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The multicultural story of a Greek island through rare Anzacs' photos and memoirs

Historian Jim Claven.

Historian Jim Claven’s book "Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed – A Pictorial History of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16", recently published by the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee, showcases over 300 photographs taken by Australian soldiers and nurses on Lemnos island in 1915 and 1916. Mr Claven talks to SBS Greek.

The photographs in historian Jim Claven's book reveal the intimate nature of this coming together of Australians and Greeks for the first time on Greek soil during the Gallipoli campaign.

Jim has been researching the Anzac trail in Greece across both World Wars since 2011, with a particular focus on the Island of Lemnos and its link to the Gallipoli campaign and Australia’s Anzac story

In his book, the author captures the transformation of Lemnos into an armed camp, the establishment of its soldiers’ rest camps, field hospitals and supply bases and other infrastructure.

I have presented these evocative photographs alongside the stories of the Anzacs who came to Lemnos, drawn from their many memoirs and letters which detail their time on Lemnos. So, the photographs are explained in the words of these young Australians themselves”, Jim Claven tells SBS Greek. 

ANZACS diggers and nurses in Lemnos island.
ANZACS diggers and nurses in Lemnos island.
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Press Play here to listen Jim Claven's interview with SBS Greek in English 

These photographs are placed in context with the words of the diggers and nurses themselves, including Matron Grace Wilson and Staff Nurse Lucy Daw of the 3rd Australian General Hospital and many more.

They describe, in their own words, how they experienced this beautiful Aegean island of relative peace in a sea of war.

In these letters, diaries and memoirs, the Anzacs wrote of their experience of Greece and their affection for the villagers who welcomed them. 

Life in Lemnos island in 1915-16.
Life in Lemnos island in 1915-16.
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Jim has been researching this story since 2011 when he got involved in the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee. 

As a historian, what I wanted to make sure was that we had a really strong historical evidence to include Lemnos in the Anzac Centenary Commemorations that were being planned for 2015.

"So I started looking at these photographs in archives across Australia, in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney etc and also private collections, that really impressed me,” he tells SBS Greek. 

The Melbourne-based historian says that he wants to reveal the story behind the meeting of cultures in the Aegean island of Lemnos. He reckons “it is a multicultural story”. 

Throughout his research, he found out that a lot of Australia’s diggers were born overseas. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, Australia was a very young country and so it should come as no surprise that about 30% of the Australians who served in the First World War was born overseas; many of them from Britain and in Ireland but also from all over the world, including Greece." 

Life in Lemnos island in 1915-16.
Life in Lemnos island in 1915-16.
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According to the Scottish-born historian, Greece during the Gallipoli campaign would become a peculiar meeting point of cultures, as is revealed in these photographs, in the stories of the ANZACS, and in their interaction with the locals on Lemnos. 

Jim Claven says that nothing can detract from the fact that the battlefields of Gallipoli were one of terrible carnage and sickness. 

But for him, it is the story of Lemnos’s hospitals, the nurses’ stories, the rest camps, and the opportunity for a respite from war and to interact with the locals. 

There is also the beautiful aspect of it, the island’s nature and the sunset. Many people travel to Greece today, enjoying the sea and the sun, and the hospitality of the locals. And these things are reflected in the stories of these people who were there over a century ago”. 

A sample from historian Jim Claven's book "Lemnos and Gallipoli revealed: a pictorial history of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16".
A sample historian Jim Claven's book "Lemnos and Gallipoli revealed: a pictorial history of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16".
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The vast majority of the photos have never been published before. Through his field research, Jim has also been able to identify many of the precise locations on Lemnos where the ANZACS walked and the areas that they photographed.

I did a lot of field research guided by the photographs, the soldiers’ diaries, letters and memoirs, so I could find the locations. I used my drawing skills to remake some original maps which people can now use when they visit the island”.

The good thing for the commemorative traveller is that Lemnos’s topography has, more or less, remained the same”. 

The proceeds of Jim Claven's book sales will go to Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee efforts to help to establish an ANZACS trail in Lemnos.
The proceeds of Jim Claven's book sales will go to Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee efforts to help to establish an ANZACS trail in Lemnos.
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Jim has been an active and executive member of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee since its founding. 

Along with the Committee, he now hopes to help local efforts to establish a Gallipoli Heritage trail on Lemnos to facilitate visitation to the island and to commemorate Lemnos’ important connection to the Anzacs and the Gallipoli campaign.

Last year saw the erection of the new memorial at the Australian Pier on Lemnos, following advocacy from the Committee and erected with the support of the Victorian Government and local authorities on the Island. Jim hopes that this will be the first of many more on Lemnos. 

The proceeds from the book will go to help support this and other commemorative work of the Committee.

We are working with the Lemnos authorities and the regional government. This is only the beginning of furthering the connection between this important part of Greece and Australia”, he says. 

Press Play on the main photo to listen the podcast (in Greek)

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