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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 4 June 2016
22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 4 JUNE 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM It was in a building like this above Trachila that Syd Grant was hidden in April 1941. Trachila village, olive grove. Trachila harbour today. PHOTOS: JIM CLAVEN. JIM CLAVEN Sitting by the harbour in Trachila, it seems not so long ago that I sat with Catherine Bell as she showed me the photos of this little village in the Mani taken by her father Syd Grant during the Greek campaign in April 1941. Syd was a private in the 2/8th Battalion who came all the way from Victoria's western district to take part in the defence of Greece. His story is that of the Anzacs in Greece. After arriving in Piraeus, they made their way north to meet the Germans in battle. What followed was a series of dogged, bitter rear-guard actions as the Allies fell back under the weight of German onslaught. Syd's photos capture the constant air attacks suffered by the defenders as they moved south from the Aliakmon River. Syd was one of the thousands of diggers who made his way to Kalamata to await embarkation to Crete. Today, Kalamata bustles with tourists and locals enjoying the fine weather and beautiful waterfront and City Avenue promenades. In 1941 it was bustling with another sort of ‘tourist’ – thousands of Allied soldiers – Anzacs, Greeks, Brit- ish, Palestinians, Cypriots and Yugoslavs. Syd has captured the multinational nature of the gathering in one of his amazing images. Local civilians vie to be photographed with their erstwhile defenders. Local historian Nikos Zervas points out the caves to the north of the city, above the Castro, where members of the Palestine Labour Corps found safety from the air attacks. They would be joined by local civilians fleeing the indiscriminate bombing that befell the city in April 1941. Other Australian photos show the diggers marching down along Kalamata's Aristomenos Avenue. While many buildings have changed, two local historians – Panagiotis Andrianopoulos and his friend Sotiris – help me identify the shops and streets from these photos. Syd and his comrades made their way through the city to the olive groves to the east, for protection from the daily Stuka bomber attacks. A few patches of the old olive groves remain amongst the expansion of the modern city. Around 18,000 Allied troops had been assembled at Kalamata by 26 April, and from then until 29 April some 9,200 of these were success- On the road to Trachila with Private Syd Grant fully evacuated from Kalamata's waterfront. The 26 April witnessed the biggest single effort of the entire evacuation from Greece. And it was from Kalamata that the Yugoslav crown jewels were evacuated aboard the HMS Defender. As they marched to their evacuation positions on the waterfront, many diggers wrote later of the kindness of the local people, of them offering cake and wine, and thanking them for coming to help defend Greece. One digger – Bill Jenkins of the 2/3rd Battalion – was moved to reassure one elderly lady that they would be back. And it was from Kalamata that Australia's most famous ‘war dog’, Horrie, was evacuated with his protectors in the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion. Once at sea the troops were not al- lowed to rest, as the German bombers attacked the ships as they left the harbour and made for Crete or Alexandria. Many mounted their Vickers and Bren guns on the ships’ decks to help in the defence of their troop ships. One of the ships – the Costa Rica – was sunk, but not before all troops and hands were successfully evacuated. Walking west along Kalamata's waterfront Navarino Street I try to im- agine what it would have been like on the afternoon of 29 April 1941. It was on this day that an advance group of some 200 German troops raced into the town and captured the Customs House and British officer in charge of the evacuation. This daring raid precipitated what is referred to as the battle of the Kalamata waterfront. Around 200 Allied troops, including 70 diggers, were raised to action by New Zealand's Sergeant Hinton and Australia's Captain Albert Gray from Red Cliffs. The Australians advanced along Navarino, led by Gray, pistol in hand, Hinton and his Kiwis and with a platoon of Australian and other troops moving along the streets parallel to the waterfront. As the Australians made a frontal assault on the German machine gun and artillery emplacement at the corner of Koroni and Navarino Streets, Hinton and some of his troops attacked the emplacement from the north. Others attacked the German troops at the Customs House further west. The whole attack was witnessed by a local Greek woman who as a young girl worked in the large three- or four-storey flour mill at the harbour near the Customs House. She would go on to be a prominent member of the resistance in Messinia. Hinton and Gray would be decorated for their bravery at Kalamata that day – the former awarded the Victoria Cross and the latter the Military Cross. Another Australian soldier who took part in the attack – Private Max Wood – would be awarded the Military Medal. Many war stories have their humorous aspects. Just before the Allied attack on the Customs House, an officer from the British 4th Hussars who were defending a position north of the city had come into Kalamata to assess the situation. He was quickly surprised and captured by a German officer – someone he had known from the pre-war years. The German invited him for a beer and as they sat reminiscing, the Allied counter-attack took place and the tables were turned, the German taken prisoner and the British officer released! Yet the brave Allied victory would be short-lived. The eruption of fighting at the waterfront persuaded some of the Allied evacuation ships to abandon the evacuation. While other ships did return, by the end of April the around 8,000 Allied troops in Kalamata were left behind.
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