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Battle for Crete anniversary

The 76th anniversary of the Battle for Crete will be marked at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park at Wellington on Saturday 20 May.

The ceremony will begin at 4:30pm with a karanga followed by the laying of wreaths and finishing with the Last Post at 5:10pm.

Key participants include Veterans’ Affairs Minister David Bennett, Lieutenant General Konstantinos Floros (Deputy Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff) and Brigadier Christopher Parsons (Deputy Chief of the New Zealand Army). Councillor Chris Calvi Freeman will represent the Mayor of Wellington. Honorary Consul George Neonakis will represent the Wellington Cretan Association.

The Battle for Crete began just after dawn on 20 May 1941. Many of the 7700 New Zealand soldiers stationed on Crete were finishing breakfast when hundreds of German transport aircraft – some towing gliders – rumbled in over the Mediterranean island. The air above was suddenly filled with parachutes as thousands of elite German paratroops began to descend from the sky.

This was the start of what is known as the Battle for Crete. For 12 dramatic days New Zealanders, British, Australian and Greek troops, assisted by local civilians, tried to repel a huge airborne assault by the Germans. They almost succeeded. In the battle, 1751 Allied and over 3000 German troops were killed.

Many New Zealanders made it off Crete, but thousands were left behind: more than 2000 were taken prisoner; 671 died. Among those evacuated were Charles Upham and Alfred Hulme, both of whom won the Victoria Cross (VC) for their actions on Crete. A few New Zealanders took to the hills, sheltered by the locals of Crete who, to this day, remember New Zealand’s role in the battle.

Each year on the anniversary of the battle, locals, veterans and dignitaries gather in Crete to remember and honour those who participated in the fighting. In 2016, four out of the 12 surviving New Zealand veterans of the battle travelled to Crete for the 75th commemorations.

Further information on the battle can be found at:

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/the-battle-for-crete

A Wikimedia Commons image can be found at:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paratroopers_Crete_%2741.JPG

 


Updated on 22nd May 2017