Help us promote Lemnos' link to Anzac - Make a donation now

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

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Anzac Heroes - Remembering Western Australia's Corporal's Arthur Liddell and Albert Spencer of the 2/11th Battalion

Grave of Corporals Liddell and Spencer, 2/11th Battalion, near Brallos. AWM ref P00129.007
The battle to defend Greece in April and May 1941 saw over 600 Australian soldiers killed and over 5,000 captured. Many of those who died did so in the great battles that raged across the Greek mainland and the Island of Crete - from Vevi and Brallos and Corinth, Kalamata and Rethymon, Chania and 42nd Street, to Heraklion and the fighting retreat to Sfakia - to name a few.

But many soldiers were killed outside of these great engagements. Many on the exposed roads and tracks as they tried to make their way south in the fighting retreats that would hold up the German advance. Many died as they suffered the constant attacks of German air attacks, their bombs and machine guns wreaking havoc on soldiers and civilians alike.

These soldiers would be buried hastily near to where they fell. I've already written of Private Felix Craig's brave fight on the road near Pharsala and his burial near Domokos. So with Australia's Hellenic Anzac Private James Zampelis who fought across Greece and was killed and buried at the village Mournies near Suda in Crete.
Recently I came across the image reproduced above. The story behind the photograph reveals yet another story of the terrible suffering of the Anzac's in Greece.
It shows the graves hastly dug by members of the Australian 2/11th Battalion for two of their number killed near Brallos on 20th April 1941. This is their story.
From Western Australia to Greece
Like the rest of their Battalion, Corporals Arthur Liddell and Albert Spencer were recruited from Western Australia. The Battalion was commanded by Geraldton-born Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Steane Louch, a former solicitor.
Corporal Arthur Liddell, Service File Photo, NAA
Arthur Liddell had been born in Katanning. He was an unmarried 24 years old labourer when he enlisted at Koyonup on 11th November 1939. He was the son of Arthur George and Grace Adeline Liddell, of Kojonup, Western Australia. He embarked from Fremantle with the battalion on 30 November 1939, arriving in Egypt in May 1940.
Corporal Albert Spencer
Albert Frank Spencer had been born at Northam. He was a married 24 year old farmer when he enlisted at Subiaco on 4 December 1939. With fair hair and blue eyes, Albert was the son of George Spencer. He was living at 25 Duke Street, Northam when he enlisted. After he had enlisted and before he left Australia, Albert married his sweetheart – Joyce – on 12 April 1940. He recorded her address as 16 Anstey Street, South Perth. He embarked for overseas service in 20 April 1940 – eight days after his marriage - and arrived in Egypt on May 1940.
The 2/11th sailed from Egypt for Greece, arriving at Piraeus on 12 April 1941.
After a short stay near Athens, the 2/11th moved north as the Allies sought to defend Greece against the coming German invasion. They held various positions - from Larissa, through Pharsala, Kalabaka and Domokos - before being moved south to form part of the Allied defensive line that was forming to defend the crucial Brallos Pass.
The results of an air raid outside Pharsala, April 1941. AWM
The Dangerous Roads of Greece
All the time the Australian and other Allied units moved across the battlefields of Greece they were subject to the withering attacks of the German air force. Enjoying almost total air superiority, these deadly stuka bombers enjoyed the freedom of the skies on most occasions.
Arthur and Albert's Battalion commander described just such an attack on the battalion as it moved south of Domokos on the 19th April:

“We hadn’t gone very far when the Germans started an intense strafe of the road – dive bombing and machine gunning the 20 miles or so from the Baillos Pass to Domokos. The planes came over in relays and aimed their bombs at the vehicles on the road and then machine gunned the area at the side of the road where the troops had taken cover. This strafe lasted for well over two hours.”

He did record an occasion near Domokos were brave British pilots in Hurricanes bombers took to the skies to take on the overwhelming numbers of German aircraft - downing two German aircraft.

Brallos Pass, April 1941. AWM
Brallos Pass and the death of two young Western Australians
The 2/11th Battalion Unit Diary records the movements of the diggers as they moved into position at Brallos. On the evening of the 19th April, the Battalion was bivouacked 500 yards from the main Brallos Pass road, with its transport dispersed. The next morning of the 20th April, most of the troops began the steep ascent up the Brallos Road - walking 7-8 miles - to their defensive position astride the road up within the Pass. This was an exhausting march, after which the troops were exhausted. Most of the Battalion's headquarters troops remained at the bivouac site.
Captain Ainslie went on to report that the battalion’s:

“…bivouac area had been bombed and machined gunned during the day and we were not sorry to leave it as planes were constantly passing directly overhead on their way to Athens and Brallos (which was receiving a good bit of attention) and the temptation to machine gin and bomb this straight bit of road was obviously very great. The battalion had a few casualties as a result."

It is reported that the battalion sustained four soldiers killed and eleven wounded. Two of these were Arthur and Albert. They were most likely either killed at the bivouac site or as they made their slow ascent of the Brallos Pass on the 20th April.

Both Corporals Liddell and Spencer are recorded as having been killed in action on the 20th April, “blown up by bomb.”
They were buried by the battalion on the 20th April “near Brallos” as they prepared to defend the strategically important Brallos Pass
He was 25 years old. Corporal Liddell is recorded as having been promoted to Corporal on the same day that he was killed. And Corporal Spencer had just celebrated his first wedding anniversary 8 days earlier.
The days ahead would see other diggers killed or fatally wounded in the defence of the Pass - including a former Hawthorn Football Club player from Perth, Jack Drake. Five gunners would be killed at the Pass and three wounded as they continued to fire of their artillery against overwhelming force, enabling the rest of the defending force to retreat. The Australian commander Brigadier George Vasey (born in East Malvern) famously urged his men to defend their positions with the exhortation that:

"Here we bloody well are and here we bloody well stay."

Commonwealth War Cemetery, Phaleron. Photo Jim Claven 2016
Commonwealth War Cemetery, Phaleron
After the war, their remains would be disinterred and re-buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Phaleron in Athens. Both these diggers from Western Australia are buried nearby each other.
Grave of Corporal Arthur Liddell, 2/11th Battalion, Commonwealth War Cemetery, Phaleron. Photo Jim Claven 2016
Grave of Corporal Albert Spencer, 2/11th Battalion, Commonwealth War Cemetery, Phaleron. Photo Jim Claven 2016
I visited the Cemetery on a warm summer day earlier this year. The Cemetery is positioned near the Athens' great bay, the sun glinting on the sea surface. Standing amid the beautiful gardens and manicuared grave sites, colourful flowers swaying in the breeze, it is a calm place, a million miles from the war that took the lives of those who are buried here.
These two diggers from the 2/11th Battalion are interred nearby each other in the cemetery's Plot 3.
Corporal Arthur Liddell is buried in Plot 3, Row E, Grave 1 and Corporal Albert Spencer in Plot 3 Row D Grave 20.
Where Arthur's headstone contains a simple cross, the Spencer family have had etched a poignant phrase on their sons grave stone:

“Some day we will understand.”

This remarks should remind us all that war is a brutal affair, marring bodies and taking life, leaving those behind in grief and struggling to deal with the void created in their lives.
Brallos Pass, the place for a new Anzac Memorial. Photo Jim Claven 2015
Remembering the Diggers of Brallos Pass
Today there is yet no memorial to the diggers who fought to defend Brallos Pass.
The service and sacrifice of men like Arthur and Albert who came all the way from Western Australia to defend Greece should be remembered at the site they fell.
Brallos Pass should take its place as one of the key sites on Greece's Anzac Trail.
Lest we forget.

Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign Commemorative Council

No comments:

Post a Comment