Moments in Souda Bay War Cemetery

I spent a while this afternoon in the Souda Bay War Cemetery. Sometimes I just like to go there to sit and stare across the many neatly lined graves to the sea of Souda. I am too young to actually remember the war because I wasn’t born until 1946, but from what I have read, heard and seen on some newsreels, I have a good idea what happened here.

British and allied troops, New Zealanders, Australians and others were being rescued from the mainland of Greece and being brought to Souda by the Royal Navy. The British Expeditionary force on the mainland had been overrun by the German forces and those who could manage to get onto Naval ships were luckier than most.

Most of the battleships and destroyers had large red crosses on their decks to show that they were acting as hospital ships carrying wounded men. But this did not bother the Germans who continued to shoot at and bomb the British ships from the air. Some never even made it to Souda Bay. Eventually there were up to thirty British naval ships in Souda still being bombed and blasted by the German luftwaffe.

It is guessed that up to twenty of these ships are still there, sunk in Souda Bay. The men who could get off of the ships managed to climb up the sides of the bay and escape to olive groves wherever possible. It was a scene of absolute chaos and so many people died. More were to die in May 1941 when the German forces attacked the island of Crete, again by air.

After the war, all of the bodies that could be found, recognisable or unrecognisable, were brought back to Souda Bay to be laid to rest in this superb cemetery, gifted to the War Graves Commission by the Greek people. Each body has a stone, some of the stones have names, but so many just say ‘ A British Airman’ or ‘A New Zealand Soldier. Some of the stones have the names of famous people like John Pendlbury, curator of Knossos who joined up to defend Crete and died valiantly in 1941.

But today I saw the stone that had the name of a New Zealand Maori soldier who died fighting the Germans during the invasion of Crete. Just by the stone, a little wooden cross lies in the earth and beside that a photograph of him before he left New Zealand to come so far to fight people he had maybe never even heard of.

The photograph meant that someone, his parents, a brother or sister had also travelled this far. To pray for him and leave this small memento of his life cut drastically short by war. Today I looked right into his eyes and I felt desperately saddened by their terrible loss.

34 thoughts on “Moments in Souda Bay War Cemetery

  1. I am younger than you, although not much younger, but often go to the Souda Bay cemetery with friends or family who come here to visit us.

    It’s a beautiful, tranquil place and perfectly maintained to this day. It’s interesting to note that whilst many of the named soldiers killed were young men there are others who were in their forties.

    Sadly, our generation has failed to learn that war is a fruitless exercise but then why should we be different from the hundreds of generations who have gone before us?

    Perhaps if our so-called leaders were to take time to reflect at Souda, or indeed any of the other war graves scattered across Europe, they would not be as eager to commit troops to today’s equally fruitless conflicts.


  2. On the day my parents first moved into their home in a quiet little suburb in Sydney Australia after migrating from Greece, they introduced themselves to our next door neighbour. The usual pleasantries were exchanged and they all engaged in small talk; until my father mentioned he was from Crete. Whereupon, our neighbour looked at my father in all earnest and said: “If you need anything, anything at all — you have only to ask.”

    That neighbour claimed he owed his life to the people of Crete. During the Battle of Crete he was often aided by ordinary civilians. The way he spoke of the Cretan hospitality was reminiscent of Nikos Kazantzakis’ own account as retold in Report to Greco.

  3. Hi,

    Very interesting. I first visitied Souda in 1968 and was taken by the wee corner in which lay many from Sottish regiments. I vowed one day I would return to play my pipes there.

    On 2nd September 2008, I will be returning to Crete but only after travelling visitng war graves worldwide.

    This time I will be travelling alone to seek out the memorials dedicated to ‘the forgotten army’ – the civilians who died defying the invaders.

    My pilgrimage will not be a grand affair = simply a 73 year old piper saying not only WE WILL REMEMBER but THANK YOU.

    Bill Jenkins

  4. I am now 70 years old and can remember a little of the war.Ivisited the Military Cemetry at Souda bay 3 years ago
    to pay my respects to the young and older men who gave
    their lives during the Crete conflict.
    Whilst standing there in the warm sunshine the opening
    lines of Rupert Brook’s poem “The Soldier” seemed so poignant.

    “If Ishould die think only this of me,
    That there is some corner of a foreign field
    That is forever England.”

    In the visitor’s book there were so many tributes to these
    brave men,that I found it difficult to think what to to add.
    So I wrote two very simple words,”Thank You”.

  5. i have visited the war memorial many times, as a cretean,as an aussie, i have sat there and gotten emotional, both for the aussies that died fighting, and for the people of crete, this is a sacred site to me, cos its a symbol of my life, born from cretean parents, and brought up in australia, the two cultures that i love, lie side by side there, i recomend that all aussies visit this most beautiful, peaceful, place. it will bring a tear to you, the cretean people upkeep of the aussie graves is immaculate, a sign of love and respect, aviva e crete, god bless australia, and the men that gave there lives for the freedom of the people of crete.

  6. I visited the cemetary in 1988 to find the gravestone of my Great Uncle Tom Sims, who died during the battle of Crete on 27 May 1941 aged 25.

    As I was born in 1960, I never met Tom, but have read widely about the battle, which was one of the most brutal battles of the second world war.

    Tom Sims was born and bought up in Arkwright, a small town near Chesterfield in Derbyshire and joined the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment only months before arriving on Crete. He died as the evacuation started.

    If anyone has any information about the battle, particularly around the Iraklion area, where I know Tom was stationed, I would be very grateful.

    I will be visiting again this year (2008) with my wife and three children, the eldest of whom I have named after Tom Sims and plan to leave a photograph of Tom, who lost his life so far away from home.

    Kev Johnson

  7. Hi Peter,

    Rupert Chauner Brook is actually buried alone on the Greek island of Skyros. His is the only war grave there. It is in the countryside away from anywhere really. So fitting for such a man. I visitied his grave in 1991. There was only myself and a very puzzled taxi driver. To see a piper in unform was starneg to him. Later I joined the locals for a wee dram and there was an old man who insisted that he and a few others returned the following morning for a re-run of my tribute ….
    Bill Jenkins

    • Bill Jenkins – please contact me. My name is Michael Morris. I specialize in Rupert Brooke on Skyros and I would like to ask about your visit to the RB grave there. Thank you. MM

  8. Hello poppypiper,

    Thanks for the info on Rupert Brook. I am not going back to Crete until May 2009, but will again pay my respects at Souda Bay, together with my daughter and her husband, who will be
    visiting a war cemetery for the first time. I am sure the impact
    will be profound.

    Thanks again Bill, good luck on your travels.

    Best regards,

    Peter gillbanks

  9. Hi Peter,

    I will not be returning to Crete again unless it is to the southern coast. The north is completely ‘Europeanated’ To talk there about sacrifice and history is an embarrasement and may upset the ‘new invaders’. NUF SED.

    I did manage to get round 32 villages and paid my respects to the civilians who died there. I do not expect any to retrace my steps but if nothing else visit VATHI. Not easy to get to and little there when you do. There is howver a small memorial to the villagers who were killed by the Germans and another wee one dedicated to three kids all under 6 years of age. To stand in the silence of Vathi is an experience which will remain with you forever. LEST WE FORGET

  10. My father served with the Royal Navy in WW2 and was involved in the conflict at Crete,While i was holidaying at Crete in 2000 i visited the war graves at Souda,the cemetary was immaculate and a credit to the people who keep it in this condition.Iwas there for an hour or so and just looking at the brilliant white headstones filled me with great sadness as alot of the casualties were no more than young lads fighting for their country,if you ever go to Crete take time out and go and visit Souda,pay your respects to the lads,i did and the memories will stay with me forever

  11. For those who may not be able to visit Souda Bay, or indeed any other cemetery where a military relative may be buried, might like to use the facilities of the War Graves Photographic Project at
    The WGPP started as a project to photograph the headstone or memorial of every British serviceman who was killed or died as a result of injuries received in service, but now extends to all Commonwealth servicemen and beyond. It is now in an official partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
    Every headstone with a name from Souda has been photographed and recorded, but sadly that amounts to only about 50% of those buried there.
    There are some amazing stories behind the headstones. In one part there are the headstones of three marines each with wording that on first sight may seem a little strange because it reads ‘buried near this place’ (or similar) The reason is that though the identities of the three sets of remains are known, which is which is not. They are alongside one another. The widow of one had quite a battle to have her husband, and his two known mates, buried there in the circumstances. Initially she was told he was lost at sea but later old comrades of the three managed to show they had all been killed and where they were initially interred. Until quite recently she used to visit every year clocking up something like 50 visits.
    There are still people visiting Crete most years in the hope of finding information that will idendify their relatives from those who, for the moment are simply ‘known unto God’

  12. I am a Aust living in Nz and the CO for the Air Traing Cadets in a little town called Whakatane. I am planning a trip this year for the 70th Anerversay of the Battle of Crete
    Any information or tip please reply

    • CWGC officials in London have advised me that a memorial service will be held at the Souda Bay site at 1800 hours local, on Saturday the 21st May 2011. Hope this helps.

    • Dear Bronwyn,

      Did you get to Crete to the SudaBay Cemeter? My Uncle is buried there, and my husband and I would like to visit on the anniversary of his death – 21 May 1941. We will be in England from 5th May this year.

      Where did you stay? Did you hire a car? Any help will be very much appreciated. I am 68, but still active.

      With thanks, Anne Stille.

    • Hello Bronwyn
      Although you posted this request nearly six years ago, I wonder if you managed to visit Crete? In his reply to you Tim Todd suggested you contact me, I don’t recall ever hearing from you at that time. It’s a pity you didn’t as I was one of the committee members arranging a return visit to Crete by our NZ Battle of Crete Assn for the 70th memorial services. Last year (2016) as President of that association I lead a party of 40 Kiwis back to the island for the 75th. By strange coincidence I see you are living in Whakatane, a town I grew up in from 1949 to 1964. I see you are also or were the CO of the local ATC cadet unit, I too was a member of the ATC but in those days Whakatane having a strong Army School Cadet unit meant my ATC Squadron was out at Kawerau. Back then there was quite some rivalry between the two services – hence the ATC in order to establish itself settled on the mill town of Kawerau.


      Paul London

  13. Bronwyn.
    There will be a party of UK Crete Veterans and friends arriving in Crete on 19th May and staying until 31st. There is also a group coming from Australia and another from New Zealand. For details of the later, try and locate a Lachlan McPherson. I imagine he is with the Australian Returned Services League. For New Zealand, Paul London may be able to help- email me through my illmetbymoonlight website for his address.
    The events that take place usually include a service arranged by the British Embassy for Souda Bay CWGC. I’ve a note that it is on Sunday 22nd but think that may be wrong and be the day before. I would also expect there to be a service at the Firkas by the Naval Museum in Chania, a service in the centre of Galatas (the NZ memorial)and one at Galatas on the hill, the national memorial. There will usually be other events too, some private for (and rightly so in my book) veterans only. The dates for these, and other town and village events, are often not known until very close to the time. This year we half expect less early information because of elections and the Greek economy. I will try and remember to put any info I get here but keep an eye on the forum of explorecrete as well.

  14. Any Gravatar member/reader who has visited Rupert Brooke’s grave at Skyros, please contact me. Thank you. Michael Morris, Michigan State University.

  15. I visited Souda Bay in the summer of 1964, with the intention of visiting my fathers grave who was killed in action 2/6/1941 and is buried in Souda Bay. my father served with the RASC, attached to the Black Watch. I was born shortly after, on 15/8/41, so I never had the opportunity to meet him.

    Having arrived by taxi from our hotel in Chania, we were unable to find the location of the grave, but writing my fathers’ name on a piece of paper, my wife and I and the taxi driver began our search. The taxi driver found the grave and called us over. On the way back, he refused to take any money from us, saying it was the least he could do.

    Whilst visiting a bank in Chania to exhange currency, the bank manager came out and presented us with two “Constantine & Anna Maria” new minted coins to celebrate their marriage.

    On a further visit in the 70’s, and wishing to place some flowers on his grave, my wife and I could not find a florist shop, but passing a municipal garden, my wife (who is a Greek Cypriot, asked one of the gardeners, where we could purchase some flowers. He asked us to follow him, and then introduced us to the local mayor, who responded by telling the gardener ” cut them any flowers they require”. When later visiting the grave, and old gardener, came up and spoke with us, and later in the shade of a tree he offered to share his ‘ploughmans lunch’ with us.

    The Cretan people are different, they are something else and they have left me with many happy memories and I know my
    Dad and his grave are well looked after. The work of the CWGC is important, and the “lest we forget” is even more important in todays world.

  16. For all of those interested in the programme of events in the Chania prefecture for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, please visit the forum where I have posted a copy that was kindly provided for me by someone spotting it in the prefecture’s website. For that reason I think we can regard it as official as is likely to come. I will try and post the details here but, if I can’t sort it, you have a link.
    Hope to meet some of you there.

  17. I am very touched by the comments from everyone and am wondering if there is a memorial built on the site. Also, wondering if there is a memorial for the Jewish people who perished in the Sea. (Tim, I took a quick peak at the explorecrete forum. It’s going to take a while for me to read through all the 6,000+ comments.) My mother (at age 14) and her family were slaves to the Germans. My mother spoke very few words about it; my uncle has shared some of his stories. I started writing a book about it.

  18. I would love to go to Suda Bay. I just recently have been tracking down my grandfathers biological parents family tree’s and discovered my great grandfather is buried in the cemetery. Unfortunantly it is not cheap to travel from New Zealand. If anyone going there can get me a pic of the grave Of Private Rore Antonio Wellington Grave Reference 12.D.10 I would appreciate it so much and would be forever grateful.

    • Natasha,
      I believe I can help. I, and others, photographed every head for a project now known as The Wargraves Photographic Project. It is a project for people in your situation, wanting to see the grave but it being too far away. They will supply a copy for a donation but, as I probably still have a copy of all those I submitted, I can perhaps dig it out and send you the image if you an wait a while. (I’m not sure my copies are indexed). Contact me with an email address through if you wish.

    • Kia Ora Natasha, I’m on my way to Crete now so can try to track down your great grand father if you like, alohanui sol henare

      • Kind offer Sol but I have already supplied one to Natasha so don’t panic. (I think you may have read the blog out of sync) If you still want to update the one I provided, google TWGPP or CWGC and get the grave reference and have a look at . Alternatively there should be a CWGC green referene guide in the covered building on the left as you enter. Don’t let the fact that Natasha has the photo stop you going to the cemetery though, it is an amazing experience and it leaves a great impression on one. Enjoy Crete, Kiwis are highly thought of there-and rightly so. Last year we enjoyed the company of a few good Kiwi friends and Maori big Joe who brought his family traditional dress. Great times, great company.
        Best wishes

      • Thank you Sol for the kindness. I agree with Tim go check out the cemetery. Im going over in 9 years time to check it out for myself.

  19. Today we went to Souda Bay as we arrived two young boys were playing war around the memorial cross – with plastic machine guns they whirled and twirled and pretended to die. On seeing us they had enough respect to shuffle out of the site – it was poetic in it’s madness. I was moved to write Least we forget may the outcome be peace. Going through the register of deaths I found for Private William Clarke 21 years old from Clyde. My maiden name is Clarke and i live in Arrowtown an hour from Clyde. I took a photo on my i phone of the page in case we have a family connection and so I could find his grave. Unexplainably , The photo on my phone inverted. I found Private Williams grave and have also photographed it to take the image and I hope some of his mana back to Aotearoa. As i walked through the cemetary noticing the native harakeke at the end of each row the lump in my throat made it hard to swallow and tears fell, for all our boys who will never get to go home. I had no intention of ever visiting the site my Createn holiday was about beaches and sunshine. My husband and I followed their journey to the South coast and spent the day in reflection on the journey of those who got away and those who will never return.

    • Lisa. Just in case you may not have noticed, or the relevance slipped by without appreciation, the register ( the CWGC green book) that should be at the cemetery often has the soldiers relatives details, either parents or wife for those who were married.If you didn’t notice them, you can find them on the CWGC website. There will also be a reference on the will also mention the relatives- they use CWGC information for the photos they take. May help you in checking out the possible relative connection.

  20. Hello Tim
    I am seeking a photo of the grave of FERGUSON, Thomas, Private 3959703, Welch Regiment 1st Bn. Date of Death: 27 May 1941 age 23, buried at SUDA BAY WAR CEMETERY, in Grave Reference Plot 3. A. 16. Can you help.
    Regards, Roy

  21. Hi Roy. I am happy to provide a copy provided the image is for persona/family use. I mention this for all as to note I was aware, when I was active in TWGPP, that some medal dealers were using images collected for TWGPP (who will also provide copies for a donation and to whom enquiries should normally be directed ) to add value to their sales- and that wasn’t why volunteers took them. I just happen to have one of Private Ferguson and can email if I can have an address. Reach me via if you don’t want to post your email address here.

    • Hi Tim Thanks for your kind offer; I can assure you I am helping the family’s researching the local village war memorial for details of their loved ones.  There has been a great interest of late by several grandchildren of those named on the memorial and I am more than happy to help them. Regards, Roy

      Roy Smith

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