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Knowing that I was to return almost immediately to Divisiona, I had been making my plans for raising 200 mules to accompany us during our return trip. I still had my letter from General Seraphis and I made full use of this with the local ELAS headquarters. This time they were very much more helpful. As I did not wish to walk across Greece by the same route a second time, chiefly for security reasons, I decided that Radage, who, during my absence had collected all the food stocks my men would require, should leave with the mules a couple of days after me. Dimitri and I would go ahead and recce a new route.
There was no time to spare and after one day's rest, reading letters which had come in during my absence, we set off on our second journey on the 3rd July. This time we were away from our headquarters for five weeks, during which time we covered 460 miles. I decided to make for Colonel Hammond's new headquarters as this would take me on a more northerly route across the country.
On the way we passed through Neohroi where John Cook guarded an air strip for Lysanders which came in occasionally to take out casualties, or bring in important Greek political leaders. Neohroi was an extraordinary station. Its chief purpose was to feed and house something like 1,000 Italian deserters. On the capitulation of Italy in September of the previous year, some of the Italians in Greece had joined the Germans; some had been conscripted by the Germans without being given a choice; while others had fled to the mountains to join the British Mission as ordered by their new government.
It was impossible for the Mission to look after all these Italians, but there was a base at Neohroi which catered for the odd 1,000. The balance were allowed to live with Greek families who were paid for their upkeep at the rate of 1 golden sovereign per month, by the Mission. This suited the Greek peasants down to the ground, as they made full use of the Italian as a labourer who was well worthy of his keep from this point of view alone, and the sovereign was a very welcome extra to the household budget.
We reached Mezilou, the new Mission headquarters on July 5th. It was situated in quite the most mountainous part of Greece which I had visited, and that is saying a great deal. It was a lovely spot when one eventually did arrive, situated in a sheltered valley very high up in the mountains. In the winter it must have been extremely cold, but in midsummer it could not have been bettered. Cherry trees flourished in this valley, and we were given a delicious meal of stewed cherries and yeoti - a special type of sour goat's milk very popular with the Greeks, and a dish I thoroughly enjoyed.
By this time Dimitri and I were becoming extremely tired, chiefly from the utter monotony of the continual marching. The hot weather in the middle of the day was very trying, and we went off our food as well. We had a day's break at Mezilou while I took the opportunity of sending a runner back to Radage, giving him the direction of our march.
Quite unexpectedly I met a fellow South African at the Mission headquarters, Major Ed. Delaney, who I had last seen when we played rugger together in Pretoria about two years before. Delaney had come into Greece to recce the country from the point of view of the relief forces who were to take over and feed the population the moment Greece was liberated. Meanwhile he was being used by the Mission to do some relief work amongst the Greeks.
In certain areas in the mountains where the devastation caused by the Germans was particularly acute, the Mission officers would combine their duties of sabotage against the Germans, and sending information back to Cairo, with relief work amongst the starving villagers. It was a thankless task because 90 per cent. of the population were practically destitute anyway, and to have to try to choose the worst cases amongst so many was practically impossible. It was felt, however, that the money was at least distributed amongst the various villages, and in this way everybody benefited indirectly.
Dimitri and I, on this trip, were in the habit of starting, at first light and marching until about ten in the morning. We would then lie up, preferably at some mountain stream, until about three or four in the afternoon. The effort of getting up at that hour became greater as our journey wore on. Occasionally we could march on until midday, in order to give the villagers ample tune to cook a really decent meal for us. These meals always took at least three or four hours to prepare, so when we arrived late in the village, it generally meant that we satisfied ourselves with three or four cups of tea and some dry bread.
We had an interesting experience on this trip. While in EDES territory the trip before we had been given a letter to hand to the mother of one of the EDES Andartes, who lived in ELAS territory, should we pass through her village at any time. As it happened our return trip on this occasion carried us through the very village in which this man's mother lived.
Dimitri had told me of the possible difficulties in delivering this letter, because of the suspicious nature of the EAM politicians. I pulled his leg about this and told him he was exaggerating the position. He insisted, however, on going about the delivery of the letter in a roundabout way. He approached the village priest about the matter, asking him if he would deliver the letter for us. To my amazement the priest was horrified at the very suggestion, and would have nothing to do with the matter.
As Dimitri had translated the contents of the letter to me some time before, I knew there was nothing in it except an ordinary letter from a son to his mother. I told the priest this but he would still have nothing to do with the matter and strongly advised us to tear the letter up for the sake of the woman.
I took the matter more seriously after this, and made various cautious enquiries without giving any names away. It appeared that on previous occasions letters had infiltrated from EDES into ELAS territory, but on practically every occasion the recipient had been arrested and put into gaol by the EAM element. We therefore tore up the letter.
It was quite remarkable what control these political leaders held over the ordinary Greek villager. There is no doubt at all that the villagers were terrified of the EAM representatives, and had it not been for the restraining influence of the Mission in Greece, there might have been considerably more lawlessness.
There was some difficulty about crossing the West coast road on this trip as the Germans had been very active since our last visit. General Zervas was experiencing great difficulty in collecting his mules. The road was being assidiously patrolled by the Germans, and it was impossible to pass large numbers of mules across in a body.
The night we decided to cross, our guides led us on a most roundabout circuit which carried us almost to the outskirts of the large German occupied town of Yaninao. Before crossing the road I made arrangements for the collection of six tons of barley, and nearly a ton of wheat to be laid in at a village on the Eastern side of the road, in case my mules got hung up. The mule problem on this journey had become acute, as my men were bringing in a lot of their ammunition with them. In order to move all their kit, guns and ammunition I would require 210 mules. To move a convoy of 200 mules, 200 muleteers and 50 British personnel, across a half starving and devastated enemy occupied country, was no easy undertaking, especially as I could not make definite preparations beforehand.
By the time we got to Devisiana on the 14th July, Dimitri and I were two very tired men, especially as our last all night march had been complicated by the fact that we were escorting 8,000 golden sovereigns on two mules, across the main road. We had, therefore, to take most careful precautions. I had no wish to be landed with the responsibility of explaining the disappearance of this amount of money!
Fortunately we had a full day's rest before my men were due in on the night of the 16th July. We both of us went down with attacks of malaria that first evening, but I, at least, was lucky and threw it off next day, and never had another attack in Greece. Dimitri was not so fortunate, and though he recovered that day he had several more attacks during the following months.
I was delighted by the fact that my 103 sovereigns, which I had lost the month before, had been recovered. We were also very cheered that day when we saw four Typhoons flying towards some German target. This was the first time since I had been in Greece, that I had seen our own planes, and it gave me a big kick. All the usual crowd were collected at Divisiona for the arrival of the L.C.I. and Hamish's plans were exactly the same as on the previous occasion.
This time owing to the shortage of mules and the fact that the L.C.I. was due to make two trips, one on the night of the 16th-17th and the other on the night of the 19th-20th, it would be impossible to move all the stores off the beach before daylight.
It was, therefore, decided to get the personnel and as much of their equipment as possible away on the first night, and then leave the balance of the stores hidden near the beach under a strong guard, and pray that the Hun would not spot our activities. All went well and that night the L.C.I. on which my troops were coming in, arrived dead on time at 23.00 hours. It was wonderful seeing Hoey, Gammon and Kingaby with their men at last. They too were delighted to have arrived in Greece, after the last three months of uncertainty.
As before we got the men and material up into the mountains before daylight. This time they would have to remain in the vicinity for the next four or five days because all the mules were needed to bring up the stores deposited by the L.C.I. on its second visit, before we could move away.
It will always remain a mystery to me how the enemy failed to spot what was going on in the flat country from the beach-head to the mountains during the next three days as there were always small parties of mules moving to and from the beach. Fortunately there was a certain amount of undergrowth and the Andartes on the flank prevented any stray German patrols from penetrating the area. As it turned out later the enemy were busy preparing a major drive more to the South, and had practically no troops in this area at the time, which was very fortunate for us.
Colonel Tom Barnes dropped back into his area on the night of the 18th. He had removed his beard while in Cairo and hardly anyone recognised him on his arrival. I had a very easy job with the second L.C.I. as I only had eight liaison officers and their kit to get away from the beach-head. This gave me nearly an hour's spare time to spend in the ward room. The Navy, as usual, was most hospitable and when they heard how short of food we were they most generously completely denuded their larder of white bread and all sorts of luxuries for us to take with us. I personally conducted the two mule loads of food back to our advance headquarters on the edge of the mountains, and we had magnificent meals for the next twenty four hours.
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Next Chapter: Chapter 14
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