Visit to Souda Bay War Cemetery, Crete

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Me at Souda Bay. The beach and War Cemetery in the background.

In April I was lucky enough to visit Crete twice. On the first of these visits I made my way to Souda Bay War Cemetery, just outside of Chania, to see John Pendlebury’s final resting place.

Souda Bay is one of the most tranquil spots that I visited in Crete. The water in the bay is as placid as a lake, a peaceful sandy beach runs between the sea and cemetery, and the cemetery itself is well cared for with lush green grass and plants surrounding the site.

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Main entrance to Souda Bay War Cemetery
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Souda Bay War Cemetery

This is, in fact, John Pendlebury’s 3rd resting place. Though the circumstances of his death (and whether or not he was actually dead) were sketchy for some time after the events, the details are now clearer. This is thanks to a concerted effort on Hilda Pendlebury’s part to establish what had happened to her husband in the confusion of the May 1941 Battle of Crete.

Material in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive includes testimonials gathered from local Cretans who interacted with John during his last hours, letters between Hilda Pendlebury and Herbert Pendlebury about John’s death, and letters from some who were with John in Crete such as Lieutenant Commander Mike Cumberlege (who died in 1945).

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John Pendlebury’s grave, Souda Bay War Cemetery

The exact circumstances of John’s death are detailed in ‘John Pendlebury in Crete’ (250 copies printed for private circulation in 1948). To summarise: on the 21 May 1941 John was wounded in battle outside of Canea Gate in Heraklion, taken prisoner and deposited in a local house for treatment; a new German unit arrived the next day, searched the house, took John outside and shot him; he was first buried near the main road from Heraklion to the west; later he was moved to the British part of the Heraklion cemetery; and then to Souda Bay War Cemetery.

On my second visit to Crete, we (I was with British School colleagues) visited the cemetery that John was buried in, and Pendlebury Street outside Canea Gate which should be (more or less) the site of John’s death/first burial.

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A sign on Pendlebury street, “English Archaeologist, fell in the Battle of Crete”

 

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