Kiwis to Crete 2023

A moving account from one of our team that took on the escape route across the White Mountains in Crete.

“Honouring Heroes: A Journey of Remembrance and Resilience in Crete” by Jacob Bingley

Introduction: In May 2023, I had the privilege of joining a group of fellow ex-service personnel on a poignant expedition to Crete. Our mission was to pay tribute to the Kiwi Soldiers, Allies, and Cretans who valiantly fought, lost their lives, or survived the German airborne invasion on May 20, 1941. As we retraced the footsteps of these brave individuals, we immersed ourselves in ceremonial activities, visited significant locations, and experienced the rich culture of Crete. This article recounts the emotional and rewarding journey, highlighting the resilience of the Cretan people and the lasting impact of the Kiwi soldiers.

A Journey of Commemoration: Our expedition took us to key locations where historical events unfolded during the Battle of Crete. We attended solemn ceremonies at Suda Bay, 42nd Street, Galatos, and Sfakia, paying our respects to the fallen heroes. These rituals provided a moment of reflection and connection to the sacrifices made by those who fought bravely in the face of overwhelming odds.

Walking in Their Footsteps: One of the most significant aspects of the expedition was retracing the extraction route taken by many Kiwi soldiers from Maleme airfield to the embarkation point at the port of Sfakia—a gruelling 90-kilometre journey. As we walked along this path, we gained a profound appreciation for the physical and mental endurance required to escape the island. It was a powerful experience that allowed us to connect with the past and honour the resilience of those who undertook this arduous journey.

A Personal Connection: For me, the expedition held a deeply personal significance. My Great Uncle, Sapper Jack (Johnny) William LYALL of the 7 Field Company NZ Engineers, 2nd NZEF, served in Crete and was among the fortunate ones who managed to leave the island and continue the fight. Tragically, he later lost his life on June 27, 1942, during the Breakout of Minqar Qaim in Egypt. Walking in his footsteps and witnessing the landscapes and culture he would have encountered evoked a range of emotions, blending gratitude, admiration, and a sense of familial connection.

Resilience and Solidarity: Throughout our journey, we were profoundly moved by the spirit of resistance demonstrated by the Cretan people. Many locals supported Kiwi soldiers seeking refuge in caves and olive groves, risking their lives to protect and assist them. The Cretans’ unwavering commitment to aiding the Allied forces left an indelible mark on our hearts. Their bravery and selflessness during the German occupation showcased the true essence of solidarity and humanity.

Takeaways and Reflections: The expedition left an enduring impression, highlighting the immense courage and sacrifices made by both Kiwi soldiers and Cretan civilians. Witnessing the landscapes and experiencing the culture of Crete served as a powerful reminder of the historical events that unfolded on the island. The journey fostered a deep admiration for the Cretan people and their resilience, inspiring us to honour the memory of those who fought and perished during the Battle of Crete.

Conclusion: The expedition to Crete was a remarkable journey of remembrance, resilience, and solidarity. As we walked in the footsteps of the heroes who fought in the Battle of Crete, we gained a profound appreciation for their sacrifices. The camaraderie shared among our group of ex-service personnel and the connections forged with the Cretan people added a deeply personal dimension to

the experience. Crete will forever hold a special place in our hearts, serving as a testament to the enduring spirit of courage and compassion that binds us across time and generations.