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

Monday, 25 September 2017

The Hellenic Great Escaper – Pilot Officer Sotiris Skanziklas

Pilot Sotiris Skanziklas, Royal Hellenic Air Force. Photo web
One of the lesser-known aspects of the “Great Escape” is the fact that amongst the 76 Allied POW’s who took part in the escape in 1944 from Stalag Luft III was one Hellene, Sotiris “Nick” Skanziklas. This is his story.
Sotiris Skanziklas
Sotiris or Nick as he was known to his fellow prisoners was 22 years old at the time of the escape.
We don’t know much about Nick’s background and early war service. What we do know is that he was a Pilot with the Royal Hellenic Air Force and by 1944 was imprisoned along with other Allied airmen in Stalag Luft III at Sagan (modern day Zagan, Poland).
Fellow escaper Jimmy James wrote of Sotiris as a cheerful soul. Another inmate – New Zealand RAF Pilot Bill Hickson – who helped in the escape but didn’t take part in the actual breakout recorded that Nick was his room-mate and friend.
The Escape
Sotiris was asked to team up with British RAF Squadron Leader Bertram “Jimmy” James, MC. They planned to make their way down the Danube Valley to Greece and from there on to Turkey and Allied lines in the Middle East. But they would not make it.
Along with the other escapers, Sotiris made his escape on the night of 24th March 1944. He would have made his way along the 365-foot long tunnel constructed by the prisoners and out into the cold, fresh air. He was wearing a cut-down, dyed overcoat and cloth cap – Jimmy James thought he looked like a Greek worker. They were part of a larger group of 12 escapers who were to pass as foreign labourers from a local timber mill on their way home to Czechoslovakia on leave. They would hopefully then make contact with the local resistance. They were known as the wood mill party.
Jimmy James has described the route and experience of both as they tried to make their way to freedom. After a train trip had taken them 100 miles from the camp, Sotiris and Jimmy walked through wooded mountains covered in snow as they made their way to reach the Czech border. The weather was cold and they were wet through. Jimmy records that Sotiris was shivering and blue with the cold. Sotiris told Jimmy that they still had about 40 miles to get to the border. They made their way to Hirschberg and its railway station. As they approached the ticker office they were confronted by German police and both arrested.
Three of the original 76 escapers made it to freedom – two Norwegians and a Dutchman.
The Reckoning
Jimmy was eventually transferred to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp along with 7 other escapers, 15 others being returned to Stalag Luft III.
But Nick would face another terrible fate. 22 year old Sotiris was taken to Gorlitz prison, east of Dresden. From here he was taken to a place of execution. He was one of the 50 escapers executed by the Gestapo in March 1944. 7 others in his original escape party of 12 were also executed. The record from Nuremberg war crime proceeding relating to the murderers states:
"Flight Lieutenants Wernham, Kiewnarski, Pawluk, and Skanziklas. On or about the 26th of March 1944 these officers were interrogated at the police station in Hirschberg and were then moved to the civil gaol in that town. On the morning of 29th March Pawluk and Kiewnarski were taken away and later in the day Skanziklas and Wernham left. Both parties were escorted, but their destination was unknown. They have not been seen since and the urns later received at the Stalag showing their names bear the date 30th March 1944."
He was the only Hellene amongst 18 other nationalities (including 5 Australians and 2 New Zealanders) who were murdered.
The ashes of most of the escapers were returned to the POW camp, where a memorial now stands.
Sotiris’ name is listed amongst the names of the other murdered escapers on this memorial.
Memorial to the 50, Zagan. Photo wikipedia
Sotiris escape partner Jimmy James died in 2008, aged 92, and his POW friend Bill Hickson died on 2011, aged 88.
If anyone knows more about Sotiris and his story I'd love to hear about it.
Lest we forget

Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Battle of Beersheba Centenary Commemorative Service 15th October 2017 - All Welcome

Christ Church South Yarra. Photo CCSY
Be advised that a memorial service marking the centenary of the Battle of Beershaba will be held at 6pm, Sunday 15th October 2017, at Christ Church South Yarra, 677 Punt Road, South Yarra.
During the service a ceremonial sword of General Sir Harry Chauvel will be rededicated 70 years after it was presented to Christ Church, where Sir Harry was a Churchwarden for 25 years.
The Christ Church service invitation records that the Battle of Beersheba took place on 31 October 1917 as part of the wider British offensive collectively known as the third Battle of Gaza. The final phase of this full day’s battle was the famous mounted charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. Commencing at dusk, members of the brigade stormed through the Turkish defences and seized the strategic town of Beersheba.
General Sir Harry Chauvel. Source Wikiepedia
The Australian War Memorial records that Chauvel served on Gallipoli as commander of the 1st Light Horse Brigade. Arriving on 12 May, he took command of a sector that included Quinn's Post, Courtney's Post, and Steele's Post, each the scene of heavy fighting. Illness forced his evacuation and he spent June and July in hospital, returning to take command of the New Zealand and Australian Division in September 1915. In November he was given command of the 1st Australian Division and was promoted to major general. Given his choice of commands in Egypt after the evacuation, Chauvel took charge of the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division.
Chauvel was the first Australian to attain the rank of lieutenant general and later general, and the first to lead a Corps. As commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, he was responsible for one of the most decisive victories and fastest pursuits in military history at the Battle of Beersheba.
The 1st Light Horse Brigade was evacuated to Lemnos from Gallipoli in December 1915.
Note that Peter Corlett, OAM, who created our Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, also created the Anzac Memorial at Beersheba.
Also nearby is South Yarra Primary School, where Private Herbert Claxton - who served at Gallipoli with the 19th Battalion and his buried on Lemnos - went to school. For more information on Herbert, click here.
All welcome.Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee

Friday, 22 September 2017

Victoria Cross Presentation Coffs Harbour on Albert Jacka VC and Hugo Throssell VC

George Petrou's portrait of Albert Jacka VC.

Last week I gave a presentation in Coffs Harbour on two of Australians who were awarded the highest honour for valour - the Victoria Cross.
This was part of a event showcasing some of Melbourne commemorative artist and Committee member, George Petrou's collection of paintings depicting some of Australia's Victoria Cross winners.
Over 80 people attended the function, with local ex-service personnel among them. The event was held at Coffs Harbour's famous Bunk Gallery - a former WW2 bunker, erected to house a key communications installation vital to the nearby RAAF base. In WW2 one of its commanders was one young Gough Whitlam.
My address recounted the story of how both Albert Jacka and Hugo Throssell came to be awarded their Victoria Crosses for their service at Gallipoli. I placed this in the context of their pre- and post-war lives. Jacka's experience on Lemnos was recounted, along with the tragic post-war experience of both of these brave individuals who both sadly went to early graves, consequences of their wartime experiences.
It was great to address an interested crowd and many approached both myself and George, recounting their family Anzac stories from both WW1 and WW2.
Below are some photos from the event, including photographs of two of George's paintings - one of Neville Howse VC, the famous Boer War veteran and Gallipoli doctor, and the other of Hugo Throssell VC.
Thanks to George Petrou and Findex for the opportunity to take part in this event.
Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee

Photo Jim Claven 2017
George addresses the crowd. Photo Jim Claven 2017
George's portrait of Neville House VC. Photo Jim Claven 2017
George's portrait of Hugo Throsell VC. Photo Jim Claven 2017

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Anders Lassen - The Liberator of Thessaloniki - to be honoured in Melbourne

Photo Jim Claven 2017

Recently members of Melbourne’s Greek community met with the Honorary Consul General of Denmark in Victoria, Mr Jan Ravnholt, to commence planning for a major commemoration of one of the Second World War’s lesser known heroes – Major Anders Lassen, VC, MC and Two Bars.
The meeting brought together myself, Mr Iakovos Garivaldis, OAM, Vice-President of the Thessaloniki Association “The White Tower” and Mr Tony Tsourdalakis, Chairman of Melbourne’s Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council.
Over the past few years, as a historian, I have been fascinated by the story of this brave Danish soldier who helped liberate Greece in 1944.
Danish-born Anders Lassen was a decorated Special Forces officer in the Second World War. He had taken part in many successful raids on German occupied Europe as part of British commando and Special Boat Section (SBS) units, before moving to lead Allied raiding operations harassing Axis-occupying forces across the Aegean throughout 1943 and 1944.
Anders Lassen at right with members of his SBS unit on the Aegean Coast, c1943. Photo IWM
In late October 1944, Major Anders and forty soldiers of his SBS unit – including Greek soldiers of the Ιερός Λόχος or Sacred Band came to Greece’s second city to observe German occupation forces and link up with the local Greek Resistance.
Taking the initiative, Anders led his forces, supported by the Greek Resistance, in attacking the remaining German forces in the city, forcing their departure by the morning of the 30th October. Thessaloniki was liberated and the German plans to destroy the city’s important infrastructure were averted. The people of the city joined in celebrating their freedom, embracing and garlanding Anders and his men with flowers.
Celebrations in Thessaloniki following its liberation, 1944. Photo web
Anders went on to serve on Crete and then in the Italian campaign, being killed during a raiding operation in north-eastern Italy in the final weeks of the Second World War. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the only non-Commonwealth soldier to be so awarded in the Second World War.
Photo Jim Claven 2017
The meeting resolved to hold a commemorative event later this year at the Danish Club and Consulate in Melbourne to honour the service of Anders Lassen. The event will include an historical presentation by myself and the donation of a specially commissioned commemorative gift to the Danish Consul. This gift will then be on permanently display at the Danish Club and Consulate in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne.
Senior diplomatic representatives from both Greece and Denmark are expected to be in attendance at the event, as well as representatives of Melbourne’s Danish and Hellenic communities.
Mr Tsourdalakis took the opportunity to present Mr Ravnholt with a copy of Dina Gerolymou’s The Battle of Crete – The Untold Stories as well as the Council’s program of commemorative events for 2017. He also invited Mr Ravnholt to take part in the Council’s wreath-laying service at the Shrine of Remembrance on Saturday, 27th May 2017.
Mr Garivaldis said that the Thessaloniki Association is committed to celebrating the history of Thessaloniki, Melbourne’s Sister-City.
He added that over the years, the Association had hosted events commemorating the Anzac link to Thessaloniki across both World Wars.
“Thessaloniki – along with the rest of Greece –suffered the long night of occupation during the Second World War. Its vibrant Jewish community was devastated by the German implementation of the holocaust in Greece. The service of Anders Lassen and his men – working along with the Greek resistance and soldiers of the Greek Sacred Band – helped bring this terrible period to an end. We hope this small commemoration will bring this story to a new generation.”
Mr Tsourdalakis said it was an honour for the Council to assist in recognising the contribution of Anders Lassen to the liberation of Greece in 1944.
“Our Council has been working over the years to ensure that many connections between Greece and the Anzacs are commemorated both in Australia and Greece. Recognising the service of Anders Lassen brings this story to a new level – bringing together Melbourne’s Hellenic and Danish communities.”
Mr Ravnholt welcomed the planned commemoration which would be the first collaboration between the Hellenic and Danish communities in Melbourne. He hoped that it would be the beginning of an annual collaboration between Melbourne’s Hellenic and Danish communities.
“Hellenes and Danes have made a major contribution to Australia. I look forward to working with Jim Claven, the Thessaloniki Association “The White Tower” and the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council to commemorate Anders Lassen and this important link between Greece and Denmark.”
The meeting concluded with a toast to Anders Lassen and Hellenic Danish friendship over a glass of good ice-cold Danish Akvavit – not unlike Cretan raki – and the shout of Yassas!
The commemorative event will take place in coming weeks.
For more information on Anders Lassen see my earlier post by clicking here.
Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
Member, Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

South Yarra Primary School's Lemnos 1915 connection - Herbert Claxton

Grave stone of Herbert Claxton, East Mudros Military Cemetery. Photo Jim Claven 2015
South Yarra Primary School sits on the edge of the great expanse of Fawkner Park – that’s why its called The School in the Park. It is one of the early schools established in Victoria, its Education Department number being 583. The school has a link to Lemnos and Gallipoli in 1915 - just one of the many Hellenic links to Anzac.
One of the 148 graves on Lemnos contains the remains of a former pupil of South Yarra Primary School. His name is Herbert Frederick Claxton.
Herbert was born in nearby Prahran in April 1892. His brother wrote after the war that Herbert had attended the School and this would probably been for a few years around the turn of the century. He became a coach builder and then a munitions worker. By the time he enlisted on 11th May, Herbert had moved to Balmain in Sydney, NSW. Yet his family connections remained in Melbourne. On his enlistment form Herbert recorded his eldest brother Reginald as his next of kin and he was still in Melbourne, living in the nearby suburb of Richmond.
Attestation Paper of Herbert Claxton. NAA
Herbert enlisted as Private 1413 in the 19th Australian Infantry Battalion’s D Company. Herbert and his Battalion sailed from Melbourne’s Princes Pier in Port Melbourne aboard the troopship Ceramic in June 1915.
He landed at Gallipoli and would take part in the battles raging on the peninsula. He was wounded at Gallipoli on 2nd September, after the terrible August Offensives. He had received wounds to his leg and scalp and was soon evacuated from Gallipoli.
Unfortunately he died while aboard the Hospital Ship Maheno. His body was taken to nearby Lemnos Island and buried in the expanding Allied military cemetery that had been established at East Mudros. Army Chaplain E Raymond conducted the burial service. He was only 23 years old.
The nearby suburbs of Prahran, Windsor and Richmond would become home to many new migrants from Greece after the Second World War, joining the earlier Hellenic migrants who had settled there already. Their children would attend local schools, like South Yarra Primary School. As a former Hawksburn Primary and Prahran Secondary School student myself I can attest to the vibrancy of the areas new Hellenic residents.
Most of these Hellenes – some even coming from Lemnos itself - would have been unaware that a former pupil of South Yarra Primary School had come to this Greek Island in the northern Aegean and was buried there, never to return to his family back in Melbourne.
The South Yarra Primary School community can be proud of its former pupil – Herbert Frederick Claxton – an Anzac buried on Lemnos.
Lest we forget.
Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

8 September 1944 – The Murder of A Herione – Lela Karayianni, the Bouboulina of the Resistance

Mrs Lela Karayianni in 1944. Picture from Chris Jecchinis, Beyond Olympus, Harrap 1960
Today we honor Mrs Lela Karayianni – known as the Boubolina of the Greek Resistance.
Mrs Karayiani ran one of the most fashionable boutiques in Athens, which was able to survive even during the early days of the occupation. It was a cosmetics business in Patision Street, where she mixed and prepared her own lotions and creams.
In the opinion of Allied SOE agents sent to Greece during the occupation to aid the resistance, she was considered one of the most pro-Allied and anti-Axis agents. Behind the beautiful satin curtains at the rear of her boutique, information on developments in the hinterland and details of German troop movements was passed on and exchange among the resistance. She directed the work of many resistance agents and spies in Athens – all dedicated to removing the hated occupier from Greece.
One member of her resistance circle – Chris Jecchinis – remembered her.
“She was an imposing woman … handsome, with big, beautiful eyes. Her posture was proud and erect, and she looked a true descendent of her great-grand mother Bouboulina,” the legendary heroine of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. She named ger three sons Byron, George and Nelson.
In early 1943 she was arrested by the Germans and taken to the infamous Haithari concentration camp near Athens. She had been betrayed by a Greek collaborator. As he appealed for her to talk, she slapped him. She would be beaten and starved. Even her children were tortured in an effort to get her to talk,
Despite torture by the SS, she refused to divulge any information regarding the resistance or the agents she had helped.
She was taken to a pine grove, beyond Daphni, on the 8th September 1944. As she was taken out to be shot with other women prisoners, she began to sing and they all joined in. Then she shouted – “No fish can live on land, nor Greek can live as a captive.” As the rain began to fall, she was shot by a German firing squad.

Lest we forget

For more information read Chris Jecchinis, Beyond Olympus: The Thrilling Story of the “Train-Busters” in Nazi-occupied Greece, Harrap, 1960.

Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
Member, Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Committee