WNS1015650-0015 Elena Ngati, aged 2 1/2 of Wellington places a poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
20 May 2011
Battle of Crete veteran Charles Clemett and Crete sailor Stafnos Spartalis stood side by side today as they laid a wreath in memory of the New Zealanders and Cretans who lost their lives 70 years ago during the Battle of Crete.
The struggle for Crete in May 1941 was a particularly fierce battle that cost the New Zealand forces heavily, with 671 killed, 967 wounded. During the evacuation, more than 2,100 New Zealanders were captured. Some of those prisoners of war managed to escape from their captors and evade re-capture due to the assistance of local villagers.
Attendees at the wreath laying ceremony at the National War Memorial in Wellington today included His Excellency the Right Honourable Sir Anand Satyanand; Veterans’ Affairs Minister Judith Collins; Ambassador Hellenic Republic, His Excellency Mr Dimitrios Anninos;
the Vice Chief of Defence Force, Rear Admiral Jack Steer; General Manager NZ/Secretary War Pensions, Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand, Brigadier Rick Ottaway; and veterans of Crete and members of the Greek and Cretan community.
National War Memorial Advisory Council Chair Rear Admiral David Ledson (rtd) delivered the prologue about the battle quoting from the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History: ‘There a scratch force made up largely of New Zealanders and Australians came tantalizingly close to inflicting Germany’s first land defeat of the war. It was a tragedy and serious defeat for the Allies but only by the narrowest of margins.’
The ceremony was supported by a catafalque party of New Zealand Army personnel and members of the Central Band of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Veterans had traveled from all over the country to the ceremony and were honoured at a reception at Parliament hosted by Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Judith Collins.
Battle of Crete - background
The Battle for Crete in May 1941 was one of the most dramatic battles of the Second World War. Over 12 days a mixed force of New Zealand, British, Australian and Greek troops and Cretan civilians desperately tried to fight off a huge German airborne assault. Despite suffering appalling casualties, the parachutists and glider-borne troops who led the invasion managed to secure a foothold on the island and eventually gained the upper hand. The battle ended with the bulk of the Allied forces being evacuated to Egypt.
The cost of the Battle for Crete was high for both sides. Total casualties among Commonwealth forces were 15,743, of whom 1751 were killed or died of wounds. Of the 7,700 New Zealand involved in the battle 671 killed and 967 wounded, while another 2,180 were taken as prisoners of war. The Royal Navy endured huge losses, including the lives of more than 2,000 sailors, three cruisers and six destroyers.