Neos Kosmos talked to Glenda Humes the daughter of Captain Reginald Saunders – Australia’s first commissioned Aboriginal officer who fought in Greece and hid from Nazis in Crete for 11 months.

Captain Reg Saunders was the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army. His experience was defined by 11 months spent in hiding in Crete under the protection of the Zagarachis family near the village of Tsiklaria.

In Crete, a memorial stands in Reg Saunders’ honour, symbolising the Australian War effort on the island. Saunders daughter, Glenda Hume says that her father saw war not just in Crete, but also on mainland Greece.

“They went in at the top near Macedonia and fought all the way down to Souda Bay in Crete.”

In 1940, the Greeks repelled Italy’s invasion and drove Mussolini’s troops back into Albania but they failed to stop the Nazi onslaught in 1941, despite British and ANZAC support. The ANZAC campaign was a catastrophe and forced an ANZAC retreat across Greece’s harsh terrain in bad weather and under relentless German enemy attacks.

The Australians trekked across the unforgiving mountains trying to get to Crete in order to evacuate however not all were able to evacuate so as Hume says, “they had two options, surrender or go on the run.” In total, Reg Saunders spent 11 months on Crete until he was evacuated by submarine.

“Dad ended up with the Zagarachis family for 10 months but had to leave when the mother’s brother was caught with a pistol and executed by the Germans – it wasn’t safe anymore for dad or the family.”

The Zagarachis family was “very important for him,” says Hume. “He understood them, he found a family identical to his as he was raised in an extended family, like the Greeks, with his father, grandparents, and uncles living in the same house.”

Hume calls her father “a warrior,” and in the Western District of Victoria, where his people were known as the ‘Fighting Gunditjmara’ in the Settler Wars. Saunders’ father often talked to him about the Settler Wars, and like the Cretans, the Fighting Gunditjmara did not take kindly to invaders. “They were willing to defend land against settlers and sealers. In fact, just near Portland, there was a massacre over a whale that washed ashore.”

Hume says that the sealers wanted the whale “for economic gain, and the local people wanted it for food.” “His father was in the First World War and won a military medal in France, where he was killed.”

“Warriors go hunting,” says Hume, and in Greece, when he killed a German, “he put that into an analogy that he was killing a kangaroo – that was how he tried to understand it.”

Hume and her family have visited Crete three times, where they met the extended Zagarachis clan near the village of Tsiklaria. “There’s a platia, and people came to greet us. There were lots of tears and hugging the daughter of the family and her son, the two lines of the surviving family, some of the cousins, all came, it was just amazing.”

Hume says they all remembered her father and relayed stories of how “the Germans were coming in the front door, and they’re pushing him out the back windows.” “To get them to safety, dad and a couple of other Australians, they’d push them out and try to hide them in the village so the Germans wouldn’t find them.”

They often took them to a church out of town “because it was too bothersome, too far for the Germans to go looking for them” says Hume.

Hume’s father went into the Army as “a young inexperience bush fella,” Hume says. The family ran their own business, a sawmill and according to Hume “they were very much a family group that kept within their own community.”

In the army “he had a few blues over colour”, but as a true warrior “he was strong and he was determined, and never took a step backwards.” His leadership skills were recognised after a tour in PNG “for jungle training” and was given a commission.

“Dad was always in the 2nd Seventh Battalion when they needed to choose someone for officer training he was selected.” After the war says Hume her hero Father faced the debilitating racism he had forgotten while fighting as an equal in the Army to defend the world against the fascists.

Hume says that her father could not get a proper job, and no offer to university, he became a tram conductor, and even worked in sawmills as labourer, and was racially abused.

“Here was a man who fought for this country, whose brother died for this country, and was treated so badly.”

The warrior, the Fighting Gunditjmara man and imbedded with a Cretan fighting spirit, “became a champion for Aboriginal people across Australia.” On the issue of the Voice to Parliament, Hume has no hesitation and says, “Dad would have been very strong for the Voice.”

Hume believes that the No campaigners are trying to split the nation by creating an artificial divide between coastal, urban and outback Indigenous people. “They’re saying ‘they aren’t the real ones the only real ones are from the bush’ how dare they?”

“I’ve got country in the territory as well, and in Victoria, why wouldn’t I think that I was a true, and I am, how dare people to tell me I’m not.”