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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 01 December 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 DECEMBER 2018 23 HISTORY Troops waiting to go ashore at Suda Bay after having sailed from Tolo or Nafplio, 27 April 1941. PHOTO: AWM Allied troops in Nafplio, possibly on their way to Tolo. April 1941. PHOTO: IWM The author with Mr. Phil Evans and Mr. Aristides Thomas at Tolo. fell back into Tolo itself. Aristides takes me on a walking tour of the battlefield. He points to the hills where the Allied soldiers set up their defensive positions. A number of Allied soldiers were killed here too – and others on the beaches, during the incessant German air attacks. Those killed in the battle were left where they fell by the Germans, who removed their own dead for burial. Aristides tells me that it was the local villagers of Asini who buried these Allied soldiers after the Germans left. After the war they were reinterred at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Faliro, Athens. It is at the site of this battle that Aristides along with local volunteers and researchers are hoping to erect an Anzac memorial to those who fought here on 28 April 1941. He points to a hill on the left where they hope to erect a stone memorial, maybe featuring the badges of the different national groupings or units from which the defenders were drawn, including the Anzac Rising Sun. After the battle, the Ger- mans advanced on Tolo itself. By early evening of the 28th most of the estimated 1,300 Allied soldiers at Tolo were forced to surrender. One of those captured was Private Arthur Raymond Evans from Western Australia serving with the 2/2nd Army Field Workshops, 5th Recovery Section. They were responsible for repairing damaged military equipment in the field. He came to Tolo beach but never made it off. He would spend the rest of the war in German POW camps, including Stalag 18A at Wolfsberg (modern day Austria). At Tolo I met up with Arthur's son – Phil Evans – a member of the British Greek Campaign Veterans Brotherhood. It is hard not to be moved, thinking of those desperate days, as Phil's father and hundreds of other Allied soldiers saw their hopes of escape fade as the Germans entered the town. Others evaded capture and were helped by local Greek supporters, with food and shelter. Aristides and his sister are recording the testimonies of many local peo- Tolo waterfront and harbour. ple who remember or were told as children the stories of the day the Anzacs came to Tolo and Asini. One told of how they hid an Allied soldier in a well, returning with food each day, until it was safe for him to move on. This soldier then formed one of the first resistance groups in the area, before successfully returning to the Middle East. Locals remember him returning to the area after the war. One of those who escaped was Richmond's Major Bernard O'Loughlin, one of the Allied beach masters at Tolo. Along with one of his Australian comrades, Bernard made his way on foot across the Argolid to Kranidi village, then occupied by the Germans. They would sail in a local boat to Milos and on to Crete. Later he said of his journey that it was the most intense period of his life. The battle at Asini-Tolo and fall of Tolo would be followed by that at Kalamata in the afternoon of the 29th April 1941. After the capture of the town, the Italians took over the occupation of Tolo. As we walk around Tolo today, Aristides and his sister Peg- gy point out the German and Italian headquarter buildings in the town. The fortifications of Ancient Asini on the outskirts of the town which overlook Tolo harbour and bay became the location of many defensive structures – machine gun posts and the like – many of which remain to this day. Locals are also reported to have found British helmets and boots. Later Aristides takes me to meet Labros Skoufoulas of the Kastraki Club in Asini. On 28 April this year the club hosted its first Anzac service. They hope that this will grow into an annual event and become part of Greece's Anzac Heritage Trail. The locals also hope to build awareness of the Anzac legacy in the region through other possible projects, including displays of archival photographs, new heritage signage and the inclusion of an Anzac photograph in the Municipality's annual calendar. Whilst in the area, I also met up with George Taraviras, another local keen to build awareness of the Anzac link to nearby Nafplio. A civil engineer, George has amassed a major archive of The school and organisers of the first commemoration of the Anzac’s at Tolo, held on 28 April 2018. historical photographs of Nafplio for his research into the evacuations from its harbour. George has been searching the waters of Nafplio harbour to locate the remains of the many naval vessels sunk during the evacuations. And he has been working with a colleague to tell the story of the evacuations in a documentary film. The events at Asini, Tolo and Nafplio – the battle, the evacuation, the escapes and evasions and the locals who helped and supported the Allied troops - deserve to be honoured with fitting new memorials, marking places of commemoration. After having walked the Asini-Tolo Anzac trail with Aristides I hope to be able to assist these local volunteers in their work. They deserve the support of all who seek to remember those who came to Greece to fight for freedom in WW2. And they especially deserve the support of Australians, New Zealanders and those of Greek heritage who have migrated to make these countries their new home. I am glad to be working with Melbourne's Hellenic community to add new memorials such as these to Greece's emerging WW2 and Anzac Heritage Trail. Work is underway for new memorials commemorating the roles of Corinth, Argos and the Kalamata waterfront in Australia's Anzac story. Melbourne's Lefkadian community are also planning to erect a memorial to Australia's WW2 Hellenic Anzac Private James Zampelis on the Ionian Island of Lefkada, the home of his father. I look forward to the day when the planned memorials commemorating the role of Asini and Tolo are erected as part of this Trail to stand alongside those already at Kalamata, Pylos, Methone and the many others across Greece. Lest we forget. *Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and member of the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council. He visited Naflplio, Asini, Tolo and the Argolid with the support of Melbourne's Pankorinthian and Argoliki communities, with whom he is working to have new Anzac Trail memorials erected across these regions. He also acknowledges the assistance of Phil Evans and Aristides Thomas.
24 November 2018
08 December 2018