Thursday, May 12, 2011

The WA Premier's ANZAC tour

In ANZAC Day wrap-up I said in a postscript:

"Tim wrote in a comment:

There are a group of Western Australian school students taking part in the the ANZAC commemorations in Greece and Crete. They won the Premier's 2011 ANZAC essay competition.

My congratulations. What a wonderful opportunity."

Following that post, I received a kind email from Robyn Cleaver, Principal Consultant - Secondary Directorate, WA Department of Education. Robyn wrote:

Hi Jim

Saw your blog and your question. The WA Premier's ANZAC Student Tour travelled to Athens, Greece for ANZAC Day and then on the 26th journeyed to Crete for a 6-day study tour. Souda and Retimo sectors covered; the evacuation to Sfakia and through Preveli; the students and staff hiked both Imbros and Samaria Gorges; and a number of informal commemorations undertaken.

If you are interested, have a look at the 2011 web diary at www.det.wa.edu.au/anzac  - click on tour diary under the 2011 Tour.

The group will be attending local Battle of Greece/Crete commemoration in Perth this Sunday as the conclusion to the program.

Robyn

WA Premier's 2011 ANZAC school tripI did indeed have a look.

There were ten students plus two teachers on the trip. This is the official photo of the group.

The party flew out on Emirates to Athens via Dubai, on 23 April.

The trip diary entries are well written by the students. They work backwards like a blog, but you can click on the oldest and then follow through in date order.

I don't want to steal the student's thunder, but a few excerpts just to whet your appetite.

Day 1 and 2: Saturday, 23 April and Sunday, 24 April 2011: Jake Morrison - Mindarie College

So it’s the day that we have all been waiting for 12 months of hard work (18 months for Robyn) is about to pay off as our trip to Greece has finally arrived.....As we all made our way to the airport the excitement had well and truly set in, most of us arrived earlier then our scheduled meeting time, coming together as a group suddenly made the experience so much more real and we all knew that an amazing journey was about to begin. As we said goodbye to our loved ones and headed through customs all we wanted to do was get on the plane and get into the air.....Six more hours of flying and we finally were able to view our destination. Ours eyes were all glued to the windows of the plane, for those who had window seats, as we approached Athens we could see clearly the Greek Islands, all knowing that we wanted to be back one day. Within an hour of arriving in Athens reserve energies were found as we headed off to explore the incredible city.

After an initial exploration of the city and a first taste of Greek food, the group was to bed to prepare for the next day, ANZAC Day. As I said in an earlier post, this appears to have been the first official ANZAC Day ceremony in Athens.

Day 3: Monday, 25 April 2011 (ANZAC Day): Hayley Pring - Perth Modern School

The day began for us at 3.45am as we awakened and readied ourselves for the first dawn service in Greece. It was a day that had significant importance for all of us, particularly to be commemorating the Anzacs in Greece right by their very graves. We arrived at the Phaleron Commonwealth War Cemetery at 5.00am, where we sat shivering from the unexpected cold. Attending the service were several tour groups, along with a number of Australian travellers seeking somewhere to commemorate ANZAC Day.

Just to set a context and as I reported in Allies surrender in Greece, this ceremony was held just three days before the Allied forces surrendered in Greece: at 5.30 AM on 28 April 1941, Allied resistance on mainland Greece effectively ended when 8000 British, ANZAC, Greek and Yugoslav troops surrendered at Kalamata, Peloponnese peninsula. 

Anzac Day 25 April 2011 008 As I commented in my own reactions to Greece last year, the links between Australia and Greece are strong, and not just because of the large number of Greek migrants that came to this country.

The photo shows the Athens dawn service. Following the dawn service:

Another touching moment for the group occurred as we assisted an elderly Greek lady as she endeavoured to place an Australian flag on the grave of each Australian serviceman. The service ended and we headed down to the Poseidon Hotel for a reception hosted by the Australian Embassy. We were able to talk with many of those who had attended the services, sharing stories and discussing further our thoughts of the day. The close knit group who joined us for Anzac Day and the intimate stories we shared highlighted that there were many people who wished to preserve and remember a part of our history that is often forgotten: the Anzacs in Greece.

Day 4: Tuesday, 26 April 2011: Sophie Prober - Mount Lawley Senior High School

The party explore Athens and then fly to Crete.

Day 5: Wednesday, 27 April 2011: Mehdi Nawa - St Norbet College

Mehdi records the party's first day in Hania (Chania) and the things they saw.

German Military Cemetry, Maleme I am not going to give a detailed report from this point. Instead, I want to stand back and make some general points that I think are important.

This photo shows the German Military Cemetery at Maleme which commemorated lives of 4460 German service personnel who were killed during the Battle of Crete and the subsequent occupation. To quote Mehdi:

The cemetery was different in its appearance and layout to Commonwealth cemeteries that we had seen but the message of loss on all sides was clear. Not only do these cemeteries commemorate the loss of life but they also signified the greatest call for peace. If war teaches us anything it is that peace, love and harmony are worth striving for in our lives.

When we were in Crete last year it was warm and dry. The students found it cold and damp, with snow on the mountains. The German invasion of Crete was still a little way away - it began on 20 May 1941 - but already you can see  how harsh the conditions were.

The students also found, as I had, that the past was still alive in Crete. Here I want to quote from Lachlan Blair (Wesley College) on their visit to Rethymno.

Upon arriving in Stavromenos we surveyed the area, imagining with the assistance of maps and photos how it must have looked in the mid 20th Century prior to modern developments. Shortly thereafter we visited the Greek-Australian Memorial that appeared to be undergoing maintenance in preparation for the 70th anniversary commemorations in May. Here Jade and Medhi laid a wreath and Tyran recounted the Ode as part of a small ceremony in honour of the service of both Greek and Australian soldiers.

Hayley shared the stories of Australians in the Rethymno sector and Sophie revealed the tale of Arthur Leggett, a Western Australian signaller in the 2/11 Battalion who fought in the Rethymno area before becoming a Prisoner of War. His story was particularly relevant considering that we were fortunate enough to meet Arthur during the March briefing and could imagine how he would have battled tooth and nail in a landscape that offered little cover aside from a few groves of olive trees.

En route to our next destination, we briefly stopped at a memorial on Misiria Beach, which commemorates the Cretan Resistance movement. We learned of German reprisals against resisting Cretan peoples and Robyn encouraged us to consider the longer-term effects of war on the communities in which conflict takes place.

We then travelled to the small village of Perivolia to visit St George’s Church, the site of the last stand of 8 Bren gunners of the 2/11 Battalion, who died on 27 May 1941 attempting to force the Germans from their position on the strategically important hill. Lauren recounted this story in greater detail, with Jake also adding his personal connection to the events of the Rethymno sector through his Pop, Sergeant Dominic Knowles. The story of the eight Bren gunners was especially poignant considering that we had visited the graves of many of the men the previous day at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda Bay.

I hope that I have given you enough of a taste to encourage you to visit the trip diary.

Just finishing with a little bit of a personal muse.

One issue that has been discussed recently on this blog is the extent to which Australians have become insular internationalists. I have indicated that I think that this view is correct. However, it has to be balanced.

Younger Australians have the opportunity today to travel in ways that were simply not available to their parents or especially grandparents. Places that were once just names on the map become visually real. This changes things in ways that we don't properly understand.

Links are created that lap and overlap. An Indian Australian, for example, has links to home that form one thread. However, that Indian Australian also has links through Australian history to very different worlds. As an Australian, that Indian Australian is also linked to Crete and the events of the Second World War in Europe.

I suppose my point is that many Australian young live in multiple worlds in a way that was not true of their parents or grandparents. Much of this is simply accepted. Yet how it is harmonised, how it knits to form a coherent whole, is quite important. But that's a matter for another post!     

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