THE HON WARREN SNOWDON MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
19 May 2011
The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Warren Snowdon, has arrived in Crete with six Australian Second World War veterans and will tomorrow attend a commemorative ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.
The ceremony will be held at the Hellenic-Australian Memorial, at Rethymno, on Crete, which depicts the Greek people fighting side by side with Australians during the battle for Crete from 20 to 29 May 1941.
Mr Snowdon will deliver the commemorative address and lay a wreath during the service.
“This is a very important ceremony; it marks the 70th anniversary of the German airborne invasion of Crete, an invasion unlike any other—because it was the first major aerial invasion in military history.
“It was the day when the Second World War came to Crete to fight over 10 days in what became an epic struggle. While Australians were ill prepared, ill equipped, and had a poor communication network, they were gritty and resolute and determined to repel the assault.
“While the outcome of the campaign wasn’t in the Allies’ favour, it was a significant battle that showcased the best of Australia’s defence forces,” Mr Snowdon said.
Of the 6,500 Australians that served in Crete, 274 were killed, 507 wounded and 3,102 taken prisoner of war. Only 16,500 of the 33,000 Allied troops in Crete were successfully evacuated.
Mr Snowdon said Australia’s losses paled in comparison to those suffered by the Greeks, who lost half a million in the Second World War.
“The Greeks showed great courage and tenacity. On the island of Crete, they joined the battle with whatever weapons they had. In some cases civilians went into action armed only with what they could gather from their kitchens or barns.
“This country holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the veterans,” he said.
Mr Snowdon said that 70 years have passed since Australian forces first arrived in Greece in April 1941, to join the Allied forces holding back the German and Italian advance.
“The mission is a great opportunity to understand the significance of their role during the Second World War and to represent all their mates who served in Greece and on the island of Crete, especially those who didn’t make it home.
“For some of these veterans, this will be their first trip back since their service to see the legacy of their hard work. I feel honoured to share this experience with them,” he said.
During the German invasion of Greece, the Australians provided support on land and at sea. Unfortunately, the Allies were overrun by the Germans and with Greek confidence waning it was decided that withdrawal was required. Of the 17,125 Australians who served in Greece, 320 died, 494 were wounded and 2,030 became prisoners of war.
While in Rethymno, Mr Snowdon will also officially open an exhibition featuring memorabilia and photographs from the Battle of Crete collected by the Australian War Memorial, the Greek War Museum and from the private collection of avid local collector, Dimitris Skartzilakis.
The mission will conclude on 22 May with the veterans due to return to Australia on 26 May.
Media inquiries: Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203 or 0411 255 229
Editor’s note: Interviews with Minister Snowdon and the veterans are available upon request. Additional resources including images, media backgrounder and biographies of the veterans are available from the DVA Media Centre at www.dva.gov.au/media