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Our Committee is raising funds to create a lasting legacy telling the story of Lemnos' link to Gallipoli and Australia's Anzac story. Our projects include the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the publication of a major new historical and pictorial publication and more. To make a donation you can also deposit directly by direct debit into the Committee's bank account: Account Name: Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee Inc; Bank: Delphi Bank; Account No: 204299-020 BSB No: 941300; Include your surname in the reference section. For further information on our legacy projects or to make a donation please contact either Lee Tarlamis 0411553009 or Jim Claven 0409402388M

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Skyros - Island of Refuge

Skyros houses. Painting by George von Peschke
In April, I wrote an article on the Greek Island of Skyros. This story tells of a web linking Lemnos to Skyros, the Anzacs to the famous British soldier poet Rupert Brooke, Greeks and Australians and both World Wars. The story begins today and travels back to 1941 and on to 1915. Enjoy.

Skyros - Island of Refuge
by Jim Claven

As we commemorate Anzac Day, Greek Australians have a lot to be proud of. For the Australian connection to Greece - stretching from the story of Lemnos’ link to Australia’s Anzac legend onwards - has been one of comradeship and shared sacrifice.
Across both World Wars, Australian diggers and nurses served alongside their Greek allies. Along with the many Greek Australians who served as Anzacs, the experience of Australians fighting in Greece was one of support and friendship in the common struggle – from both soldiers and civilians – often at great cost.
There are few places across Greece that doesn’t have an Anzac story to tell. This Anzac story is from Skyros.
You could say Skiros is a kidney shaped Island, its northern and southern expanses reaching to Mount Olympus in the north and Mounts Kohias and Dafni in the south pinched in the middle, near the main port of Linaria on the west coast.
Skyros is the largest Island in its group. Despite its name – which translates as stony – the Island is not barren, with forests, pasture, wheat, citrus fruits and vines.
It is famous for its coloured marble, veined with red and green, its distinctive pottery, woodcarving and embroidery. The embroidery is lively, featuring ships, villagers, animals and flowers. Its distinctive folk dresses feature prominently in Athens’ famous Benaki Museum. 
A recreated living room on Skyros, in Athens' Benaki Museum. Photograph Jim Claven 2013
Traditional dress on Skyros, in Athens' Benaki Museum. Photograph Jim Claven 2013
During Lent, the Islanders enjoy a particular festival unique in Greece. For its folk art, customs and architecture, Skyros has attracted artists over the years, one of the most famous being George von Peschke. 
George von Peschke and his wife in traditional Skyriot costume.
One of the oldest inhabited islands in the region, its longevity has given Skyros a role in Greece’s great myths. In these legends, Skyros is a place of refuge but also of danger.
It is on Skyros that Theseus, King of Athens and the slayer of the Cretan minotaur, seeks to retire. Instead he is murdered by his host, the jealous King Lycomedes, who has him thrown from the acropolis above Skyros town.
Skyros was also a place of refuge for the great warrior Achilles. Foretold of her son’s early death at Troy, Achilles’ mother Thetis hides him on Skyros dressed as a woman. Yet his fate cannot be avoided. The cunning Odysseus lures him to Troy by blowing a war trumpet, the young Achilles stripping off his dress and seizing his weapons.
This story of war and refuge is reflected in Skyros’ Anzac story.
While the modern traveller can travel to Skyros by plane, the ferry from nearby Evai will take you in the footsteps of the Anzacs.
As you leave the ferry Achilleas you’ll find that Linaria is a lovely little Aegean port, with a welcoming harbour front of tavernas and ouuzeries, sheltered by some wooded hills and above all, the church of Agios Nikolaos.
This is how the Anzacs first caught sight of the Island that would lead them to freedom 63 years ago this month.
Some six hundred Allied soldiers evaded the Germans and escaped back to the Allies in the Middle East with the help of brave Greek civilians.
And for many Skyros was one of the main routes of escape on the famous caique runs, the traditional Greek fishing vessels that sailed the Aegean. Arriving at Linaria from Evia, the Anzacs made their way across the sea to freedom. 
Warrant Officer Milton Boutler. AWM
So it was that one sick and tired Aussie soldier from East Malvern arrived at Linaria in June 1941.
We left the story of Warrant Officer Milton Boulter in Evia in a previous Neos Kosmos article. Born in Frankston, Milton had joined up in June 1940, aged 25. After the fighting in Greece, Milton was captured at Kalamata on 29th April 1941.
Escaping at Lamia, he made his way across Greece and on to Evia. He would write in the Melbourne Argus of the generosity and help he received from local villagers who fed and clothed him, and helped him on his way.
Speaking a little Greek, he reached a monastery on Evia’s east coast where the welcoming Bishop and monks arranged for a fisherman to take him to Skyros. 
Escaped New Zealand soldiers with a Greek caique fishing vessel in the western Aegean - not unlike the experience of Milton Boulter. AWM
Milton put ashore on the west coast, most probably not far from Linaria. Weakened by illness he crossed the Island by foot to reach Skyros Town on the east coast.
Making this trip today is an easy drive or bus trip along a sealed road. But in 1941 poor Milton had to walk all the way, following the paths across the rocky heights.
When he arrived, what he saw was one of the most picturesque visions in Greece. Just as today, the lovely white Cycladic-type houses with their distinctive grey roofs cluster around the mountain amongst a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets. The mountain is topped by the Monastery of Agios Georgios, its acropolis and the remains of a Venetian fortress, with its Lion adorning the once strong gate. 
Skyros Town houses and roofs. Note the closeness of the houses and the winding streets of the town.
Walking through this beautiful town, I wonder at the refuge Milton found here in 1941. He would have enjoyed the hospitality of the Skyriots, maybe admiring their unique home crafts. It is touching to think that this modern day warrior may have dreamed of that other ancient warrior, Achilles, who sought refuge as he did.
It is here that Milton met his saviour, Emanuel Virgilou.
Emanuel was a key member of the resistance and working for the Allies to ferry escapers like Milton to neutral Turkey.
At great risk to his life, Emanuel made a special trip to ferry the sick Milton to freedom, Milton reaching Smyrna then Haifa in early August 1941.
Milton’s story is just one of the many. Parties of Anzacs made there way to Skyros throughout 1941. Emanuel and his fellow Skyriots evacuated some 250 Allied soldiers to freedom during the war.
But while these Anzacs escaped to freedom, other Allied soldiers in other wars did not. And the most famous of these lies in a solitary war grave near a beautiful bay to the Islands south.
When we think of the Gallipoli campaign and Greece, it’s natural to recall the role of Lemnos as the base for the campaign. But many of the surrounding Islands also were drawn in to play a role in the conflict. So it was with Skyros.
As the Allied armada assembled for the landings, ships were diverted from Lemnos’ Mudros Bay to Skyros’ great southern bay, Tris Boukes. 
 Sub-Lieutenant Brooke was a famous young poet, steeped in a classical education. Joining the Hood Battalion of the Royal Naval Division, he was headed for the Gallipoli landings when he and his comrades were diverted to Tresbourkes Bay on 17th April.
 His unit included a number of Australians and New Zealanders. While in the Bay, they practiced their landing techniques and marched across into the valleys that surrounded the harbour.
It was here that Brooke rested at a quiet olive grove, remarking on “the strange peace and beauty of this valley”. Three days later he would be buried here. For Brooke had never fully recovered from an infection contracted in Egypt only weeks before.
 On the evening of the 23rd he was carried the two hour walk from the harbour to the grave by a party of twelve Australians in Brooke’s unit. The service was attended by his company commander Bernard Freyberg, who would become one of New Zealand's most decorated soldiers.
At the final committal, sprigs of olive and sage branches were placed on the coffin.
One present remarked that he felt the presence of "old Greek divinities", and "was transported back a thousand years". A small cairn of white and pink marble rocks was erected on the grave - a cairn to a soldier on the Island of Achilles.
The wooden cross erected at the grave contained the following Greek inscription composed and written by a Greek interpreter from Lemnos:
Here lies the servant of god, Sub-Lieutenant in the English Navy, Who died for the deliverance of Constantinople from the Turks 

The grave was restored in the 1960’s and is maintained by the Anglo-Hellenic Society in London. The original cross has long been removed to Brooke’s school, but a visit this grave is well worth the journey.
Unveiling of the memorial to Rupert Brooke, Skyros, 1931.
Returning to the harbour of Skyros town, the traveller will notice the statue by the sculptor Tombros dedicated to Rupert Brooke, erected in April 1931. Just as they honoured the Philhellene Byron, so the Greeks honour a soldier and an ally – but also a poet.
As you sit in one of the harbour’s tavernas, think of those Australians carrying their dead comrade to his resting place under an olive tree, and think of Milton the Anzac from East Malvern and his savour, the Skyriot, Emanuel Virgilou.
Lest we forget.

Last April, Neos Kosmos published this story in its Greek language edition. To read this article in Greek, click here.

Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee

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