During the peak period of wars many legacies are born, creating men of dire amorality and men deserving pure approbation. However not all legacies are either of heroic or villainous actions made by men. The Battle for Crete has left an immense legacy on the history of Western Australia. While Australia had no direct reason to incorporate the Battle of Crete into our national legacy, we have. Through the experiences of Geoffrey Edwards, Western Australia has ever-immortalised the Battle of Crete through the small coastal township of Prevelly in the south-west region, named after the Holy Monastery of Preveli on the Isle of Crete.
The Battle of Crete (May 20-June 1, 1941) has had significance in Western Australian military history. The events that occurred in Crete during World War II have left a legacy. Nazi Germany implemented an airborne attack on Crete off the coast of Greece. (Battle of Crete. n.d.) With the Allied forces of Greece, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom along with Cretan civilians, there were 40,000- 61,800 defending the island. Nazi Germany bombarded Crete with two waves of paratroopers. (This is the most famous paratrooper attack in history.) One group attacked Rethimnon and Heraklion on the coast and then pushed south massacring villagers as the other paratroopers stayed in a defensive position. (Battle of Crete summary. 2013). The Battle of 42nd Street, saw the spirit of the Anzacs. On May 27, hundreds of Australian and New Zealand soldiers were dug along 42nd Street. It was made up of the remains of two Australian battalions and four New Zealand battalions. This included a young Aboriginal, Reg Saunders. The enemy flooded the Anzac lines with machine guns and mortar fire. With the screaming of the Ka Mate haka, the Maori warriors advanced. This violence meant many petrified Germans threw away their packs and ran. These actions gave the retreating Allied forces a respite for the Germans attacks. (Sweet. M. 2014) The overall Battle of Crete resulted in the Allied forces having troops imprisoned or retreating to Egypt surrendering as the Nazis took control of the island. (Crete History. n.d), continuing with their invasion of Europe. For the Allied forces, Crete was a chance to win and stop the spread of Hitler and Mussolini. It was not a success and many soldiers were left to their own resources to survive. During these battles most of the Allied forces were already in retreat or with no hope and no source of reinforcement. All of this was so significant, as our troops faced the enemy line in alliance with other Commonwealth countries and Cretan partisans. A monument is on the Preveli cliff showing this connection after such a traumatic event. (Battle of Crete. n.d.) This showed Australia’s integrity and ability to help in an Allied region. From reading about their battles, young people can appreciate the loyalty and teamwork of the Allies even when losing, to always give your best.
One West Australian solider in particular, from the Battle of Crete, Geoffrey Edwards, deserves extensive recognition for his actions during and after the Battle. He is a survivor, who has told his story about his experiences and struggle during this time and on being imprisoned by the enemy. Edwards’ courage and loyalty to his country enabled him to find the ability to escape and stay hidden. After the Nazis attacked and the Allied forces decided to retreat, many soldiers were helped by the Cretans. Edwards was taken prisoner and marched to a P.O.W camp near Souda. This is where Edwards and his fellow solider Bill McCarrey had to make the life or death decision to escape or stay. They escaped. This decision left the two men hiking through mountains to the south coast. (The Geoff Edwards Story in World War 2. n.d.) Where the evacuations had taken place, earlier in June 1941. With Crete now occupied by the Nazis, locals helping escapes was unlikely. However, a Monk at the Preveli Monastery, Agathangelos Lagouvardos, risked all to hide these two soldiers. The sheer bravery and solidarity of the Cretan people helped many of our men to come home.
Geoffrey Edwards’ appreciation was never left unrecognised. He returned home with such gratitude that he commenced construction of the St. John The Themologian chapel on a property near Margret River and named it Prevelly. This area/ “village” was dedicated to the Cretan people of Preveli by Edwards as a sign of his gratitude towards those who helped him and McCarrey escape. (Geoffrey Edwards and Prevelly in Australia. n.d.) Edwards, with the help of his wife Beryl, constructed the chapel to convey the symbol of the ongoing tie between Crete and Australia that lives on because of this Battle (Jean, 2018). Edward’s Legacy was built around his founding of the township of Prevelly and the construction of the chapel. Visitors to Prevelly today are more likely to associate the Preveli story to a similar beach culture with the Greek islands. To young people today and for the future generations who read about the story of the chapel, Geoffrey Edwards shows that legacies don’t necessarily need to be about warfare and military actions, but can be about mateship, solidarity and appreciation for those who risked their lives and fought as a united front, as well as those who help others to survive. Also, at Preveli Greece, there is a dedicated room to this same story. Broader acknowledgement means all travellers are aware of this connection with Greece in this specific World War II story.
Edward’s legacy is two special places a world apart, one celebrating the other. From the Battle of Crete comes a show of friendship between the Allies in adverse times to appreciate those who showed mateship and trust. Australia, today, needs in our younger society to take these attributes on board as they are fundamental principles for creating a society that can succeed and furthermore lead to expansion of ideas and mateship in Australia.