Jim Carstairs' Cretan odyssey
- 12 April, 2016
The diary of James De Mole Carstairs, an Australian officer in Nazi-occupied Crete, offers unique insight into the relationship between Allied soldiers and their Cretan protectors
The diary of Lieutenant James De Mole Carstairs, who fought in the Battle of Crete, and who led a large group of Allied soldiers off the island in late 1941, is to be published in Crete next month as part of the 75th anniversary commemorations.
Produced by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies, in Greek and English, the project is a collaboration between the prestigious Historical Museum of Crete (IMK) in Heraklion and co-editors Michael Sweet and Ian Frazer, working alongside Cretan historians Claire Mitsotaki, Costas Mamalakis and Denise Alevisou.
The book will be the seventh in the Testimonies series produced by IMK that relates diverse individual accounts from the Greece and Crete campaigns in WWII and the Nazi occupation. Previous titles in the series include testimonies of archaeologist and Tasmania-born secret agent Tom J. Dunbabin and Resistance fighter George Tzitzikas.
Of the hundreds of Allied soldiers who avoided capture after the Battle of Crete, few diaries have been identified, let alone published, which record in detail the soldiers' relationships with the communities who sheltered them and the Resistance. The diary of James De Mole Carstairs, an officer of the 2/7th Battalion AIF, is such an account.
It was in 1982 that Carstairs, then in his late sixties, decided to write his memoirs, and the chapter detailing his experiences in Crete in 1941 drew on handwritten notes made at the time, along with later recollections. Researcher Ian Frazer first came across a copy of the chapter in the library of Anzac House in Melbourne, with the assistance of librarian Fred Platt, in 2011, but it was only in early 2015, after identifying and contacting Carstairs' family, that publishing the diary became a reality.
Having read the manuscript, the Historical Museum of Crete saw an opportunity to present what is a remarkable historical record; one that details not only the day-to-day travails of a soldier on the run in Crete, but the relationships he formed with partisan leaders and the responsibility he shouldered for safeguarding more than 80 men who were eventually evacuated because of his resourcefulness.
Carstairs' diary is unique in many respects. It is the only detailed account by an officer of his unit's actions during the Battle of Crete, who then evaded capture and led a large group to an evacuation organised by the British secret services. It is also one of the few records that specifies individuals in the Cretan Resistance whom he relied on during his journey, which began in Chora Sfakion
immediately after the Allied surrender and ended at an isolated beach due south of Heraklion five months later. [...]
The Carstairs Diary, published by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies, will be launched at the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion on 23 May, 2016.
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