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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 May 2018
18 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 MAY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM A hero of Kalamata: Red The location of the final approach of the Australian attack on the German position in 1941 led by Captain Albert Gray. Cliffs Captain Albert Gray Neos Kosmos follows the installation of WWII memorials at Pylos and Methone on Sunday 6 May and a commemorative service in Kalamata on Tuesday 8 May A gathering in Kalamata of local Greeks and a few Australians. PHOTO: PRIVATE SYD GRANT COLLECTION Illustration of Sergeant Hinton and his men attacking the German artillery piece during the battle of Kalamata waterfront on 28 April 1941. JIM CLAVEN I t was an honour for me this year to participate again in the annual Battle of Kalamata commemorative service as a representative of Melbourne's Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council. Held at a memorial erected in 1994 by the British veterans of the Greek campaign, close to Kalamata's beautiful waterfront, wandering down to the quay, I took in the view as people promenaded along the esplanade or enjoyed their frappé or ouzo as they gaze out into the waters of Kalamata Bay. But as I stood there I imagined the dark days of late April 1941 when this same esplanade was choked with tired and weary Allied troops. They had made their way from across the length and breadth of Greece – by truck, train and on foot – some fighting a desperate rearguard against the advancing German invaders. And they did so to safeguard the evacuation beaches that would take the troops to Crete to continue the fight. And the last of these evacuation beaches was the waterfront of Kalamata. By the evening of 26 April nearly 20,000 Allied troops had made their way to Kalamata hoping for evacuation. Disembarking on the outskirts of town, the Allied troops marched through Kalamata, along Aristomenos Street and then to the olive and citrus groves to the east of the town, to rest and recuperate, and to avoid German air attack, amongst the trees. Photographs from the time show Anzacs and other Kalamata port and quayside, where the Allied forces reclaimed Kalamata. Allied troops marching along Kalamata's main thoroughfares, watched and welcomed by local residents. Diggers later recounted local women offering them freshly cooked chicken, cakes, and retsina. One of the soldiers who marched through Kalamata was a young man from north-western Victoria. Albert William Gray had been born the Melbourne suburb of Kensington but by the time he enlisted in 1939 the family had moved to rural Red Cliffs on the Murray River. By then Albert was married to Hazel and working as a salesman. Albert's leadership potential saw him promoted to lieutenant prior to his departure from Australia on 13 October 1939. By the time he arrived in Kalamata, Albert was a captain in the Australian 2/6th Battalion. TO GREECE The 2/6th Battalion diary records their arrival at Piraeus from Alexandria on 12 April and by the 15th, they had moved north, first to Larissa and Orphana, only to fall back. They occupied various defensive positions as they took part in the Allied withdrawal. Along the route Albert and the battalion suffered casualties due to enemy air attacks. As they crossed the Corinth Canal during the night of 25th April some of the battalion were detached to take part in its defence. Many were subsequently captured. Albert and the remainder of the battalion finally arrived at Kalamata at 6.45 am the next day. The evacuation was a planned affair, with designated areas along the waterfront, with troops assembling every nightfall, awaiting their turn. One witness described the men lined up in queues, standing still, not talking or smoking. For a time, order was maintained on the waterfront by Gallipoli veteran Brigadier Stanley Savige, with Australian soldiers as provost marshals. Albert's battalion was divided into groups of 50 men led by an officer. And as they waited for evacuation, Albert was ordered to oversee the destruction of Allied vehicles. The embarkation process was so orderly that one digger recounted later that it was "like the Sydney ferry service." ALBERT AND THE BATTLE OF KALAMATA WATEFRONT It was in the early evening of the next day, the 28th, that all hell broke loose in Kalamata. Two companies of the German 5th Panzer Division with two field guns made a daring raid into the centre of Kalamata, capturing the Customs House, and the Allied officer in charge of evacuations. One of the defensive posts established by the Germans was on the waterfront, at the corner of Navarino and Koroni Streets. Here they set up machine gun and artillery post to defend the Customs House from any attack from the Allied troops camped to the east. Initially the Allied troops were unaware of the German position and were fired on as they marched down Navarino Street expecting to be evacuated. Soon furious fighting had erupted around the quay, tracers lights could be seen by the evacuation ships assembling in the bay. Soon a combined force of mostly Australian and New Zealand troops would directly engage the German's and retake the port.
28 April 2018
12 May 2018