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Seventy-Five Years on – Courage And Sacrifice Remembered

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of one the fiercest and most desperate struggles of the Second World War – the Battle of Crete.

Image of  the Suda Bay War Cemetery is courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In a ceremony this Saturday (21st May) at the beautiful CWGC Suda Bay War Cemetery, veterans will pay tribute to their comrades in the Commonwealth and Greek forces who lost their lives in the 12 day struggle to fight off a huge German airborne assault.

The Germans suffered appalling casualties but managed to gain a foothold on the island and eventually forced the Allies to evacuate to Egypt. The cost of the Battle for Crete was high. More than 3,500 Commonwealth servicemen and women lost their lives – more than 1,500 of whom are buried at Suda Bay.

Veterans of the battle will be welcomed to the event by His Excellency Sir Jerry Mateparae, Governor-General of New Zealand, The Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP, The UK Secretary of State for Defence and Mrs Victoria Wallace, CWGC Director General. They will also unveil an interpretive panel ahead of the commemorations that uses smartphone technology to tell the stories of some of those commemorated in the cemetery.

The panels at Suda Bay are part of a global initiative by the CWGC to encourage greater numbers of visitors to the war cemeteries and to help visitors understand the importance of such places.

One of the stories revealed is that of New Zealander, Staff Serjeant Dudley Churchill Perkins. He was among more than 12,000 Commonwealth servicemen captured when Crete fell but managed to escape.

Aided by local Cretans, Dudley and several others managed to remain at large on the island until June 1942 when they left the island by submarine with a Special Boat Service raiding party.

In April 1943 he was transferred to Force 133 of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and returned to Crete to aid the partisans. He took part in a number of raids and partisan activities disrupting the German and Italian occupation of Crete until his death in February 1944.

Dudley was originally buried in the village of Lakkoi but was reburied in this cemetery in September 1945 by an Australian War Graves unit.

CWGC Director General, Mrs Victoria Wallace said: “At the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Suda Bay War Cemetery there are over 1,500 stories of men who died far from home; whether home was in Australia or Canada, New Zealand, South Africa or India, or in Britain. Today they are commemorated here equally, side by side, irrespective of rank, religion or race. The mission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is to commemorate these brave men and women, in perpetuity. We will remember them, and ensure that their final resting places are always worthy of their sacrifice.

The dark story of the Battle of Crete is perhaps not now familiar to all those who come to this beautiful, sun lit island. The landings by German paratroopers; the desperate efforts by troops and their Greek allies to hold back the invaders; and of course the bitter experiences of the people living here during the occupation; it’s a story we should never forget.”

Updated on 24th May 2016