The festive spirit has come early for the Crete Veterans Association, with their end of year Christmas party taking place today at the Mount Maunganui RSA.
A crowd of around 80 families from far and wide gathered for the occasion, exchanging tales about their loved ones over mince pies and early Christmas cake.
Making the day even more special was guest appearances by some of the oldest surviving veterans, including Anthony Madden, 97, Eric Wilson, 98, Brent Robinson, 99, Bill Bristowe, 99 and Roye Hammond, 99.
Pukekohe veterans Bill and Roye were driven over by Franklin RSA vice president and treasurer Teresa Cousins. She says the pair makes the trip over about three times a year
“Mount Maunganui is the place where the Crete association meets,” says Teresa.
“We last came over in May for the commemoration day. Usually Roye is over in Crete for the commemoration, but this time he was with us.”
She says Roye has been over around eight times now, with a plan to go again next year. She hopes to join him.
“There's nothing I would love more than to hear out of his mouth what happened over those hills.”
Over the past few years the association is seeing a lot of new members, says Teresa.
“What happens now with the association is that because there's so few of the veterans, we have a lot of widows who come on behalf of their husbands and also family members.
“They come out to these meetings and will either share or listen to stories because they've lost a loved one and want to keep their memory alive.”
She says Bill, who celebrated his 99th birthday on Sunday, is another veteran who has travelled back to Crete.
In his last trip, he was accompanied by his daughter Leonie. He says he remembers moments from the battle ‘clear as day'.
“You see the pictures and you hear the landscape through stories,” says Leonie.
“Being there and seeing it you actually get to strategically think about it and you wonder where did the battle begin and whereabouts was Dad?”
Pukekohe veteran Bill Bristow recently celebrated his 99th birthday. Photo: RSA Franklin/Facebook.
Another family present at the Mount RSA today was Helen and Maia Leaf, granddaughter and great-granddaughter, respectively, of Captain Harding Leaf.
The pair presented a speech on Harding and his involvement in the 28th Maori Battalion.
“He received a military cross in the First World War, and came home again,” says Helen. “But then he went back in the Second World War, because he didn't want his son, who is my dad, to go.
“He wrote my dad a letter that said ‘I'll go for us' and off he went.”
The Leaf family say they have also made a trip to Crete, to commemorate the actions of their relative.
“My son and I went to Crete last year, with some of the veterans, it was an amazing trip,” says Helen.
“It was real spiritual you could tell where they'd been.”
Helen Leaf and Maia Leaf presented a speech on the 28th Maori Battalion in which their relative Captain Harding Leaf served. Photo: Sam Gardner.