Military history has a great following in Australia, so it is perplexing that military historians have ignored the battles of Greece and Crete. In fact, war history is very popular worldwide, which makes the neglect the Greek and Crete campaigns even more pronounced. Veterans of the campaigns believe this is because people do not want to read about ‘defeats’ only ‘victories’. If that was the case, surely Gallipoli would have been forgotten years ago. Some historians have suggested this is because the Greek and Crete campaigns were strategically insignificant, as they did not affect the outcome of Second World War. The Greeks and their allies would beg to differ, claiming that Crete in particular delayed Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia. Even if this is not true, the Greek campaigns were important for Australia as its soldiers constituted the largest number of front line or fighting troops. In the first couple years of the Second World War it was mainly the Dominion troops who were fighting the war on behalf of Britain, as the United Kingdom had decided to keep most of its forces behind to defend the mother country from possible invasion.
Research for Diggers and Greeks
Maria has spent the last eight years researching and writing about the Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete. This involved a significant amount of research at the Australian War Memorial that contains close to 2,000 items relating to the Greek and Crete campaign of 1941. The National Archives of Australia are also has valuable information on these campaigns as does the National Library of Australia including others repositories in the country. She also ordered from Britain copies of all the operational reports pertaining to Greece and Crete including the reports by their intelligence operatives. Not satisfied with obtaining British accounts of the battles of Greece and Crete Maria commissioned Archives New Zealand to conduct research on them as well in their repository.
Maria however did not restrict her investigation to Australia. In 2003, with the help of an Australian Army History research grant she travelled throughout mainland Greece and to the island of Crete to examine their archival records. Maria was able to gain access to the records of the Diplomatic and Historical Archives and the Greek Military archives in Athens. It does help that she speaks, reads and writes Greek.
She subsequently flew to Thessaloniki in northern Greece to walk the battlefields where Australian and Greek soldiers fought near the border with Albania. This was a real eye opener – experiencing the steepness of the Greek terrain and the narrowness of its roads first hand, helped Dr Maria Hill understand how perilous the journey was for the Australian troops ordered to fight on Greece’s northern frontier in one of the coldest winter, without adequate clothing, weaponry or transport.
Maria also visited the military museums throughout the country as well as the newspaper offices and the regional offices of the General Archives of Greece. One of the most enjoyable part of her trip however was having a coffee and chat at the local K.A.P.I. or Senior Citizens Clubs throughout Greece with the Greek veterans and civilians who helped allied soldiers, recording their memories of those years. Maria finds oral history a very useful tool for researching the past because it captures the ‘feelings’, ‘emotions’ and ‘attitudes’ of the soldiers and civilians involved in the conflict.
Maria Hill’s aim in writing Diggers and Greeks was to put human relations at the forefront of any discussions of these campaigns. For too long military campaigns have been viewed through the prism of military strategy, as if people’s emotions, temperament and behaviour have no bearing on what occurred in the battlefield and beyond.
It is difficult to imagine, after reading Maria’s book that human relations can be left out of the study of war.