www. kontosoros.gr Kleidi village church, where diggers of A, C and D Company of the 2/8th Battalions gathered as they retreated under fire on 13th April 1941. Vevi Memorial, Xino Nero, 12th April 2013. Kontosoros Guest House & Restaurant, Xino Nero, April 2015.
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