Navy closes loop on 70-year Army Dixie find

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Chloe Wootten (author), LSIS Justin Brown (photographer)

New Zealanders, Australian's, British and the people of Crete came together to remember those that lost their lives during the Battle of Crete at the New Zealand memorial in Galatas, Crete.  (photo: LSIS Justin Brown)
New Zealanders, Australian's, British and the people of Crete came together to remember those that lost their lives during the Battle of Crete at the New Zealand memorial in Galatas, Crete.

For one Navy Commander, commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Crete provided an opportunity to return a family favour.

Commander Paul Cottier was in Crete as part of a 10 member Australian contingent as part of the anniversary and took his grandfather's Second World War 'dixie' back with him.

His father's father, Nicholas Cottier, was born in Heywood Victoria on 7 November 1911, joined the Australian Army on 13 March 1940 and was an infantry soldier with the 2/6 Battalion which fought in Crete during the war. 

His 'Pans Set Messing', commonly known by soldiers as a 'dixie' was left behind as soldiers evacuated Galata following the battle. A local family kept the piece of field equipment with the hope of returning the item to its rightful owner.

Commander Cottier said that Australia-Crete links post war had made that possible.

"In late 2005, Michael and Dimi Frantzeskakis from Melbourne visited relatives in Crete and on that trip, one of Michael's cousins produced the dixie," he said.

"The dixie was in excellent condition and the soldier’s Army number VX11339 and the initials NJC engraved on it."

Also engraved was a service history starting from enlistment in Melbourne and the names of all the places the owner had been up to that date.

These included Colombo, Aden, Suez, Kamtara, Biet Jirga, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Gaza, Haifa, Helwan, Cairo, Alexandria, Ikingi, Morot. Sidi Henish, Mearsa Matruh Bardia, Tobruk, Derna, Slonta, Barce, Oberdan, Benahazi, Giovani Berta, Bug Bug, Amriya and Athens.

The Frantzeskakis family became fascinated by the dixie and, on their return to Australia confirmed that the soldier was indeed an Australian, Nicholas James Cottier of Heywood in Victoria. They were able to make contact with the soldier’s son, Harry Cottier."
So my father was contacted and asked if he knew of a Nicholas James Cottier," Commander Cottier said.

"The Frantzeskakis family arranged the dixie to be returned from Crete to Australia and our family received it on 19 March 2006," he said.

Whilst attending a commemorative service at the Greek-New Zealand memorial in Galata, Commander Cottier had the opportunity to meet with the family who so generously returned the dixie. 

Spiros Panesakis I remembered drinking milk from the dixie as a child.

"With the engraving on the dixie, I knew it was important and had to be returned to the soldier’s family," he said.

Commander Cottier said he was touched to be able to thank the family in person, with the very item in hand.

"To have received the dixie back into our family after it was 'lost' in Crete for 65 years, let alone meeting the family who made it all possible 10 years later, well I can’t thank the Panesakis family enough for their generosity in returning the dixie; it means so much to my family," he said.

Commander Cottier has two brothers who are also in the Australian Defence Force so for their family the dixie is now a family heirloom. Older brother, Captain Steven Cottier, is the Officer in Charge of Australian Army Band Melbourne, and younger brother, Peter, is a percussionist with the Navy Band based at HMAS Cerberus.

Commander Cottier spent 34 years in the Navy Band before being posted to his current position as Staff Officer Ceremonial for the Australian Defence Force.