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July 15, 2006

The Battle of Crete exhibition at Hania's Maritime Museum of Crete

Battlecrete01 I haven't read up as much as I would like yet about Crete in World War II, but already I find myself quite moved and rather sad about the Battle for Crete, and the impact it had on the island.

It seems very much to me that Crete has always been a strategically important island at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and the east, but that wasn't the fault of the Cretans who happened to be alive on the island in 1941. Likewise I doubt any of the German soldiers who fought on the island signed up to the Nazi armed forces in the expectation of being part of the first ever primarily parachute-led assault on a major island. Or that the Allied troops that eventually had to be smuggled off the south coast went to Crete expecting to face such a fearsome invasion.

The Maritime Museum of Crete has a large section on the upper floor devoted to the 1941 Battle of Crete.

The naval battle around the island sounds like it was particularly grim, with Allied and Greek ships being picked off by the aerial superiority of German forces. Sources in the museum talk of ships having to turn around because they had already picked up all the people they could carry, leaving survivors of other sunken vessels adrift in the ocean waiting to either drown or be machine-gunned by the Luftwaffe.

Battlecrete02 There were some desperately sad photographs in the exhibition. Mass open unmarked graves for soldiers. The corpses of German parachutists lying broken on the ground after they had been shot on their descent. And also photographic evidence of some of the strange rituals you get in times of war - there were pictures of Allied troops, who mostly came from Britain, New Zealand and Australia, being blessed in a public ceremony by Greek Orthodox Priests.

There were also some touching personal exhibits as well. One photograph showed an Allied soldier from New Zealand with a group of children in Agia Marina, just down the road from where we live. He had donated it to the museum in the 1990s, and wondered if any of the children in the photo recognised themselves some 50 years later.

The Battle of Crete is still a very active force in the collective consciousness of the island. One room contained pictures by the Greek children of today depicting the battle scenes of 65 years ago. There are also hundreds of objects, like the flour sacks and German dinner set above, that look like they have been found and kept by Cretan families for years before they were donated to the museum.

It was by some distance the most interesting part of the museum, with all sorts of bits'n'bobs of Allied and German equipment, and well worth the €2.50 admission fee to the museum alone.


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I am coming to Crete, after spending some time in Athens, on Sat 25th August. I have an interest in the 1866-98 Crete rebellion, in particular the only Victoria Cross awarded in this conflict to William Job Maillard, Surgeon. Awarded for Valour on 6th September 1898 at Candia. Where is Candia? It is on the northern coastline, the citation says that the conflict in Candia, in which 17 British lives were lost, ultimately led to the end of Turkish authority across the island. Maillard was the only Naval Surgeon to have won a VC, he died in 1902.

Hi David, Candia is the old Venetian name for modern Heraklion, now the capital of the island

Crete suffered greatly in WW2 simply because the people would not submit to tyrants who wanted to impose upon them a regime which would have taken their liberty away forever. The Cretans died rather than give in. We have seen many celebrations of the military battles on Crete. In September this 74 year old will be taking his pipes to the remote villages to play in tribute at the CIVILIAN memorials LEST WE FORGET.

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