It was a sunny blue morning. But the skulls had bullet holes in them. They were in a glass case within a monument above the village of Sfakia on the south coast of Crete. The plaque noted they had been executed by the Germans for helping New Zealanders escape in 1941.
A few days later we sat in a taverna overlooking the tiny Sfakia beach. From here thousands of New Zealand soldiers were evacuated at night. They had fought courageously, but ill-equipped and with no air support they had been battered by the Luftwaffe and hounded by the German paratroops which followed. Now wounded, demoralised and defeated, they had dragged themselves over the mountains to this remote village on the south coast. Thousands were taken off under cover of darkness to British warships which took them to safe haven in Egypt. But many had to be left behind to fend for themselves.
However they were not alone. In their efforts to evade capture they were assisted by the locals. Hundreds were fed, sheltered, and hidden. For this many Cretans paid with their lives. Sometimes whole villages, including the elderly, women and children were executed. We fought for them. But let’s not forget that they fought for us. And let us not forget what happens when an evil ideology takes power. When a State arrogates to itself the right to determine and enforce what is right thinking, acceptable belief, and correct speech – brutality follows not far behind.
It was a quiet evening in the Sfakia taverna. So I approached the owner. His English was not good so I showed him a photo of the monument on the hill above the village. At first he looked puzzled. Then I explained we were from Nea Zelandia. And I thanked him for what his forefathers had done for mine. “Efcharisto poly!” I said. At that moment there was a meeting of hearts. Acts of great courage, honour, and sacrifice, were remembered and acknowledged across generations and oceans.
Let us never forget. Liberty has a price.
Anzac Day 2021