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THE FORGOTTON FLOTILLA

Published:
29/08/2017
Author:
Think Local

Eight years ago, Northern Beaches archaeologist, Michael Bendon was in Phalasarna - an ancient Greek harbour i town on the northwest coast of Crete - researching an ancient city excavation.

He jumped in the ocean to wash off the dust and ended up swimming over the remains of a WWII shipwreck - a Tank Landing Craft (TLC) Mk1 - which he discovered was sunk by the Germans in 1941.

Since then, Dr Bendon has been on a quest to discover more about the ship - which was one of just 20 TLCs ever built - and all those who sailed upon it, including ANZACs from the peninsula.

 "I call these 20 ships 'the forgotten flotilla'," he tells Peninsula Living, "because they were secret ships - you barely find a mention of them in any of the history books.

"I know what happened to 12 of them, but my dream is to find all of them. "More than 30,000 ANZAC troops served during the Mediterranean campaigns of 1941 but unfortunately, many Australians don't even know the campaigns took place.

"More than 30,000 ANZAC troops served during the Mediterranean campaigns of 1941 but unfortunately, many Australians don't even know the campaigns took place.

"This particular ship [I discovered] carried thousands of ANZAC troops to safety, including men from the peninsula," he adds.

 Dr Bendon is currently working alongside the Greek-Consul General to Australia, Dr Stavros Kyrimis, and a committee to gather untold stories from the campaigns of Greece and Crete in 1941.

More than 646 ANZACs are still buried in Greece, including nine from the Northern Beaches.

"I have found so many connections to the peninsula," he explains.

"I have all the local ANZACs' names, service numbers, next of kin, and where they were enlisted. I believe there are so many untold stories. The history about this wreck is just one of them."

Dr Bendon tracked down the skipper of the sunken TLC, John Digby Sutton, a sub-lieutenant who was in charge at 22-years-old. He evacuated 2500 Anzacs from Greece in just one night and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Sutton was captured soon after the sinking of his ship and spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany, where at one time he shared a room with Ivan Black, later the local member for Neutral Bay, who ran for Federal Member of Warringah in 1951 but missed out on the position.

Sadly, John passed away last year, but Dr Bendon tells his amazing stories in his latest book, The Forgotten Flotilla, including the scariest moment of the sailor's military career.

"Surprisingly, it wasn't being bombed or captured by the Germans, or one of his many bids to escape," he reveals.

"It was when he was on a convoy to South Africa with 5000 army, 500 Royal Air Force members and 30 naval officers."

"When they got off at Durban, John didn't realise the senior naval officer - who always leads parades - had stayed on the ship," Dr Bendon recounts.

"They all got out and, as the band started to play, John, as second-in-command, suddenly realised he'd have to lead 5000-plus people - left right, left right, marching - but didn't know where to go.

"He used to laugh and say, 'If I changed step, I'd have had 5000 men - all Generals and such - falling over'. "When people asked when he was most terrified, he always mentioned that parade!"

"It was when he was on a convoy to South Africa with 5000 army, 500 Royal Air Force members and 30 naval officers."

"When they got off at Durban, John didn't realise the senior naval officer - who always leads parades - had stayed on the ship," Dr Bendon recounts.

"They all got out and, as the band started to play, John, as second-in-command, suddenly realised he'd have to lead 5000-plus people - left right, left right, marching - but didn't know where to go.

"He used to laugh and say, 'If I changed step, I'd have had 5000 men - all Generals and such - falling over'. "When people asked when he was most terrified, he always mentioned that parade!"

 

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