THE GEOFF EDWARDS STORY
As a soldier of the 2/11th Battalion Australian Army, I found myself in April 1941 at the foot of snowclad Mt. Olympus trying to help the Greeks hold back the whole might of the German Army and Air Force. Greece, despite overwhelming odds was writing another page in its long glorius history by refusing Hitler's demands to allow his forces through so they could reach the rich oil fields of the Middle East.
Hopelessly outnumbered, poorly equipped to fight such a mechanized army and under constant bombing we were forced through Larissa, Lamia and Thermopylae (Thermopylae Pass where 26 centuries before Leonidas had held the narrow pass) which became an ideal target for the Stukas dive bombers, and then back to Bralos and Corinth. During the retreat many British, New Zealand and Australian troops were cut off and found themselves far behind the German lines. They were fed, sheltered and helped to escape to the free world by the Greek people, just as I was helped a few weeks later on Crete, when Hitler landed his elite force the paratroopers who, after a bitter but costly struggle, gained control of the island.
I was left behind and taken prisoner at Sfakia on the south coast, then marched back to a P.O.W. camp near Suda where, with a friend Bill McCarrey, watched the movements of the German sentries for a few nights and took a chance to escape through the barb wire. Then began the long trip back through the mountains to the south coast. Being defeated we were doubtful about getting much help from the local people and in fact the first night we stole some food rather than contact them, for they were also under threat of death if caught helping British Commonwealth troops. But our fears were unfounded. We were fed by the villagers and guided through mountains by the shepherds. Some people even gave us money, but it was never needed as no one would take money for food, shelter and help provided. Eventually, we reached the Preveli Monastery where the head monk AGATHANGELOS LAGOUVARDOS and the resistance leader Michael Papadakis had organized shelter in the surrounding villages for hundreds of British Commonwealth troops and even though they faced the death penalty for helping us, it made no difference to these brave, courageous Cretan villagers. As the Germans sent out patrols, so they shifted us from one area to another. Most of us were taken off Crete by British submarines "Thrasher" and "Torbay".
We left the beautiful rugged island of Crete richer in feelings and memories of those indomitable Cretan people. We had been defeated in the field of Battle and had nothing to offer them yet they risked their all, their very lives to help us when we badly needed help. They had so little yet gave so willingly. For this the men, women and children were to pay a terrible price in savage reprisals by the enemy. Men like interpreter Vassilakis who, facing the firing squad, refused to be blindfolded and went to his death singing the Greek National Anthem- no wonder the island was never completely subdued.
And now with the building of the white chapel on the hill overlooking the ocean and the village of Prevelly in the south west corner of Western Australia, we can pay tribute to these courageous Greek people, making sure their sacrifice was not in vain and their heroic deeds will live for ever more.
Geoff Edwards 1979