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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, 16 October 2013

Lemnos Heroes - Sapper Basil Demetri Passa - An Anzac from Lemnos

Private Basil Passa's Service Records, National Archives Australia.
Two Australians with links to Lemnos would enlist in the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War. One of those was Sapper Basil Demetri Passa.

Basil was nearly 42 years old when he signed up with the Australian Imperial Force at Sydney on 7th February 1916 and was given his service number 14981. He was enlisted as a Sapper, reinforcement for the AIF’s Engineering Companies.

He lived at 155A Palmer St East Sydney, was a naturalised British subject and a qualified interpreter by trade. 

Basil recorded his place of birth as the town of “Condopoul” (its name in the 19th century, modern day Kontopouli) on the distant Greek Island of Lemnos - which had featured as the base for the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It would appear from his service records that Basil had lived amongst the Greek community in Egypt and had come to Australia from there. When he enlisted he reported that his next of kin - his wife, Rosa Passa – was resident in Port Said in Egypt.
One of the two main churches in Kontopouli. July 2013. Photograph Jim Claven.
Kontopouli is a village on the north eastern side of Lemnos. When Basil was born in 1874 the village was witnessing a declining population with many moving to other villages. It‘s 204 families had fallen to 190 in 1874. When Basil was there the village had a school, holding three classes, and two churches, Agia Anastasia and the impressive church of Agios Dimitrios. Just as Basil’s story reveals a link to the Greek community in Egypt, the latter Church was paid for by Emmanouil and Despoina Dimitriadis, a merchant family from Alexandria.
Street in the village of Kontopouli, where a young Basil Passa would have walked. July 2013. Photograph Jim Claven.

HMAT Aeneas at Port Melbourne, loading troops. 3 October 1916. Sapper Passa would have been aboard this ship. AWM image.

Basil boarded the HMAT (A60) Aeneas on 30thSeptember 1916 in Sydney, the ship calling into Port Melbourne to pick up more troops on 3rd October. It arrived in England on 19th November 1916. While in England he attended the camp at Park House, where many field engineers were trained. He served in France from March 1917.

Australian troops arriving at the 1st AIF camp, Etaples - painting by Iso Rae, June 1916. AWM image.

He proceeded to Etaples sur Mer, which was a major military encampment near Calais. There was an Anzac camp located here – the 1st Australian General Base Depot – which received Australian reinforcements and to which Basil no doubt was billeted. German prisoners were also kept here. There are many paintings of this camp by Iso Rae from 1916. The camp was a major training facility but also included a number of hospitals, canteens, a YMCA hut and a cinema. Soldiers billeted here would often buy food from local French villagers. Sporting activities were conducted including soccer, which no doubt Basil would have been familiar with. It was nick-named “Eat Apples” by the non-French speaking Aussie Diggers. 
Football at Etaples - painting by Iso Rae, November 1915. AWM image.
The camp was not without its dangers. The Germans bombed the camp, on one occasion severely damaging the British Red Cross Hospital located here and killing several patients and nurses. An Australian digger, Jack Hines survived another German aerial bombing while at the hospital here in 1917, causing hundreds of casualties.
The bomb damaged British Red Cross Hospital at Etaples, 1918. AWM image.
Field Engineers were among some of the first units sent overseas as part of the AIF, three companies left Australia for Egypt with the 1st Division on 1st November 1914. They were attached to each Division and were trained in all infantry work. They would be engaged in the engineering requirements preparing for attacks.
Sappers repair a bridge in northern France, 1918. AWM image.
They were responsible for the erection of field infrastructure (such as making roads, bridges, light railways, pontoon bridges, gun emplacements and trench construction etc) and demolitions. There service took them to the front line and many were injured or killed.
The Etaples Military Cemetery. AWM image.
After the war a major Military Cemetery was constructed at Etaples, which contains 10,753 graves including 461 members of the AIF.

There is no record of which unit Basil was attached to while he was in France. Basil was eventually discharged because of ill-health and returned to Australia in December 1917.

For his service to Australia, Basil was awarded the 1914/15 Stat, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
The village square in Kontopouli, where a young Basil Passa would have walked and played. July 2013. Photograph Jim Claven.
Some of the old and impressive mansions in Kontopouli. July 2013. Photograph Jim Claven.

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