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Greek Adventure

Chapter 11

On Monday, June 5th, I received a signal from Cairo, instructing me to report by the 16th June, to the West coast of Greece. I was to take with me 40 mules in order to conduct an American O.G. Commando group across to my area. As this involved first collecting the mules and then marching a distance of about 150 miles over country which I did not know, I had no time to waste.

John Mulgen was away at the time, and I had given Dimitri a couple of day's leave to visit his fiancée Bertha, who was doing secretarial work for the Mission in another area. The ELAS headquarters were not very helpful in collecting mules, so I decided to proceed direct to Colonel Hammond's headquarters where I hoped General Seraphis, Commander of all ELAS troops in Greece, would be more co-operative.

Just before leaving on Tuesday, June 6th, we heard on our radio from Germany that the invasion of France had started. It was most annoying not to be able to wait for British confirmation, but it gave us all a terrific thrill. Before leaving I took the precaution of sending a signal to Tom Kennedy writing him to send in a bottle of brandy, some sweets, and chocolates with the Americans.

Two days hard marching took me to Vinyani, and on the way I had my first meeting with Colonel "Chris" Woodhouse. Colonel "Chris" was a legendary figure in Greece. He knew more about the political set-up and intrigue of the Greek people than any other Englishman. He was only twenty-seven years of age, but was a born diplomat. The distances he covered in his early days in Greece were truly phenomenal, but the result of his early exertions were beginning to tell, and after nearly two years in the country he was being evacuated for conferences in Cairo on the Greek situation. I only had ten minutes conversation with him that first day, but I was most impressed and felt that the Greek cause in Cairo would be in good hands. He was never known by his real name because of the price the Germans had set on his head.

Incidentally it is a remarkable fact that although at one time or another there must have been at least a hundred British Mission personnel in Greece over a period of two years, their exact location was never betrayed to the Germans in time for any one of them to be taken at his headquarters, although quite a number were captured during actual operations. As an instance our headquarters at Palioyanetsou, although within two-and-a-half hour's march to the nearest Germans, never received a single visit.

Colonel Hammond took me to interview General Seraphis on my arrival at his headquarters. I was most interested to meet the guerilla leader who controlled between fifty and sixty thousand ELAS Andartes. Although he could speak English fairly well, General Seraphis always spoke through an interĀ­preter. We held our conference in his office, a room in one of the undemolished houses in his village headquarters, situated about an hour and a half's walk from Vinyani. I asked Nick Hammond why he didn't make his headquarters in the same village. He replied with a smile "that it was well worth three hour's march not to be continually on the doorstep of Greek political intrigue!"

General Seraphis was a Greek regular officer in the last war and had fought in Albania in the present one. He was a good soldier but was unlucky in having his hands considerably tied by the EAM political organisation. At our conference that afternoon, for instance, General Seraphis had as his adviser a senior EAM political representative, who took shorthand notes of our entire conversation. The General was most willing to assist in any way he could, despite objections continually being raised by his political adviser.

Eventually I was given an order instructing all ELAS bands to give me the fullest possible assistance with guides, mules and food, on my journey across Greece. General Seraphis also agreed to my suggestion that we should be allowed to recruit a small band of forty volunteers from the Andartes in our operational area, to be specially trained to work in close co-operation with my own troops when they arrived.

This order was later counter-manded by the political leaders who did not like the idea of losing control of troops whom they had been at such pains to get under their wing.

Armed with General Seraphis' order, Dimitri and I set off the following morning, June 9th. The weather was perfect for our long march, although extremely hot in the middle of the day. We decided to travel without mules for most of the way, and to collect the animals when nearer our destination. This meant carrying our own equipment for a month's journey on our backs.

We had by now got this matter of kit down to a fine art. All I carried in my own small pack was my parachute sleeping bag; a pair of parachute pyjamas (both these were made of silk and took up very little space, as well as being very light); one spare shirt; four pairs of socks; 1 lb. of sugar; a toothbrush; a hairbrush; and a nail file. Dimitri carried the same, only he substituted tea for sugar.

We averaged about eight hour's marching a day. For security reasons we could make no plans for the return journey when we would have the Americans with us, but we made mental notes throughout the journey and sketched our plan for the return march. We found little difficulty in buying sufficient food for ourselves, and made very little use of guides, although they were willingly offered. Our general experience was that, except at night, we could march very much faster on our own than with a guide who was generally underfed, unshod, and in poor physical condition.

We spent several pleasant nights at different Missions on our way across. One was at Dominyini where an American, Dr. Moir, ran a small army hospital. This was to be the hospital base for my men when we commenced operations. Doc Moir and I agreed on a forward base where he would have a skeleton staff, once all my men were in the country. He made me promise to arrange for his countrymen to spend a night at the hospital on our return journey.

The following night we spent at Briantsa Mission commanded by Major Ramsayer. He had two of his sub-station commanders at the Mission, Major Thompson and Lt. Phillpotts. We had a really good party that night, as, on a recent raid, a lorry load of German beer had been captured and had only arrived on mules that afternoon. This was indeed a matter for full rejoicing. It was the first beer I had tasted since leaving Cairo in April.

The next three nights we spent in mountain villages where we were made very welcome. British personnel were seldom seen in the heart of the mountains like this, and the villagers were keen to shower their hospitality on us. They were amazed to hear that we were crossing into EDES territory and that we had permission from General Seraphis to do so. It was most distressing to us to see the mistrust of the simple mountain folk for their fellow countrymen across in EDES territory.

I still feel that Dimitri and I helped quite a lot to dispel some of this distrust. Although we would be very weary at the end of our day's march, we always felt it our duty to listen to and discuss the war situation with the elders of the village. They expressed the belief that General Zervas, commanding the EDES forces, would never allow us to return to ELAS territory with American troops and their arms and ammunition. It was certainly an eye-opener to them when we did, in fact, return a couple of weeks later.

This very fact did a considerable amount to dispel their mistrust of the EDES organisation. We found the identical mistrust in the EDES territory for the ELAS people. It was so palpably obvious to us, as outsiders, that most of the seeds of this mistrust had been sown by German propaganda, and we always did our best to try to impress this fact on the primitive mountain folk. It certainly gave them cause for thought if nothing else.

On June 14th, we crossed the main West coast road connecting the South of Greece to the North. This was German patrolled and I did not very much like the crossing. There was a deepish river to cross with only one rickety bridge within a couple of hundred yards of the road. Although it was quite easy for Dimitri, our guide and myself to cross this at night, I was a bit worried as to what would happen with forty fully loaded mules and the Americans on our return journey. I recced up and down the river, but could find no more suitable spot.

Previous Chapter: Chapter 10
Next Chapter: Chapter 12

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