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New Zealand veterans return to Crete, 1945

Image

New Zealand soldiers enjoy lunch in Galatas during a post-war visit to Crete. The men were part of a 100-strong official party – led by Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg – of New Zealand Crete veterans who went back to the island at the end of the war to hold a memorial service. They arrived in Crete aboard HMS Ajax on 29 September 1945. There was widespread interest in their visit, with people lining the roads and villages to welcome them. The party stopped at Galatas for lunch before heading on to Armenoi and Maleme, where they toured the battlefield.

The following day a memorial service was held at the cemetery at Suda Bay. Around 15,000 Cretans attended, many having walked long distances to be present. During the ceremony Freyberg paid tribute to the men who died during the Battle for Crete:

History will do justice to the part they played. It will be belated justice. Gallantry in failure, no matter how great it may be, has tardy recognition. May 1941 was a difficult period of the war, certainly our most difficult. We had little equipment and no allies. Looking back on our long and eventful war, the fight to hold Crete was the hardest and most savage campaign of the New Zealand Division.… When our badly equipped forces were driven from the Maleme aerodrome and the slopes west of Canea, the bodies of these men lay on the battlefields where they had fallen. We come, before we depart for our homes, in the name of the New Zealand Division and of the New Zealand Government and of the people of New Zealand, to lay these wreaths on their graves.

Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, in D.M. Davin, Crete, War History Branch, Wellington, 1953, p. 523

New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser sent a message of thanks to the people of Greece and Crete:

The Government and people of New Zealand remember with gratitude all the Greek people have done to help New Zealand soldiers who were left behind when your country was overrun by the German Army in April and May 1941. We are deeply conscious of New Zealand’s debt to the Greek nation for their gallantry and self sacrifice in sheltering many of our men.… We realise that you have clothed and fed our men when you were in want yourselves and that in doing so you suffered hardship and ran great personal risk.

Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Davin, Crete, p. 523

Credit

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: DA-08448
Photographer: J. Murphy
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

How to cite this page

New Zealand veterans return to Crete, 1945, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/new-zealand-veterans-return-crete-1945, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated