The Greek flag flew at the Wairarapa Services and Citizens Club in Masterton yesterday to mark the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

Paul London, vice-president of the New Zealand Battle of Crete Association, raised the blue and white flag on a pole flanking the club entrance yesterday morning before travelling to Wellington for an official Government commemorative service at Massey University.

Mr London said Masterton's Haddon Donald, 97, Crete veteran and former Commanding Officer of 22nd Battalion, 2nd NZEF, was to have raised the flag and attend the Wellington service.

However, Mr Donald was yesterday with his family at the funeral in Masterton of his wife Ana Donald after her death on Thursday, aged 90.

Advertisement

Mr Donald, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, was one of the 7700 New Zealand soldiers stationed on the Mediterranean island when the Battle of Crete began just after dawn on May 20, 1941.

Thousands of crack German paratroopers had leapfrogged a waiting British fleet and descended by parachute from hundreds of transport aircraft - some towing gliders. Many of the under-equipped Allied soldiers were eating breakfast as their enemies fell upon them.

New Zealanders, British, Australian and Greek troops, assisted by Cretan civilians, fought courageously for 12 days, putting to the sword about 6000 of the elite German soldiers and almost defeating the airborne assault.

Many New Zealanders escaped Crete, but more than 2000 were taken prisoner and 671 died. Among the evacuees were Charles Upham and Alfred Hulme, Victoria Cross winners for their actions on Crete.

An 80kg bronze plaque was to be presented today to the Mayor of Chania, the second largest city on the island.

The plaque commemorates the vital actions of Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the last days of the battle, which bought time for Allied troops to be evacuated.

Soldiers from the 28th Maori Battalion and the 2/7th Battalion Australia were the first to repulse a German advance to the west of 42nd St, now known as Tsikalarion St, on the morning of May 27, 1941.

Their actions cost the lives of about 35 Anzacs and 200 enemy and were spurred on by a single Maori soldier performing a haka.

Advertisement