As the 74th anniversaries of the Battle of Greece and Battle of Crete near, the Royal Australian Mint released two 2015 non-circulating 50-cent coins for the battles.
The copper-nickel coins were announced at the commemorative wreath-laying ceremony May 14 at the Australian Hellenic Memorial in Canberra.
During World War II, in 1941, Australian and Allied troops were sent to Greece, and the island of Crete, to assist in defence against the Axis forces.
Axis power Germany feared Greece becoming a British ally, which would jeopardize Germany’s access to the Romanian oilfields.To protect its interests, Germany invaded Greece.
British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers banded together to help defend Greece, but some 50,000 Commonwealth troops had to be evacuated and more than 3,000 Australians and New Zealanders were captured.
Many of the soldiers fighting to defend Greece withdrew to the island of Crete to sustain the Royal Navy’s garrison.
Despite their unified and desperate attempts to hold Crete, this costly action caused the troops to suffer heavily, according to the RAM's account of the battles. There were more than 7,000 casualties and more than 11,000 soldiers taken as prisoners of war, including 5,600 Australians.
While both battles ended in ultimate defeat for the Allies, the bond between Greece and Australia was strengthened, according to the Royal Australian Mint.
The ceremony included many representatives from the Greek and Cretan communities, including veterans who were involved in the battles and each was presented with their own keepsake, according to the RAM.
The President of the Hellenic Club of Canberra, John Kalokerinos, and the President of the Cretan Association of Canberra and Districts Limited representing the Cretan Federation for Australia and New Zealand, George Katheklakis, said they were pleased to see the battles recognized as part of the Official Anzac Centenary Coin Program.
“The contribution and sacrifice Australians made, standing side-by-side with the Greeks in these battles, is an important part of common history between Australia and Greece and the Greek community are honored to see this story being remembered,” said Kalokerinos.
“The Cretan Federation of Australia and New Zealand is proud to be associated with this historic event that will enable current and future generations to remember and honour those individuals that fought an epic battle to ensure our freedom,” said Katheklakis.
The new coin designs are part of the Royal Australian Mint’s three year Australia at War series and each features an intricate design capturing the battleground with soldiers side-by-side in combat.
The Battle of Crete coin shows soldiers engaged in the fight both on land and by air, with ancient ruins and the flames of war in the background.
The coin for the Greece campaign depicts Commonwealth soldiers battling alongside an ancient Greek warrior.