Faces of Anzac: Island paradise of Lemnos led straight to Gallipoli hell

Lemnos: Life away from the trenches-AW Savage, The State Library of New South Wales.
Lemnos: Life away from the trenches-AW Savage, The State Library of New South Wales.

EVERYONE knows about the landing at Gallipoli, the centenary of which will be commemorated on April 25, but fewer people have heard of Lemnos.

It wasn't a battlefield, but 148 Australian soldiers are buried there, and it is likely that just about every soldier who went to Gallipoli spent some time on the island.

TV researcher and Lemnos descendant Liz Kaydos has joined forces with the Lemnos 1915 WWI Commemorative Committee to bring the island out of obscurity and shine a light on the Australia/Lemnos connection.

Although a proud Lemnian, Ms Kaydos knew very little of the island history.

The Maeve O'Meara food tour guide found out about the Gallipoli connection by chance when someone suggested she take her group to the Anzac cemetery.

"This story had been lost even to the island," she said.

"My parents didn't know much except that Australians had been there."

A halt at a Greek coffee house, kafeneio. AW Savage, 1915 The State Library of New South Wales

A halt at a Greek coffee house, kafeneio. AW Savage, 1915 The State Library of New South Wales

On March 4, 1915, about 3200 Australian soldiers landed on Lemnos, about 60 kilometres from the Gallipoli peninsula. They were the first Anzacs to set foot on Greek soil. By April 21, about 200 ships, said to be the largest armada up to that point in history, had gathered at Mudros Bay, Lemnos.

The armada left the island on the evening of April 24 and arrived at dawn for the Gallipoli landings.

During the nine-month campaign, more than 50,000 Anzacs, along with many thousands of allied forces, passed through Lemnos.

The rocky island, home to a small sheep farming community, had recently won its independence from the Ottomans and became a place of rest and recuperation.

"Because of the disaster at Gallipoli the hospital ship couldn't cope so a hospital was set up on the island," Ms Kaydos said. "Everyone talks about Gallipoli and the slaughter but here on the island you see nurses and soldiers and the islanders just living.

"It was a good place for a break from the war."

The Anzacs bought fruit and other food from locals and hung out in the coffee shop before returning to war or being repatriated.

The famous Simpson's donkey was said to have come from Lemnos. It was also the home of the female warrior tribe, the Amazons.

Opening night: Kogarah Town Square

Opening night: Kogarah Town Square

Ms Kaydos's research includes many war diaries in the State Library of NSW and photos by Private A.W. Savage.

Some of those photos are in the exhibition — Life Away From the Trenches — at Kogarah Library until March 22.

Kogarah is home to many Lemnos descendants, including councillor George Katsabaris, whose mother is Lemnian. He said Kogarah Council was in the process of establishing a sister-city relationship with the island.

"The island is finally getting a lot of recognition," he said.

"To many Anzacs it would have been the last day of paradise before they hit the gates of hell."

SCULPTURES

Showing at the same time at Kogarah Library is the The Book of St George, a series of sculptures by Kogarah’s first Artist in Residence, Takis Kozokos, who also collaborated on the Lemnos exhibition.

PHOTO EXHIBITION

Another photographic exhibition, Australia and Lemnos Forever Connected is at Rockdale Town Hall. It honours Rockdale Anzac Alfred Smith who is buried on Lemnos. Also until March 22.

Do you have a Lemnos connection? 

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