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Kytherian Publishing & Media

Diggers and Greeks

Diggers and Greeks - Diggers and Greeks COVER Large

Author: Maria Hill

When Published: 2010 (March)

Publisher: University of NSW Press

Available: Through the Kytherian World Heritage Fund, University of NSW and its distributors, including all superior bookstores in Australia

Description: 479 pp,
Appendices, Bibliography
Hard Back, 234x153mm,
ISBN: 9781742230146,

Price: AU$59.95



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O Kosmos, Melbourne, 2-page article - pages 10 & 11 English Section, Monday, 18th May, 2009:


Little is known about the real reasons that Australia committed troops to Greece. Australian historians have, for too long, neglected the Greek and Crete campaigns and what has been written until now, has ignored the Greek side of the story. Never before has the impact of fifth-column activity on Australia’s military relationship with Greece been investigated.

This compelling book combines details of the campaigns with an account of the response of Greeks and Cretans to the Allied forces on their soil. It reveals the personal relations that developed between Australian soldiers and Greek civilians and soldiers; these were sometimes hostile but in other cases developed into friendships that lasted decades after the war had finished.

Maria Hill has trawled through archives in Athens and Canberra to show that while miscommunication between the Greek General Staff and the allied forces was frequent, the situation on the ground was far more complex. Her book also shows why the campaigns on mainland Greece and Crete compelled people to behave in altruistic ways, even when it meant placing themselves in danger. It proves that it is possible to form successful relations with people of a completely different culture in conflict situations, and that those relationships are important and should be nurtured, as they are vital to the wellbeing of all involved.

About the Author

Dr Maria Hill is a professional historian and educational consultant and the first Greek-Australian to write about the Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete. She is a former award-winning high school teacher whose publication Federation: Inclusion and Exclusion for the NSW Department of Education and Training earned her a Commonwealth\ Centenary Medal in 2003. She was also the recipient of the State and National Discovering Democracy Award in 2001, and is the author with Ian Bickerton of Contested Spaces: The Historiography of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2003).

Currently she is Visiting Fellow at UNSW @ ADFA: The Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.


'Most studies of the Greek campaign have tended to gloss over the contribution of the Greeks. Maria Hill’s book adds a completely new perspective to the campaign. She tells great stories of the interaction between Greek people and Australian soldiers.’

– Professor
David Horner, Official Historian and Professor of Australian Defence History, Australian National University.

‘In Diggers and Greeks Maria Hill considers existing accounts of the Greek and Crete campaigns alongside the Greek version of events. She offers a new understanding of those campaigns, to an extent where I doubt that existing interpretations can be viewed as the
whole story any more.’

– Dr Christopher Clarke, RAAF Historian and Head of the Office of Air Force History in the Air Power Development Centre at Tuggeranong, ACT.

Diggers and Greeks



Introduction: Why are the Greek campaigns
not remembered?
1 Greece: The Second Gallipoli?
2 Australia and the Greek campaign: Trickery and Deception
3 Spies, Treachery and the Greek-Australian Military Alliance
4 The Australian campaign on the Greek mainland
5 Sheilas, Nightclubs & Boozing: the Australian soldiers in Athens
6 Diggers and Greeks: relations between Aussies and their allies
7 The Battle for Crete: why was it lost?
8 The Australian Campaign at Rethymnon, Crete
9 The Cretan People
10 Australian soldiers on Crete: Indiscipline & Larrikinism
11 Behind Enemy Lines: ‘Evaders’ & ‘Escapers’
12 Escape from Greece: Diggers and their Greek helpers
13 Australians on the run in Crete
Conclusion: Relationships in Wartime

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ABN: 40 000 382 669

Article about:

The Battle of Crete: A campaign ignored
Dr Maria Hill asks why do Australian and Greek authorities ignore the significance of the Battle of Crete?

18 May 2009, Neos Kosmos

Dr Maria Hill

"The campaign on Crete lasted ten days and led to the capture of over 3,000 Australian soldiers, the death of over 6,000 civilians and the burning of Cretan villages to the ground, forcing the Cretan people to live in caves for many years after the war."

The organising committee for this commemoration, at least in Sydney, is concerned that soon there will be no event to remember the Australian soldiers and their Greek allies who fought in these campaigns, held on or around the May 20, the day the German paratroopers invaded Crete, now, 68 years ago.

It appears with the aging of the veterans that attendance is fizzling out and without strong support from the Australian public and the Greek and Australian governments it will cease to be commemorated. Cost cutting measures have impacted on the remembrance of this campaign.

And while thousands of Australians attend dawn services at or about Gallipoli, with funds and enormous publicity directed at this event, very few people are aware that a commemoration takes place every year in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, attended by high ranking Greek generals, to remember the fallen of the Greek and Crete campaigns.

Why is this the case, when like Gallipoli, the Australian campaigns in Greece were ‘defeats’? Why don’t they deserve public recognition?

Passers by at the cenotaph in Martin Place in Sydney remain oblivious to what is being commemorated because there are no banners identifying the ceremony.

It appears that it is left to the veterans and their organising committee to find the funds to do so and not the City of Sydney Council. If this is the case, one wanders if the 90-year-old veterans are also required to supply the banners for Anzac Day as well.

It is a sad testimony to the Australians who fought on mainland Greece in April 1941 and later on Crete that so little public attention is afforded this commemoration.

What makes the omission even more striking, is that the Greek and Crete campaigns resulted in the capture of 83 percent of Australian troops taken prisoner by the Germans and Italians.

It exposed the Greek people and the Australian soldiers to unceasing German bombardment by ‘Stuka’ planes fitted with high pitch screeching devices aimed at instilling terror in the hearts of their victims.

Most soldiers only just managed to escape with their life, remarking that the evacuation from the Greek mainland made Dunkirk seem like child’s play.

Later, most of these soldiers were on the front line again, this time on Crete without equipment, arms and ammunition and ordered to defend the island.

The campaign on Crete lasted ten days and led to the capture of over 3,000 Australian soldiers, the death of over 6,000 civilians and the burning of Cretan villages to the ground, forcing the Cretan people to live in caves for many years after the war.

As the elite Cretan V division had been deployed to the Greek mainland to fight Italians on the Albanian front, only raw Greek recruits from the mainland, old men, women and children were left, alongside the Cretan police and the Anzac troops, to defend the island.

Although the Allies had a greater number of troops on Crete than the Germans, they lacked the guns and bullets needed to fight a war.

Poor planning and preparation on the part of the British meant that the Aussies and their Greek allies were placed in an impossible situation.

The Allied Commander New Zealand General, Bernard Freyberg, was in charge of the overall defence of the island. Unfortunately, he did not heed the top-secret advice he was given that told him when and where the German attacks would take place.

As a result the airfield at Maleme on the western side of the island near Chania was lost on the first day, opening the way for a German land attack.

Whereas the Australian officer Lieutenant Colonel Ian Campbell in charge of defending the airstrip at Rethymnon, located between Chania and Heraklion, implemented a brilliant strategy, he was forced to surrender because his ran out of ammunition and supplies.

And the irony is that while the Australian defence of Rethymnon remains relatively unknown and unrecognised in Australia, on Crete Ian Campbell was made an honorary citizen and has streets named after him and the Australian fighters.

Why is it that, some campaigns get enormous media coverage while others receive very little? Kokoda, for example has taken over from Gallipoli as the most important campaign of World War Two, but is it?

Who decides what we commemorate?

The attention that Gallipoli and Kokoda receive in the History curriculum particularly in New South Wales would certainly account for much of their popularity.

One Australian veteran told me that the reason Greece and Crete is neglected apart from not being studied at schools, is that the British and Australian governments were ashamed of these campaigns.

This is not surprising, as it must have been a major embarrassment to them, particularly when the public discovered in 1941 that Australia had agreed to Britain’s request to deploy Australian troops in a campaign that had no chance of success and in another without adequate equipment, supplies and air cover.

And subsequently exposed the Greek people to the most ruthless occupation of their country, resulting in the starvation and death of over 300,000 civilians. Is it any wonder that the Australian campaigns on the Greek mainland and in Crete remain forgotten?

After all, no-one wants their dirty laundry aired in public, even seventy years on; but isn’t that all the more reason for greater scrutiny and remembrance?

Dr Maria Hill is Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy at the University of New South Wales. She is currently researching and writing a book on the Greek and Crete campaigns that is due to be published by UNSW Press in March 2010 entitled Diggers and Greeks: the Australian Campaigns in Greece and Crete.

Maria is happy to hear from anyone interested in talking to her about their own or a family member’s experience in the Greek and Crete campaigns and can be contacted via her website at: http://www.mariahill.com.au

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Canberra Times
on 12.04.2010

Digging up truths behind Anzacs in Greece Publication: The Canberra Times , Page 14 (Sat 10 Apr 2010) Australia Remembers 1995 commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, in part, by taking Australian veterans to the places where they had fought. One ''pilgrimage'', as the organisers like to call these tours, took in North Africa, Greece, Crete, London and Paris. I rather wish Maria Hill had been with us on this trip. She would have had plenty to say because the major themes in her book echo precisely what the ''pilgrims'' discovered in 1995. We only spent a day and a bit in Athens and went nowhere near the battlefields, such as they were, of continental Greece. Hill would nod in agreement but with some annoyance. She argues that we simply do not want to know the detail of what happened in Greece. The ''Grecian Greyhounds'', Lord Haw-Haw called the retreating Australians of 1941. Through British duplicity Australian and New Zealand troops had been hastily and wastefully dumped in the north of the country immediately to fight a retirement to the south. The Australian fighting in Greece is largely unknown now, and was hardly examined then. The retreat was inglorious and it seems those organising Australian memories in 1995 simply wanted to forget it. Hill has written this book in the earnest hope that all Australians will want to know more. We spent marginally more time in the pilgrimage on Crete and looked at some of the places where the Australians did indeed fight. Hill is scathing about the lack of planning in setting up these major battles on Crete and quotes many sources, soldiers and war correspondents, who could see the hopelessness of what was attempted at the time. She argues convincingly that more aggressive and wiser leadership might have given the invading Germans a tougher time of it but asks, sensibly, how to account for the failure of the Allied high command. Yet if the Germans had been held up on Crete, or even beaten there, would that have made much difference at all to the war's progression? Hardly. Crete was a small, largely barren island of little, if any, strategic significance. Most who have looked at Crete have agreed that the Anzacs should not have been there in the first place. Hill writes shrewd, judgmental military history with clarity and insight. She skips along at an energetic pace and it is hard to contest her underlining contempt for those who moved the Australians from near victory on the North African desert to complete defeat in continental Greece and Crete. Her book is worth reading for that alone. But as Hill tells us, ''this is a book about Australian soldiers and their Greek allies ... it is about human relationships and why they matter.'' Perhaps only a Greek- Australian could have written this book with its keen understanding of the inter- reactions between the two peoples. The travelling veterans of 1995, and those supporting them, experienced the warmth of the love and regard of Greeks for Australians that Hill writes about with such certainty. The veterans were welcomed and heartily embraced by a Greek people who clearly still held Australian soldiers in the highest regard. The strength of the welcome for them on Crete was at least as great, if not greater, than that given by any other community on any other pilgrimage on which I travelled. Those days on Crete were a deeply moving revelation, as is this book. The Australians were moved by the appalling poverty and suffering of the Greeks who nevertheless opened their hearts and homes to these soldiers from so far away. With little more than sign language as a means of communication, both groups seem to have understood one another. A junior Australian officer who had studied classical Greek at school could read all the road signs and shop hoardings but when it came to conversation he was lost. Why the two groups worked so well together is a question Hill can only tentatively answer. That each side recognised the other as a genuine pack of ''mad bastards'' might be a starting point. The travelling ''pilgrims'' in 1995 were taken to the Prevelli monastery on the southern side of Crete, a place from which many Australians were helped to evacuate. The monks were warmly hospitable and delighted in showing off their treasures. The ''pilgrims'' were quietly appreciative. Then it was time for a glass or two of fiery liqueur on the monastic terrace and some equally strong and pungent cheese. One of the monks, unseen by us, produced a pistol from within the folds of his habit and fired a couple of shots into the air to show that he was happy. The noise, at such close quarters, was fearsome. The shock, profound. But within seconds everyone, Cretan and Australian, was roaring with laughter. Mad bastards. People who understood one another. Diggers and Greeks is a serious and accessible addition to Australian military history about a campaign that has been unfairly overlooked. It is a wise, loving and important book from an author passionately engaged with her subject. It can tell you a great deal about Australians and Greeks and a great deal too about the horrors of war and awfulness of those who direct them. Michael McKernan has written the introduction to The Gallipoli Letter, just published.

on 26.04.2010

GREEK STARS SHINE Sun Herald, Sunday April 25, 2010, page 9. A visiting Fellow at the UNSW Australian Defence Force Academy has called for more that 5100 Australian soldiers who fought in Greece and Crete during World War II to be given recognition. Dr Maria Hill said a new medal, the Greek Star, should be awarded to the Australian soldiers. Many were captured and held by Germany and Italy, leaving them with no medals for their services during war.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
on 26.04.2010

Call for medals for campaign in Greece, Crete Posted originally, on the ABC website, Sun Apr 25, 2010 7:00am AEST A military historian is calling on the Australian Government to award campaign medals to Australian soldiers who fought in Greece and Crete during World War Two. The soldiers were issued with medals by the Greek government, but not the British Empire. Dr Maria Hill, a visiting fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, says they deserve recognition for fighting in what was an extremely difficult campaign. "These campaigns were really horrendous. They were sent there on the front line to fight a war that had no chance of success, by the British Government for good political reasons," she said. "Their own government acquiesced for them to be used that way and didn't find out what was really going on. And now there is an opportunity to actually right the wrong."