The island of Lemnos in the eastern Mediterranean Sea may not be a household name, but one group of Australians is proud of the role played by the island during the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915—1916.
Close to the Gallipoli Peninsula, Lemnos was a pivotal point for Australian and New Zealand troops en route to the landings at Anzac Cove, and was a critical location for Australian and Commonwealth hospitals which cared for those injured in the bloody campaign.
To commemorate the Centenary of Anzac, the Australian Lemnian Association, the Lemnos 1915 World War I Commemoration Committee and the Consulate General of Greece in Sydney have worked with the Art Gallery of New South Wales create a reproduction of a 1926 painting by Sir William Russell Flint called ‘The Lemnians’ which will be carried by the Royal Australian Navy to be presented to the people of Lemnos.
The Coordinator of 'Lemnos 1915', Ms Elizabeth Kaydos, first spotted the original painting in the Art Gallery of New South Wales as a teenager on a visit with a cousin, and wondered whether the painting had any connection to her Lemnian heritage.
“The title of the painting, ‘The Lemnians’, caught my attention so I started researching Lemnian history, and found that the painting depicts the ‘original amazons’ of Lemnos, the strong women who took control of the island and its affairs.
“Delving further, I found references to the ‘modern amazons’, the Australian nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital and the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital, who tended to the injured, ill and dying ANZACs who had been evacuated from the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915–16.
“Realising that my Lemnian–Australian heritage was intertwined in the events of World War I, I set about to do something to commemorate Lemnos’ vital role, so got in touch with the Lemnian Association and the Greek Consul-General in Sydney, His Excellency Dr Stavros Kyrimis.
“With Dr Kyrimis’ support and encouragement I made contact with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Navy and other organisations who have been keen to support our efforts to commemorate the events of World War I on Lemnos,” Ms Kaydos said.
A morning tea was held in early March onboard HMAS Anzac where His Excellency, Dr Kyrimis, along with members of the Lemnian Association and the 'Lemnos 1915' group shared the story of the painting and aspects of Lemnian and Greek culture with members of Anzac’s crew.
“Greece and Australia share much, including a large population of Australians of Greek descent – there are over 126,000 Greek-Australians in the Sydney region alone – and Australia and Greece are the only two countries to have participated in all of the modern Olympic Games.
“Lemnos was the ‘last point of paradise’ for many of the original ANZACs before going ashore to fight at Gallipoli, and was the evacuation and treatment point for the sick, wounded and dying.
“Food and medicine were delivered to the ANZACs from Lemnos, so the name Lemnos was linked to ‘hope’ for the Australian and New Zealand sailors and soldiers fighting there,” Dr Kyrimis said.
“We are honoured that the Australian Navy will carry ‘The Lemnians’ to Lemnos.”
The reproduction was handed over to the Australian Navy at an event at the Art Gallery on 5 March, during which the Gallery’s Coordinator for Public Programs, Dr Andrew Yip, described the painting and its importance.
“The Centenary of Anzac is not only a time to reflect on the sacrifices of the ANZACs, but also to celebrate the cultural exchange that has come about as a result of the friendship between nations that has been forged in both war and peace.
“Looking back through the lens of the Great War, ‘The Lemnians’ brings forth a sense of tragedy, ancient and modern.
“Following in the footsteps of Jason and Argonauts, Lemnos was the first port of call, and the point of evacuation for many Australians.
“The reproduction of ‘The Lemnians’ is a good symbol of these shared bonds and the struggles that have been faced on Lemnos throughout history,” Dr Yip said.
Commanding Officer HMAS Anzac Commander Belinda Wood accepted ‘The Lemnians’ for carriage to Lemnos on behalf of the Navy.
“HMA Ships Anzac and Success will represent Australia at various Centenary of Anzac commemorative activities in the Mediterranean, with Success specifically planning to visit Lemnos as part of their commemorations.
“Anzac will carry ‘The Lemnians’ until we meet up with Success in the Red Sea, where the artwork will be carefully transferred over for the final leg of its journey home.
“The Gallipoli Campaign was bloody and brutal, and it is important that we honour the sacrifices made by all who fought, and those that supported them.
“We are proud to have accepted ‘The Lemnians’, and trust that the enduring friendship between Australia and Lemnos will be further cemented by this gift from the people of Australia,” Commander Wood said.
HMAS Anzac has deployed on NORTHERN TRIDENT 2015 during which it will participate in the Centenary of Anzac commemorations in April, followed by a series of important international engagements.