April 24, 2020

An ANZAC Story, From Preveli Crete to Prevelly Western Australia.

In 1941, Australian, New Zealand and British troops were locked in heavy battle for the defence of the southern most island of Greece, Crete. Known as the ‘Battle of Crete,’ Allied servicemen were overwhelmed and captured by German troops and imprisoned in war camps.

One of those captured was the English-born Australian soldier Geoffrey Edwards. In a daring escape from the Gestapo, the imprisoned Edwards, aided by a local shepherd was led to a cliff perched Monastery named Preveli on the southern coast of the island. The monastery was a safe haven for hundreds of Allied troops who had successfully escaped German capture and were sheltered and cared for by the monks. On an August night in 1941, Edwards was evacuated from Crete on the HMS “Thrasher” and as he departed, he vowed that he would never forget the Cretan people and Monks of the Holy Monastery of Preveli for saving his and other Allied troops lives during the war time campaign.

Some years later in the 1950’s, Geoffrey Edwards moved his family to a parcel of land 10km west of Margaret River south of Perth WA. Their dream was to build a holiday park with chalets and campsites and which they named ‘Prevelly Park’ after Preveli in Crete.

Some 35 years after he had left Crete, Edwards returned with his wife Beryl during a European vacation. The local people of Preveli welcomed Beryl and Geoffrey in traditional Greek fashion and hospitality. The monks celebrated their visit with thanks, prayers, and feasts. So moved by the reunion and reception, it was decided that a permanent link would be forged between Preveli Crete and Prevelly WA by way of a small Greek chapel similar to those dotted all over Greece to be constructed.

In an extract from ‘The Road to Prevelly’, authored by Geoffrey Edwards (1989), he explains: “It would be a memorial to those who fell. It would honour those brave Cretans, the men and women who risked their own lives in helping us during our hour of need. It would be a symbol of the fight for freedom. It would be a message to all future generations that freedom is not free. It would be named the Chapel of St John the Theologian, the same as the Chapel at the Monastery, thus forging a permanent link between the two; one in the old world, and one in the new.”

With the assistance of the Greek Orthodox Church in Perth, the Greek Consul & Community and ex-servicemen organisations, the chapel was completed and furnished in 1979. The Chapel remains to this day and although you will find it for the most part largely locked, it hosts the occasional wedding and welcomes visitors.

On April 7, 2000, Geoffrey Edwards was awarded an order of Australia Medal (OAM) for services to the Greek Community and then peacefully passed away four days later.

This year marks 79 years since the Battle of Crete. It brought terrible destruction to millions of lives for both soldiers and civilians from across the globe and for whom many would never return home. Thrown together by the violence of war, two cultures also demonstrated their common humanity and fight for freedom.

Australians continue to serve with distinction in conflict and peacekeeping around the world. This Anzac Day we commemorate more than a century of service. Thank you to our past and present service men and woman for protecting our shores and keeping us safe.

To learn more about the Anzacs, please visit anzacportal.dva.gov.au