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Greek Adventure

Chapter 8

The village had an unpronouncable name, Palioyanetsou, and was one of the dirtiest and most unattractive hamlets I ever came across in Greece. However it suited our purpose tactically for it lay tucked away just behind a high ridge, lying about four miles from the main Athens-Salonika railway. All its approaches were over ground which could be covered comfortably by machinegun fire, and we could not be surprised by any sudden and unexpected German attack. The villagers were very helpful and we soon got ourselves fixed up. Mulgen and I shared a house with his two wireless operators, Frank and Arthur, and we had the wireless in working touch with Cairo by that evening.

Except for one or two scares when John thought it wisest to move the wireless further back, this station functioned for the next four months.

I was anxious to have a close-up view of the German patrolled railway line, and see just what we were up against. Accordingly next afternoon about 4 o'clock we left our mountain hide-out and, provided with a local guide, moved down towards the railway. There were five of us: Mulgen, Radage, the guide, Dimitri and myself. The going was quite easy for the first hour, at which stage we passed the forward Andarte control post. We were given the password for the day to use on our return, in case we came back during the night.

From this point onwards we were in a type of no-man's land. The Greek villagers were all busy working on their lands, despite the fact German and Andarte patrols had occasional clashes in the area. We made enquiries from each group of villagers as we passed about German activity in the area and on this, as on all other occasions, we were given the latest information of the Hun's movements. In this way we got to within a mile of the railway.

Here we came to a valley before finally climbing up on to a hill which overlooked the line itself. There was a small settlement of gypsies in this valley, living in bush and grass huts. They had been driven from the neighbouring village, Dereli, several months before, and had never returned because of the village's close proximity to the main railway line. We split our party here and taking advantage of what cover there was, moved up to the brow of the hill. Once we reached the top we could see about four miles of railway line stretching out below us.

At its nearest point the line was within about a quarter of a mile from where we hiding. We could see the Germans outside two pill boxes guarding a small viaduct about half a mile away, and in the distance Dereli station appeared quite busy. A couple of trains went past while we were watching, both of them moving South. They were loaded with field guns and vehicles, and we could not quite understand the significance of this. It was most tantalising to watch those trains going past and be able to do nothing about it. We made sketches of the position for further reference before moving back.

On our return to the gypsy encampment a Greek shepherd came running out of his temporary grass hut on the hillside, calling upon us to wait for him. When he caught us up we found that he had brought us an offering of sour milk and bread. He was anxious to know what we were doing. Not knowing whether or not he was in German pay we made vague replies, but before leaving he made us promise that if we intended doing any sabotage work in his area, that we would warn him first, in order that he might have a chance to move his family before the Germans took retaliatory measures.

He made one final request, "Please let me help you carry your explosives when you intend blowing up these trains, I want a chance to have a go at these... Germans." This was typical of the attitude of ninety per cent of the Greek population. Not only did they hate the Germans but they wanted to take an active part in any operation which would do damage to their oppressors. Their hospitality towards us too was generally most generous.

We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the gypsy encampment so we decided to spend the night there. The gypsies insisted on sharing some of their food with us, but we declined their very kind offers to put us up for the night in their shack, partly on account of hygiene and partly because we did not wish to risk being found there by a possible Hun patrol during the night. Accordingly we slept in the undergrowth, about a quarter of a mile away. During the night we could see occasional Hun Very lights going up along the railway line. It was quite clear that he was on his toes and ready for attacks on his lines of communication.

Next morning we moved behind the row of hills covering the railway line before going forward again to view the terrain from a different angle. I couldn't help thinking that the Germans were not very good guerilla tacticians. In the old Boer War days in South Africa, the Dutch would have lined all those hilltops with observation posts covering their lines of communication. Had the Germans done this we would have had the greatest difficulty in getting anywhere near the railway line on this reconnaisance missions. As it was we soon got to know how chary the Hun was of leaving the vicinity of his pill boxes, except in some force. This meant that we could usually move about in comparative comfort providing we had one range of hills between us.

We got back to Palioyanetsou, our headquarters, that evening, and I decided to have a bath at the village spring. This very nearly caused a diplomatic incident. Never in the long history of the village had anyone been known to take a bath. I had taken the precaution of getting Dimitri to warn the village elders of what I proposed to do. The only result was that practically the whole village turned out to see the show. I rigged up a couple of blankets for shelter around the area, and went ahead. Early next morning there was a deputation from the village which stated that the use of soap and the resultant slimy condition of the drain running from the spring, would be most likely to cause an epidemic of typhus! I was asked never again to use the spring in this way. I was amazed.

The Greek peasant not only never washes, but never to my knowledge even undresses on going to bed. The practice in Palioyanetsou and all other villages partly destroyed by the Germans was for a whole family to sleep in a communal bed on the floor. Why they should suddenly decide that soap should cause a typhus epidemic was beyond me, but they were very sincere in their belief that it would. In future I cut my washing to a minimum and I might add was never any the worse for it.

Major Dickinson of the Grenadier Guards arrived in time for dinner that night. He was a very cheery soul, and believed in living on the fat of the land. Where he always succeeded in getting the fat from I could never quite find out, but the fact remained that wherever Dick had his headquarters his visitors received nothing but the very best of everything. Later in the month he invited me to visit him in his area at Karpenisia. Although this involved a thirteen hours march, Dimitri and I felt it would be worth while. I have never walked thirteen hours with a pack on my back for a week-end house party before, and although we spent only twenty-four hours at Karpenisia before our return journey of a further thirteen hours stroll, both Dimitri and I felt it had been well worth the trouble to see how well a British guardsman lived, even in the wilds of Greece. It was one of those week-ends which one will always remember.

In Greece distance is never measured by miles but in hours. Generally speaking during this narrative an hour's march can be considered to represent a distance of between 2 to 3 miles. The going was almost invariably extremely heavy, either up or down very rough mountain paths. These paths were covered with sharp, jagged stones and rocks. The wear and tear on boots was formidable. Despite heavy studs and extra soles, I found that one pair of boots would only last distance of about six to seven hundred miles before becoming completely useless. My fourth pair of boots was well on its way to disaster by the time the campaign was over.

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Next Chapter: Chapter 9

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