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                                       M A R C H   O R   D I E 


                                                Chapter   1      ​

                                 The Nightmare Begins

      I  had ten seconds to live.  Twenty paces from me across the frozen farmyard, a firing squad of Greek terrorists raised their rifles to their shoulders and took aim. 

     To their right, a boy of no more than 17, settled behind his machine - gun.  There would be no mistake.

     Ten seconds separated me from death -- and I was exactly nineteen.  Dry mouthed, moist faced, I waited in the quiet yard outside the remote mountain village of Kissisachori for the bullets to tear into me.    

     From my eye corner I could see the bearded, scar - faced Communist leader, bandoliers of ammunition slung across his chest, grenades clipped to his waist belt, a sten gun thrown across his right shoulder.

     I waited for his arm to drop -- the signal to open fire. At my side were twenty four other men, their clothes, rags,  their cheeks hollowed -- with fatigue, their bodies bent with illness.  A dog chained to a post by the barn whimpered softly.  As if it were some talisman standing between me and my own terror.  I kept repeating to myself: My name is  "XXXX XXXXX.  I am a leading aircraftsman telephonist in the Royal Air Force."    

      It was three years to the very day that I had voluntarily offered my services.  Determined to satisfy my urge for adventure, I had employed the aid of deception -- increasing my age by several years. "My name is..."     

     The Communist leader broke the tortuous silence with a sharp order, but his arm remained above his head.  With a feeling of relief that made me dizzy, I watched the firing squad shoulder arms and march away.

    Incredibly, I was still alive.  Almost two hundred R.A.F.,  Army and Navy men captured by Greek rebels had died or been killed in a month, but I was  alive -- for the moment.  

     We had arrived in Greece during October, 1944.  Then, we had been welcomed with garlands and wine as liberators.  When we entered the beautiful  historical city of Athens, the sun - kissed, dark eyed girls had blown kisses at us, the men cheered, and we had been invited into their home.  This, we believed, had been the end of the war for us.

     For the first time since 1939, the Nazis were on the defensive everywhere in Europe.  After the campaign of North Africa, Sicily and Italy, we were looking forward to a rest.

     I was one of the few thousand Army and R.A.F. men sent to Greece to help administer the country until the Greek Royal family returned from exile and a permanent government was formed.  We established R.A.F. Air headquarters at Kifissia, a pleasant suburb some fifteen miles NorthWest of Athens.  

     The R.A.F billeted  800 of us in the two luxury hotels, the Cecil and Pentilikon which overlooked broad, tree lined streets which led to the snow capped Greek mountains.   We idled our way into early December,  and we were making ready for the happiest Christmas of the war.  We were making day trips   to Athens to buy Christmas presents.  Because of the war, the shops looked far from festive, but the people seemed gay and happy.

     Unfortunately, this proved to be the calm before the storm.  Below the surface the atmosphere was tense,  The Greek political parties were struggling for power.  E.L.A.S. the main left wing party, was plotting to prevent the return of the Greek Royal family and to establish Greece as a Communist State.

    On December 3rd., while in Athens with a pal, Alfred Higgins, I saw several Communist demonstrations outside the stately government buildings and in the great square.  Carrying banners inscribed in blood with the slogan,  "English Fascists Go Home!" They showed their contempt for the Western Allies.  Screaming hysterically, they claimed Communism would control the world.

     As the days wore on, the situation became ever more tense.  The demonstrations took on an uglier form.  Shots were exchanged between the Communist E.L.A.S. and the Royalist troops.; the flags of Britain and the U.S.A. were torn from Embassy staffs and set ablaze by a crowd of Communist supporters.

     British troops were brutally assaulted; Army outposts were attacked without warning.  Greece was on the brink of Civil War.  In the days that followed, Athens was involved in a fight for her life.  E.L.A.S., strong in numbers, marched on Athens in force, attacking Army and Navy units, killing the members and taking a large number of prisoners and Greek Royalist hostages.

     Meanwhile, those of us stationed at A.H.Q. at Kifissia, sat and waited for the Communist attack that was obviously imminent, while the situation became increasingly dangerous.  Rations were dwindling alarmingly, and an attempt by armoured cars to break through to us from Athens failed,

     We were worried by the knowledge that we were totally isolated from the main British forces in Athens, and it appeared history might repeat itself with the few,  facing overwhelming numbers.

     It was on December 18th., in the early hours, that the battle for A.H.Q. began.  The hotels Cecil and Pentilikon were besieged by part of a 25,000 strong guerilla force of men and women who had swarmed out of the mountains to march on Athens for the final blow.  Air attacks directed from A.H.Q. were a thorn in E.L.A.S.'s side.  With A.H.Q. neutralise, the taking of Athens would be easy. 

      We were as ready as could be under the circumstances.  Heavy fighting lasted throughout the early hours.  Mortar bombs began to land in our trenches, and the screams of the maimed and dying cut through the din of rifle and machine gun fire.  The Communists, well equipped, employed artillery captured from the retreating Nazis. 

     At first light, a squadron of Spitfires appeared in the grey overcast skies and attacked Communist E.L.A.S.  Terrified, the Communists fled into the nearby mountains.

     Catching sight of a Communist making for shelter under the avenue of trees that overlooked A.H.Q. XXXX XXXXraised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. In the same second a blinding flash and a deafening explosion caused the ground to shake beneath our feet. Horrified,  XXXXX saw that his victim had been blown to pieces. 

    "Blimey!"  he gasped.  "Did I do that.”

     "You sure did, XXXXX me old son!" said XXXXXXXX, twisting his Kaiser moustache.  "A good thing too!  That bastard was carrying enough dynamite to blow A.H.Q. to dust,

     We laughed, though we could not have said why.  XXXXX, a good sort, had been our Discipline Flt. Sgt. since we joined up at Padgate.  We had come to regard him as  a protector and friend.

     Our Spitfires were operating in relays from the air base at Kalmakia, a few miles south of Athens.  During the rest of daylight, they continued to hunt and destroy the enemy.  Ground fighting was limited to local sniping.

     We took advantage of the lull to bury our dead.  I had missed several familiar faces of Signals friends., and I searched the spacious grounds of the Hotel Cecil, hoping I should find them in the rear trench that protected our flank.  With Communist bullets whining dangerously near my head, I crawled the last few yards on my belly.  The rear trench came into view.

     There was no sign of life.  All was still except for the patter of rain, which had started to fall.  I crept into the trench.  The mangled bodies of my friends lay stiff in the slimy mud of the trench.  Moist eyed I counted up to ten.  The young men, who had survived five years of war, had perished in a dispute which seemed to be none of their concern.

     All around lay the bodies of the enemy.  Fear had its cold grip on me as I left the trench.  Would I, too, soon be still and lifeless?  My eyes fixed on the British and Communist dead, I was deeply moved, though I could not describe how.

     The late afternoon brought a hint of things to come.  A bullet fired at a Communist seen moving near a disused building, was answered by a field gun.  It seemed it was to be bullets against enemy shells and mortars.

     The drone of approaching aircraft caused us to cast expectant eyes skyward. XXXXX had heard it, and he leapt into the air in his excitement.  "Look Ron!" he shouted above the din of the Wellington bombers,  "it's the boys, with the food and ammunition drop!"

     Smiling and nodding, I ran wildly with the others, waving frantically to the Wellingtons roaring low overhead.  Parachutes began to fill the overcast skies and began to drift slowly earthwards.  Cheers broke out from the cracked lips of the defenders, and joy surged in them as they anticipated the food and supplies that would soon be in their hands.

     Then, with what seemed to be a deliberate cruelty, the steadily rising wind changed direction, carrying the parachutes into enemy territory.  Dismayed, we saw the enemy quickly cover his unexpected windfall.   

     Our position was desperate.  Food and medical supplies had run out, and ammunition reserves were almost exhausted.  Light yielded to darkness, and our spirits began to sink.  Serving to depress us still further was the rumour that the Tank Brigade from Athens was unable to break through the Communist blockade.  We were doomed.

     We waited in the oozing mud of our trenches.  Like the rest, I was weary, hungry and very frightened.  If we were to die, what would we die for?  Even our own people in England failed to understand why we had intervened in Greece.  It was certain many would regard us not as heroes, but as aggressors receiving a just reward.  It was this fact which worried us most of all.  For every man at Kifissia realised this was the start of Communist aggression.

     The wind fell, and the rain fell, while in an eerie silence we sat and waited for the final Communist attack.  Hungry, cold, and afraid. we waited while the rain became a downpour.  With water running chillingly down the back of my neck, I sung a few lines of a song we had heard in a film called "Girl Crazy" 

     "I'm abiding my time, for that's the kind of guy I am"

      "Shut up you bloody fool!" XXXXX ordered irately from the opposite side of the trench.  "Do you want to give our position away?"

     "Sorry, Flight," I said.  " I was only trying to cheer myself up."

     He moved over to me, twisting the ends of his waxed moustache.  He patted me on the back.  "That's all right, laddie. Forget it!"    

     His grubby hand moved to the inside of his battledress tunic, and he placed a boiled sweet in my hand.  "'Ere,”  he said, " ‘ave a sweet.  It ain't much, but at least it'll give your jaws somethink to do."

    He turned to XXXXX.  "Ere, you 'ave one."

     Alfred placed the sweet in his mouth and pulled a wry face. "Blimey Flight!" he said "What are they ?  Mothballs?"

   XXXXX eyed him sternly a moment, then ruffled his unruly hair.  "Enough of your lip XXXXX, or I'll 'ave yer on a fizzer when we get out of this bloody mess."

     Both XXXXX and XXXXXX lived in Brixton, London, and arranged a beer up as the order of the day when they arrived in England.

     A screeching startled us. 

     "Wot the 'ell's that" XXXXX asked nervously. 

     "Shut up and keep yer heads down!"  snapped XXXXXX  The Commies are shelling us.  The second attack's begun."

     Shells exploded all around us.  Machine gun fire lit up the night; mortar bombs tore up the earth about us, and the screams of the maimed and dying were steadily increasing.  It seemed the Communists were much more numerous than in their earlier attack.

     A terrifying flash that almost blinded me, united with an explosion that shook our trench.  Dazed, I shook my head, sure I had been wounded.  Alarmed, I looked at my body, expecting to find a gaping wound.  Instead, I gazed horrified at a severed head lying at my feet.

     Impelled by a sudden panic, I wanted to run-- to run anywhere from the hell around me.

      As I jumped to my feet,XXXXX caught me by the arm in a strong grip.  "All right laddie, " he said.  "Take it easy now.  You ain't going anywhere." 

    I struggled fiercely.  "Let me go !"  I screamed.  "I'm not staying here to be killed."  I continued to struggle until a smart blow landed on my ear.

     "Now, you little bastard, quieten  down!"  XXXXX commanded. 

     Gazing into his face, I suddenly felt ashamed of myself.  "I'm sorry," I sobbed.  " I can't help being a coward."        

     He loosened his grip on my arm.  He spoke quietly.  "You ain't no coward laddie." 

     "But I am.  I wanted to run. I was scared to die."  

     His grip was now on my hand.  "You ain't going to die," he said.  "And it's human nature to be afraid of death.  You know, I was in the Great War, and every battle I was in I was so scared I wanted to run.  Everybody gets scared when all 'ell's bursting around 'im, and anybody who denies it is a liar.

     The battle continued with steadily mounting ferocity.  The enemy broke into our defences, and we withdrew into the hotel's interior, where we continued to challenge the Communists from the windows.  Mortars and shells tore through the thick walls, and soon the E.L.A.S. forces were near enough to toss dynamite into the windows.  The hotel, on fire, was fast becoming a blazing inferno.

     Screaming frantically, the Communists demanded we should surrender or face the alternative of being burnt to death.  We refused to discuss surrender terms.  But E.L.A.S. now had machine guns mounted on the hotel stairs, and we were evacuating one floor after another.

     A communist bugler tormented our overtaxed nerves by blowing triumphant calls that became louder and louder.  A fusillade of shells was pouring into the dying building, killing many of our enemies.  It was at that time that Flt. Sergeant Hawkins shot the bugler dead.

     "Any more bleeding buglers?" he shouted. "If so let's be 'aving yer?"

     The end came when E.L.A.S. stormed the building, driving before them at gunpoint a score of R.A.F. prisoners and Greek hostages.  Numbed and bewildered, I watched men being herded in groups through the gaping holes in the walls of the Hotel Cecil.  XXXXX, red faced with contempt and anger twisted the ends of his moustache and picked his way through the rubble.  Behind him came members of the headquarters staff and the rotund figure of one of our cooks,XXXX XXXX XXXXXXZ  

     As they reached us, Jumbo broke down and sobbed.  Hawkins stood over him, sympathetic as a father.  He had ample cause for tears.

     Just before leaving the hotel, the Greek rebels had been rounding up the local civilian staff, and taking hostages.  One of the serving girls, Anna, had been wearing an engagement ring.  While searching her, the Greeks found on her a photograph of XXXXX XXXXX  They had promptly taken Anna into another room.  A volley rang out and the Greeks returned -- without Anna.

     In the fighting there had been no brutality -- no atrocities.  This, however, was a hint of things to come.

     The bearded rebels herded us into small groups and systematically robbed us.  Stripped of our uniforms and valuables, we were handed in exchange filthy, loose fitting coats and ragged baggy trousers. A jeering crowd, spat at our feet and gave us the thumbs down sign.

     An evil looking character with cauliflower ears, spat in my face and thrust a Tommy gun into my stomach.

     "Fight over!" he crowed. "English Fascist, E.L.A.S. beat R.A.F. Good, eh."

     He continued to insult me.  Then he caught sight of the wrist watch the others had not noticed.  His filthy fingers snatched the watch from my wrist,

     "Very good watch for me," he said.  "You dead soon.  You no need watch any more.  You finished -- bang, bang!"

     Without warning, and most imprudently, another rebel snatched the watch from him.  Shots were exchanged, and my tormentor fell dead.  His assassin, after securing my watch to his wrist, walked off. 

     The situation was becoming increasingly ugly,  

     We were ordered to form into a column and begin marching.  No one knew where we were going, and the guards were not at all helpful.  Those who asked questions were prodded in the back with rifle butts and told:

       "No questions Johnny.  March"  

     On that first day, December 20th., march we did.  We covered twenty miles of rough country to Tatoi.  It was winter, and as we had been without food for eighteen hours, we were in pretty poor shape.

     The guards rode on bullock carts, rifles and Sten guns at the ready, and they were sustained with wine from goatskin gourds and hunks of black bread.  Periodically one of them would belch loudly to indicate he was enjoying his food.

     Noticing the birds kept swooping out of the sky to feed on little red berries from bushes flanking our way, I stepped out of the column and picked a handful.  The berries proved to be firm and rather dry, and whilst they did little to meet our need, they did help to reduce the pains of hunger.

     Since Anna's murder XXXX XXXXX had said only one thing  "The filthy, murdering bastards!" He glanced suspiciously at the berries I held out to him. 

     "They're alright," I assured him.  "taste a bit like the deserts you used to knock up in the cookhouse --and no one died from them, did they?"

     That night, we stopped for a few hours in a village we could not identify, and were on the march again just before dawn, stumbling along great tracks through the mountains.   

     I noticed the guards had been changed. Obviously, although riding on bullock carts, they were not expected to stay the pace imposed on us.

     It was on that second day that we heard the sound of aircraft.  The terrified guards threw themselves into the bushes.  A Beaufighter, then a Spitfire passed low overhead, waggling their wings to show they had seen us.   We felt greatly cheered.  Perhaps rescue was nearer than we had imagined.  But the mood of cheerfulness was not destined to last.  When darkness fell, the temperature dropped precipitously and we faced our first snowstorm.  Ill - clad, the searching cold caused our teeth to chatter. We felt alone and, once more, very frightened

     At midnight we stopped at Kiffissia Hoyt, a bleak village consisting of only a few farms, about a dozen low lying huts and a small church.  Our guards commandeered the church.  Outside the wind howled and shrieked as it carried its burden of snow.  In an effort to keep warm we took the tapestries from the walls and used them as blankets.

     The sleepless night passed slowly.  It was bitterly cold, But not for our guards, who slept beneath their sheepskin coverings. In the half light od dawn I looked to the large crucifixion the wall,l and felt greatly comforted. 

     Two shopping days to Christmas!

     It was rumoured we were to be interned in the ancient town of Thebes.  The guess that we were going to that town proved correct, and we were marched 25 miles in a day  to get there.  But the internment proved to be very temporary.

     As we entered Thebes, crowds gathered to jeer and spit at us.  Encouraged by this attitude, the guards set about us with the butts of their rifles, screaming that all English pigs would die in the Greek mountains.

     A brick struck me on the head and I found myself longing for a rifle.  A teenage girl approached me, muttered something in Greek and spat in my face.  Furious, I broke rank, intending to get a hold of her.  But XXXXXX, who had been marching at my side, threw me back into the column. 

     "Get back into rank at once!" he ordered. "Do you want us all to get lynched?" 

     "Then what in hell do we do?" I demanded.  "Just sit back and take it" 

      "Not really."  He raised his head proudly and thrust out his chest.  "Attention" he ordered.  Then, with a gesture of defiance, he ordered us to march,  " Parade ground fashion"

     Despite his hunger and weariness, despite his raging sense of injustice, every man came to attention.  Perfectly erect, meticulously in step, we marched.

     The Communists stared at what must have been one of the most impressive spectacles they had ever seen.  The beatings and stonings ceased. We had won the day, defying the attempts of E.L.A.S. to humiliate us.  We had shown the Communists we were not to be intimidated or cowed; that we were superior to the most adverse and discouraging circumstances.

     About 200 of us were herded into the local E.L.A.S. headquarters where, again, we were ransacked for our belongings.  Anything missed at Kifissia was seized.  One airman had a signet ring cut from his finger with a pair of pliers, and an N.C.O. had a gold filling scraped out of his tooth.  I was deprived of my boots, being forced to take a pair of goatskin sandals in exchange.

     At the end of an hour, an  E.L.A.S. officer arrived and ordered four prisoners to go downstairs.  They went,  and we were disturbed to find they did not return.  Instead, the officer came back for four more.  They did not return either.

     This process continued, and we were all beginning to feel increasingly uneasy.  More so as, each time a quartet was marched downstairs, we heard a report like a gun being fired. It seemed our friends were being shot four at a time. 

     XXXXX XXXXX and XXXX XXXXX as well as others I knew, had gone before my turn came.  I was sure they had faced death bravely, and I hoped I would do the same.  

     We were led downstairs to a big iron door.  The officer pushed it open, and as it slammed shut behind us with the crack of a pistol, I sighed with relief.  That was the sound which had made us think a gun had been fired. 

     I found myself in a square, windowless room with a stone flagged floor. A solitary electric light hung over a bare wooden table behind which sat three black bearded E.L.A.S. officers, all dressed in captured   R.A.F. uniforms.  I mentally christened them  The Unholy Trio. 

     The central figure, fat and middle aged, who looked more like a grocer than a revolutionary, singled me out. He asked in very uncertain English:

“What is your name ?”

“Frank N. Stein.”

He started writing, spelling out loud F—--R—--   He was checked by the man on his left shaking his head saying something in Greek.  Fatso glowered, leaned forward and smashed his fist into my face.

    “Not Frankenstein.  You make joke.  Start again.  What is your name”

    “Boris Karloff”

     He hesitated, looking to his left for confirmation.  A nod, and Fatso laboriously entered my name in the E.L.A.S. files, where I ranked as Leading Aircraftsman Boris Karloff.

     The interrogation proceeded, punctuated by flat handed blows across my face when it was thought I was being uncooperative.

“Do you like Greeks?”


“Do you like Communists?”


“DO you like Americans”


    “Admit you are an American sent to Greece to make trouble.”

     “I cannot do that”

     Fatso’s colleague said in perfect English.  “I suggest you do.”  He thrust a piece of paper in front of me.  “ I suggest you sign this piece of paper in front of me. I suggest you sign the confession we have prepared. Read it.  We are merely asking you to confirm what we already know.  You are an American masquerading as an English airman sent here to make trouble. Further, this document states you have been well treated by the gallant E.L.A.S. Sign it, and we will release you and return you to your authorities.”

    “And if I dont sign?”

     “You will share the fate of all those who refuse to sign the confession.  You will leave at dawn and will be marched through the mountains until you die!”         

                                       Chapter   2

                                  Journey Into Hell    


     After our interrogation we were imprisoned in an upper flat at Communist H.Q.  Being without windows, the flat was bitterly cold, and the scant clothes covering our bodies provided little protection.  All of us were ravenously hungry, and we wondered desperately when we were to eat.

     I was pleased to see several of my friends again. In the far corner was the burly  XXXXX,  looking at me as he hard as he twisted the ends of his moustache.  “Hi, laddie,” he said, grinning “Ow did the sods treat yer.”

“Rough, Flight.  Still, we can take it.”

     He nodded and crossed to my corner.  Aware of his gaze, I looked away from him.  “My, that’s a real beauty of a swollen eye you’ve got there.”

    “You’re right.”  I agreed.  “That fat slob didn’t like me calling him an ugly bastard. But what’s all this Fatso was saying about a death march.”    

     “I don’t know laddie. But it’s obvious these Commies mean business.  It’s my belief we’re going to Russia.”

     “Russia!  Why there?  The Russians are our Allies.”

     He shook his head doubtfully.”

     “So it seems. But I'm not too sure.  It’s my opinion this Greek affair is the beginning of a Communist bid for world power.”

     Later that evening, the guards gave us the first food we had received since our capture.  It was no more than a slice of black bread and a handful of figs each.

     “Hell!” exploded XXXX XXXXX .  “I hope they can afford it.  Surely they don’t expect me to keep alive on this.  It’s a starvation diet.”

     “You are intended to starve.”  said a guard in surprisingly good English.

     The food eaten, we were forced to resume the march, which continued throughout the night.  Snow was still falling, and we found the going hard.  XXXXX XXXXX , chilled and still hungry, was, like the rest of us near to exhaustion.  

     “Blimey, but I’m cold!” he said through chattering teeth.  “What’s this lousy bit of cloth?  And what good did it do ‘em to pinch our clothes?”

     XXXXXX brushed the snowflakes from his eyebrows, and blew hard into his frozen hands.   “What do you think XXXXX ” he asked.  “Seems the E.L.A.S. need ‘em more than we do.  According to that fat slob, we ain’t going to survive, anyhow.  So we won’t be needing clothes.  But I’m thinking the bastards are in for a hell of a surprise.”      

      Early next morning, December 23rd. , staggering with weariness and feeling as if the cold had eaten into our bones, we reached another fairly filthy looking village several miles from Thebes. Again we were accommodated at the local E.L.A.S. H.Q., where we were split into parties of forty, each group being crowded into a small, windowless room.

     No one came near us until late afternoon, when a sleepy looking guard – whom we promptly named Dopey– handed us a second piece of bread and some figs.

     Despite its unwholesome appearance, we were glad to eat it.  Although we had insufficient   space to lay down, at least we were able to rest our swollen feet.  And we were glad of that, for many had been deprived of their boots.

     “Dopey” informed us that black market eggs were available at the exorbitant price of 5 shillings each.  The suggestion must have been a bad joke, for we had been robbed of our every possession and had nothing save what we needed to cover our nakedness.   

   Night fell, but no sleep came with it.  We were unable to stretch out on the floor.  Besides, the figs acted as a laxative, and we were not allowed to visit the toilet outside.  Having no choice we used the stone flagged floor.

     When dawn arrived, the building was being shaken under the buffetings of a raging blizzard.  Looking through the glassless rectangle that served as a window, I saw that the snow was deepening.  Maybe the fact that it was Christmas Day caused me to murmur a few lines of the popular song “White Christmas”

     “Shut your blasted mouth!” XXXXX  bellowed from where he was shivering in a corner.  Hands clenched, he ran towards me, obviously intending to assault me.

     “Oh, keep your hair on, Alf!” I retorted. 

     He fixed me with a withering stare.  “I’ll keep me ‘air on all right.  But I mean to punch yer silly face in .”

     I raised my fists protectively, but before the infuriated XXXXX had time to carry out his threat, he was thrust aside by XXXXX. “Now then, you little bastards, pack it up!  If yer don’t I’ll give yer both a bloody thrashing!”

     XXXXXX seemed to be quieting.    “Sorry, Flight,” he whispered.  “But as if I ain’t cold enough, that silly sod ’as to go and sing about snow.”

     “Cut it out !”XXXXXX boomed.  “There’s enough ill feeling around ‘ere already, without you two adding to it.  Now apologise to each other.”

     We gazed at each other.  A rueful light appeared in XXXXXXX eyes, and we clasped hands.

     “That’s better.” XXXXXX curled the ends of his moustache.  “You know, at Christmas thoughts turn to the folks at  ‘ome.  I can see them now, around the Christmas tree and blazing fire, and I can imagine the excitement of the kids as they hang up their stockings.

    “You’ve a kid, haven’t you?” I asked.

     “A little girl called Linda” XXXXXXXvoice was shaking with emotion. 

     “How old is she ?” I asked.

     “Just three.  I’d some lovely photos of ‘er, but the Communist swine took them from me.”

     The season of the year and our common plight served to break down our usual reserve.

     “You know, Flight,”  I said,  “ I spent the night remembering past Christmases.  And, do you know, I prayed for the first time in my life.  I Prayed for every man of us.  It’s funny but I think I’ve found God.

     “Now, ain’t that queer?” said XXXX XXXXX.  “I think I’ve found him too.”

     “Last night” asked XXXXXX.

     “No.  While we were on the march from Thebes. Like everybody else, I was feeling sick with cold.  Thoughts of Anna filled me with hatred for her murderers, and I wanted to kill every one of them.  Then that blizzard came.  I was feeling I must collapse, and it was then that it happened.  I don’t know why, but I found myself staring at the falling snow.  Then, though the sky was full of swirling flakes, I thought I saw a star– a very bright star.  Something told me this was no ordinary star, and I found myself thinking of it as a Star of Hope.  I felt this was the star the Wise Men had set their gaze on all those hundreds of years ago.  Then I heard a voice which might have been inside me.  “Have faith,” it said.  “Be not afraid of the evil around you.  Forgive them.  They know not what they do.  Pray and you shall be heard.”  There was a clear hint of wonder in his voice.

     “The funny thing is,” he added, “I felt no fear.  I felt no cold, no hunger nor bitterness any more.  I knew that out there, where there was nothing but the bitter winds, the ice and snow, I had found God.”   

    The day pursued its tedious course, but it did not bring the food we had been promised that morning.

     From the beginning, our officers had been separated from us, and that had added to our troubles, making us feel unprotected.  That evening, to our delight, a high ranking Communist soldier brought our officers, XXXX XXXX XXXXX our C.O. and XXXX XXXXXX XXXXXX, his administrator, to our quarters.  We greeted them with a loud cheer.  The Communist officer saluted and smiled as we, still alive to discipline, came to attention.   

    “Please, sit down. “  He laughed self consciously.  “That is, if you can in such limited space.  It is most unfortunate that I should be compelled to regard you as my enemies, for I have the greatest admiration for the British.  However, war is war. And I have for you at least one item of good news” 

     We waited expectantly.

     “From now on, your officers will be staying with you.” 

     There were expressions of delight from all of us.

     “Further, as it is Christmas day tomorrow, I have arranged with your Commanding Officer that you are to have a carol service later this evening.”

     We learnt later that the officer disliked the E.L.A.S and was, in fact, a Greek regular soldier, but as the Communists held his family as hostages, he had no choice but to accept Communist dictation.

    Guards came in and handed each one of us half a loaf of black bread and five Greek cigarettes.  XXXXXX lit one and inhaled deeply.  The smoke was so strong he was plunged into a fit of coughing that brought tears to his eyes.    “Blimey!” he gasped.  “What are they made of – charred Communist flags. 

     The meal over, XXXX XXXX XXXXX  announced we would begin the service with “O Come All Ye Faithful” , and all of us, including our captors, sang with enthusiasm.

     “Men,” said the Group captain, our singing finished, “tomorrow is Christmas Day.  Under our present circumstances, it can hardly be a very pleasant Christmas Day.  But, nearly two thousand years ago, an expectant mother and her husband, like yourselves, ill clad and hungry, found their only accommodation in a stable.  It was under these circumstances that our Lord was born.  Remember this, then, tomorrow.   Now, Let us sing “Silent Night”.

    As we sang, we were aware of the blizzard howling outside.  Although we knew the storm had strengthened until it was a thing of shrieking winds and rapidly deepening snow, we felt no concern.  It seemed that something of the warmth and hope of Christmas had seeped into our hearts.

     When Christmas Day dawned it was upon a blizzard that had increased still further in its fury.  The wind roared and thundered about the building, and there could be no doubt the temperatures had fallen far below zero.   I greeted the dawn with chattering teeth, and numbed feet and fingers.

     XXXXXX had hung up his stockings in order to dry them.  As he strove to rub warmth into his frozen hands, he eyed the empty stockings with nock dismay.  “Blimey!” he exclaimed.  “Ain’t there no Santa Claus?  It must ‘ave been the smell of me socks that kept ‘im away!”

     “You can say that again” I retorted, ostentatiously holding my nose.

    XXXXX  ignored me, and gazed out of the window. “Well,” he said, “we can be sure of one thing.  There’ll be no marching today.  Just listen to that sodding blizzard!”  

     “I wouldn’t count on that,” XXXXX XXXXX  said.  “These Commies don’t believe in God, Christmas Day or not.  If you’re wise, you’ll be ready for the worst.   

     The sergeant’s pessimism was only too justified.  Later that morning, the Communist guards ordered us into the open.  Our march was resumed.

     In our single garments, many without boots, we were driven on our way.  The wind thrust at us with a fierce coldness, and it seemed we were being cut about the face and body.  The biting winds stung our exes, causing the tears to run down our faces.  We shook with cold,as we stumbled and slid over ice covered roads.  But it was the wind which was our worst enemy.  It struck at us with frozen fists, stinging our faces and bodies, and driving the warmth and life from our limbs.

     As we pushed on, a half naked, shambling line, we penetrated ever further into the mountains.  The snow continued to deepen, and we found ourselves struggling through waist deep drifts.  Alfred, perhaps because it helped to keep him going, was talking to himself.

     “Lost me bloody ears,” he mumbled. “Me toes’ll be dropping off me feet any minute, and me fingers are dead.”

     I felt,too, that I was near the limits of my endurance.  I was so weary I longed only to lie down in the snow and fall asleep.  I knew I would never wake up again were I to do so, but I did not care.

     With a groan of despair, I fell into the snow. XXXXXX , helped by other prisoners, strove to lift me to my feet.  “Oh go away,” I sobbed.  “I just want to stay here and sleep.”

   XXXXXX , ignoring my plea, struggled with me.  “XXXXXX,” he thundered in his most impressive parade ground voice. “Up on yer feet or I’ll box yer bloody ears!”   

     A Communist guard began screaming at me.  Then he began beating me about the head with the butt of his rifle.  “Get up, Capitalist pig!”he screamed, his eyes narrowed in hatred.  “Get up or you die!  Weaklings no good for Greek mountains in Winter.”

     I writhed in agony, my blood staining the snow.  I struggled to my feet, only to fall to the snow again.  The guard continued to beat me about the hea, and kicked me in the ribs for good measure.

    “Leave the boy alone, you Commie bastard.”     It was XXXXXX.

     The guard spat in his rage, informed Hawkins he would have him castrated for his effrontery, and continued to beat me. 

    The veins in his temples bulging, his face scarlet, XXXXXX shouted “I’ve told you to leave him alone!  He’s ill.”  And he pushed the guard aside, into the snow.

     The guard jumped to his feet, aimed his rifle at my head and stormed at XXXXXX :  “Now boy die.”

     I closed my eyes and prayed, waiting for the guard to fire.  But the bullets never came.  XXXXXX  rushed the guard, knocking the rifle to the ground.  Screaming with fury, the Communist called on his comrades to deal with the N.C.O.

      “Castrate him!”  he shouted.  “Castrate him like you did the British Paratroopers.”

     The guards moved on HawkinXXXXXX.  Despite his struggles he was borne to the ground and his one covering was ripped away.  In the same moment, the other prisoners broke ranks and converged on the guards who, being in a minority, became alarmed and abandoned their grisly intention.

     “Ok.” they said.  “Everything all right now.  We forgive N.C.O. this time.  Now, march!  But next time a man fall out of march, he will be shot.  Orders must be obeyed.”

     The march was resumed , in a blizzard that was still worsening.  Without the protection of clothes, we also soon lost the protection of rises in the land, for we were entering the highest level of the mountains.  It seemed we had reached the limits of endurance.  Many collapsed into the snow, but the guards beat them into action, showing us no pity in our plight.

     Assault followed assault, and finally XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX  intervened.  “Stop these atrocities on my men!” he demanded.

     The senior guard seemed stunned by what he regarded as this impertinence.  Recovering, he struck the officer across the face. XXXXX  responded by grasping the Communist by the scruff of his neck.  “Do you hear me?” he stormed.  “I told you to cease these atrocities.”

     The Communist managed to free himself, and as he did so he kicked out hard at the C.O.’s stomach.  XXXXX  went down, writhing in agony.

     “You capitalist swine!”  the Communist screamed at him.  “Don’t speak to me that way.  All Englisi rich – very rich.  E.L.A.S. soldiers very poor.  We hate you very much.  I have no interest in Geneva Convention.  I only know you will die on death march.

     XXXXX struggled to his feet and levelled an accusing finger at the guard.  “I’ll remember your face,” he promised.  “Somehow, some time, some of my men will return from your death march, for you cannot kill us all.  When that time comes, you and your evil comrades will be reported to the War Crimes Commission, and I hope I shall have the pleasure of attending your hanging.”

     The Communist was silent for some moments, his hands touching his neck.  Then, in Greek, he shouted to his comrades to resume the march.  There were no more beatings, and we stumbled and fumbled through a blizzard that harassed us remorselessly.

     That Christmas Day we took a savage beating from the elements and our captors, and none of us had much left in the way of endurance and strength.  Our pace was slow, our morale was slipping to zero.  Thoughts of the sermon of the night before in my mind, I struck up a chorus of Harry Lauder’s “End of the Road” ,  and soon, the others were joining in with great enthusiasm.

    We followed with “Onward Christian Soldiers' and the singing did much to warm us and strengthen our determination to battle on through the fiercely hostile wind, which never abated for a moment.

     Rushing on through ever deepening snow , we arrived eight hours later at the small mountain village of Allartos, having covered fifteen miles all told.  Perhaps the guards were not aware of the irony of our action when, after subjecting us to such treatment on Christmas Day, they herded us into a stable.

     There we met several members of the famous 4th Indian Division, and XXXXX XXXX XXXXXX  of the 23rd Armoured Brigade, captured during the street fighting in Athens.  They had been prisoners since December 3rd. 

    A fire was lit on the straw covered floor, and although this was dangerous, it was well worth the risk.  The guards were suffering from the cold, so severe were the conditions,while we were the victims of hunger, the icy winds and frostbite.

     The Indians, accustomed to very different circumstances, were reacting badly to exposure.  Many had died on the march, their surviving comrades vowing to take revenge by taking many E.L.A.S. heads when the time came.   None of us doubted their determination to carry out their threat. 

     Puzzled, I found myself listening to a distant, deep throated murmur.  I strained my ears for the sound, finding it impossible to believe I was hearing the drone of an aircraft.  As the sound grew however, doubt vanished.  The others had heard it too, and they were dashing into the open.   Although the skies were still threatening, the blizzard had abated. 

     Aircraft, obviously Spitfires, were approaching.  They came steadily nearer, to roar over our heads.  We cheered and waved, and the Spitfires tipped their wings in salute before flying off.

     They were a heartening reminder that freedom was not far away, and it was reassuring to know that we had not been forgotten.

     Later, as we were making ready to face another bitter and foodless night, we heard an aeroplane approaching again.  Unable to credit our  senses, we rushed excitedly into the open.

     This time our visitor was a Wellington bomber, and it might have been the sleigh of Father Christmas himself .  The sky above our heads was dotted with parachutes, and what seemed a miracle was happening.  Overwhelmed by this unexpected windfall, I fell to my knees and, moist eyed, thanked God.  

     There followed a feast of bully beef, sweets and hot tea, topped off with cigarettes.  All had their share, prisoners and guards alike,  And everybody claimed this was their finest Christmas dinner ever.

     The meal over, XXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXX  said as he picked up a gaily coloured parachute:  “Thanks to our colleagues of the R.A.F. we have not been forgotten on this Christmas Day.  We have suffered great hardship, and, no doubt, there is more to come in the days ahead.  But we are fortified by the knowledge that we are not alone in this wilderness.  Our Spitfires will be watching over us the way Old Mother Carey looked after her chickens.  This is confirmed by a message, found in one of the food canisters, from our Air Officer Commanding Greece,  A.O.C. Geoffrey Tuttle.”  He then read the communication 


“To all of you,

                        My God you’re doing well,

Keep it up! We’re doing all we can for you and will keep on doing so.

Congratulations on your magnificent show at Kifissia.  If you can indicate what you want,

                          All the best 

                         Geoffrey  Tuttle


                 We’re winning


     We cheered wildly, andXXXXX XXXXXX s voiced our feelings when he said  “Good old Tuttle”

     Heartened, our morale raised to a high level, we sang all the songs we knew.  For a space we were happy, thanks to our colleagues of the R.A.F.  Our joy was to prove short lived.  What we had endured, terrible though it had been, was to prove trifling judged by what was to follow,

     The march was resumed at first light on Boxing day.  Nor were we downhearted.  The meal of the evening before and the knowledge that the R.A.F. knew where we were, were encouragements to which was added a third.  An improvement in the weather.  The blizzard had not returned, and the snow bound wilderness was not without its grandeur.

     Nevertheless, the icy North wind had not abated , and we wore nothing to hinder it as it numbed our hands and feet and began to freeze our fingers and toes.  The E.L.A.S. guards, too, had returned to their normal bad temper, and we were warned that should a prisoner fall out of line, he would be shot on the instant.  The threat was by no means an idle one.  The guards were all too obviously trigger happy.

     During the latter part of the day’s march, I noticed XXXXXX  limping badly, his face contorted with pain.

       “What’s the matter Alf?” I asked.

     He smiled and scratched at his scrub of beard.  “Damned if I know,XXXXX I reckon it’s the result of yesterday#s beating. I seem to have lost the use of my left leg.”

       “Could be .“ intervened XXXXXX . “I’ll get the medical wallah to have a look at it.  Can you manage to keep going until the next halt.” He looked at our captors.  “We daren’t stop now.  The guards are in a murderous mood.”

      “Don’t worry Flight,” said XXXXX .  “I can keep going for a while.”

     “Then lean on my shoulder, laddie.  That’ll be some help at least.”

    Supported by XXXXX XXXXX n and myself, XXXXXX  managed to preserve a fair pace.

     A portent of things to come, the blizzard returned.  The screaming wind carried the thick snowflakes blindingly into our faces, freezing lips already painfully chilled with frostbite.  Unpleasant as things were, they were made worse by Alf’s agonizing screams.

     “I’ve got to keep going,”  he moaned, his face distorted by pain. ”I’ve got to keep going.  It’s fatal to fall asleep  in the snow.  I’ll think of something pleasant – like the folks back home.”

    He wiped at the tears flowing freely down his face.

      But the pain was much too tormenting to be ignored.  We marvelled he kept upright, wondering how he managed to keep going.  Yet keep going he did, and for eight interminable,  pain ridden hours.

     When we arrived at the small town of Levadia, we had marched twenty tortuous miles.  

     I could have wept with relief.  So,too, I was sure could the others. Now at long last, the plucky little XXXXXX  would be able to rest his leg.

     Horrified , we saw that the male guards were being replaced by female guards.  The march was to continue!

    Terrified, I gazed at our new warders.  Teenage women, fifteen strong and dressed in a bizarre mixture of German and British battledress, they wore over their breasts bandoliers of ammunition.  Unsheathed and ready for use, long, curved knives jutted from their belts.  

      We were in the hands of the killer women of Greece – the savage E.L.A.S.  Amazons who had committed so many atrocities they had earned for themselves the nickname “The Devil’s Disciples”


                                            Chapter   3  

                                     The Devil’s Disciples

     XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX  was examining the guards, whose dress and long, unkempt hair robbed them of any feminine qualities they may have had.  “Blimey” he gasped, awed.  

    “Yeah,” said XXXXXX  “and I’ve a strong suspicion that these youngsters have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the Communist hogwash.  If you ask me, I reckon we’re in for one hell of a passage.”

     Without warning, several of the women fell upon him and dragged him to the ground by the hair of his head.  One smashed her rifle into his stomach, while others took turns in kicking him in the testicles.

  XXXXXX writhed in agony, but when they had finished with him, he forced himself to his feet, remarking with a lop sided grin: “Another cripple to join yer, XXXXXX ”  

     I found myself marvelling at his courage.  Having taken so much punishment, he came up joking.  As never before, I felt proud that I was British.

     The female guards pointed the rifles.  “Bros!” they ordered, which we decided meant “March!”  So, without food or drink to sustain us, we resumed our march.

     Determined to voice our defiance, in spite of everything, we sang for the benefit of our guards,  “Bless ‘Em all” adding lyrics of our own that were apt to our circumstances.

     The big breasted guards retaliated with the Communist War Chant, but were soon forced to abandon their feeble competition.  They gave rein to their chagrin by ordering us to march at a faster pace.  

     XXXXX XXXXX was a desperate case.  His eyes rolling, his body twisting and convulsing in agony, screams burst from his trembling lips.  Finally, he collapsed in a twitching, helpless heap.

     Delighted at this excuse to inflict punishment on one of their charges, several of the women flung themselves on him, intending to inflict on him the same treatment accorded to XXXXX XXXXXX 

     There was, however, a dramatic intervention.  Breaking ranks, a Gurkha seized one of the women by the throat and had strangled her before anyone could intervene.  There was a ragged burst of fire and the Indian fell dead, his blood staining the snow. UnconsciousXXXXX remained unaware of what had happened, and all efforts to revive him proved unsuccessful.

    “How bad is he?” asked XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX .

    “Very bad, I would say, sir,” replied the medical orderly. 

    I’m afraid he’s developed paralysis of his hip.  Further marching for him is impossible.

    XXXXX  took off his tunic and covered XXXXXX  shivering body.  Then he turned again to the orderly.  “You’re sure of your diagnosis, I take it.”

    “I think I’m right, sir.”

     “He needs urgent medical attention and a doctor.” XXXXX looked at the snow laden skies.  “I must find some way of meeting his needs.”

    His request that the march should be delayed until some form of stretcher had been made, was refused.  Incensed by the loss of one of their number, the women forced us back into line at gun point.  Leaving the dead Gurkha and guard where they had fallen, the women dragged the unconscious XXXXX by the hair of his head.

    This barbarity caused us to leave our places and, in spite of shouted threats, we continued to advance on the guards.  Seeing our determination, they screamed in terror and discharged their rifles over our heads.  Undeterred we continued to bear down upon them.

    “Okay,okay!” the leading guardsman shouted.  “You carry sick comrade until end of march.  But disobey orders again and you will be shot.”

    The women talked excitedly amongst themselves, as if they had something cruel in store for us.

    Carrying XXXXX XXXXXX  we resumed our way, further embittered by the treatment of XXXXX and XXXXX , and the killing of the Gurkha.

    “What a wonderful sacrifice, that Gurkha,” said XXXXX

    “You can say that again !” saidXXXXXX 

     He staggered under XXXXXX weight, and paused to accept XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX  offer to take over.

      “Know something?” said XXXXXSX .  “When this mess is over, if ever I catch anyone encouraging the colour bar, I’ll do him for sure.

       “You and me both,” said XXXXX   “I wonder how many people back home will believe us when we tell them of the atrocities we’ve seen here?”

    “None, that’s for sure.”

     Night fell, but there was no indication we were to rest.  We had left Attica and were now approaching Parnassus Mountain.  We saw it towering above its neighbours. Mts. Kithairon and Helicon.  Legend has it that Pan, God of shepherds, haunts the area.  And it is certain that the region saw many hard struggles between the Nazis and the Greek Resistance during the German occupation.

     We entered this second range of mountains, with the wind bruisingly cold, and near to fainting with hunger and thirst.  The female guards marched on the exposed side of the mountain road, where there was a drop so deep it might have been into eternity itself.  An adroit push in the darkness and a guard would vanish forever.  And, in fact “accidents” did happen to some of the women that night.

    At dawn – twenty four hours after setting out– we arrived at the mountain village of Distomon,  about fifteen miles beyond Levadia.  The village had been burnt to the ground, and a male member of every family in it had been shot by the Germans in 1943.

    It was, of course, deserted, but our guards called a halt there.  We were so exhausted we fell to the ground and were instantly asleep in the open air.  The guards wrapped in sheepskin rugs, also fell asleep, knowing we were unable to take advantage of any lack of supervision.

XXXXXX and I were amongst the few who could not sleep, and we kept an eye on XXXXXXX, who was still in a state of coma.  A slight fall of snow caused XXXXX to cover XXXXX and XXXX XXXXXuniform.

    “Great of the old man giving up his tunic like that,”  he said.  “To think he’d the luck to retain his own clothes, then give them up for one of his men.  That shows he’s an officer and a gentleman.

   I had noticed during the march that one of the female guards had been carrying a small box, and I had been intrigued by the zealous way in which she watched over it.  It seemed certain the box held something of rare value, and I was anxious to know what it was.

     The box now lay near its sleeping owner, and I crawled to her side.  Satisfied she was sleeping soundly, I cautiously took up the box and opened it. 

     I reacted to what I saw with a sharp nausea.  I was almost retching as I stared at several human eyeballs.  I was shocked, I feared I might be going mad.  There had been strong rumours that several paratroopers and also civilian hostages had suffered the appalling fate of having their eyeballs gouged out by E.L.A.S. women.  I had been unwilling to believe them, but here was the grisly, sickening proof.

    “What have you got there?”

    Startled I gazed into the face of XXXXXX.

    “Here, take a look for yourself,” I invited.

     He recoiled in horror

     After some consideration, we decided all we could do was replace the box.  A woman with such a passion for human eyes, should she lose her collection, might decide to start a fresh one, and her victims could only be the men at her mercy.

     I cautiously replaced the box, making a mental note to report the discovery to XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX .

     I was aroused from my grim reverie by rifle shots  and hysterical yells, which wakened the guards and prisoners.  Staggering with exhaustion, a small group of British soldiers appeared, a dozen or so E.L.A.S. women behind them.  Our guards greeted them with wild cheering, and soon they were in a bunch chattering noisily in Greek.

   It was there that we learnt from one of the men who had just arrived that they had been captured in Athens.  He also spoke of atrocities and brutal treatment.

      XXXXX XXXXX  groaning ended our conversation, and we were glad to see he had regained consciousness.

     “Where am I ” he whispered.

    XXXXXX knelt at his side.  “Take it easy,” he said.  “You’re going to be alright.  But you’ll have to keep off that leg awhile.”

    “My leg?”  XXXXXX  seemed surprised.  “What’s the matter with it?”

     “Nothing apart from a bit of muscular trouble, laddie

XXXXXX looked anxious.  “Flight how the ‘ell can I go on when I can’t walk?” he asked.

  XXXXXXX ruffled the Cockney’s hair.  “That’s our worry,” he said.  “We’ve managed this far, and we’ll manage just as long as we ‘ave to.”

    “Maybe, but I ain’t going to be a burden to anybody.  I’ll throw myself into a ravine first!” 

    “For God’s sake, don't start getting melodramatic.  I’ve already told you, we’re all in this together.  Now, try and get some sleep.”

     Their conversation finished, the guards ordered the march to be resumed.  Encouraged by the arrival of reinforcements, they appeared to be more hostile.

    We found ourselves walking in winter sunshine which proved  surprisingly warm.  The effect was considerable.  We felt more confident, and the absence of swirling snowflakes was a further encouragement.  We no longer felt as if our bodies had been frozen solid.

     We were puzzled when the guards called a halt, but not for long.  Several prisoners were told to remove their only garment. Then the women proceeded to kick them in the testicles, the victims being selected at random.

    I began to sweat in terror.  Soon it would be my turn, and I felt unequal to the ordeal.   Wildly, almost incoherently, I was praying when I caught the sound of aeroplane engines.  A Spitfire roared low over our heads, and the women screamed in fear.

    Behind the Spitfire came a Wellington bomber.  Soon, parachutes dotted the sky, to float down with supplies of food. 

    “The R.A.F.’s done it again,”  XXXXX told XXXXXX triumphantly.  “There’s food and medical supplies.  Yes, and a stretcher as well.”

     We stared astonished.

    “A stretcher ?” said XXXXX XXXXXX  “How on earth did they know we needed one of them?”

     “Ever hear of aircraft tracking, Corporal?”

    “Sure Flt. Sergeant”

    “Then that’s how it was done.  XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX  left a big sign in the snow some miles back.  There’s lots of drugs included in the drop, and that means we can ease XXXXXX  pain.”

     The female guards  had been sheltering in terror from the planes.  They were obviously puzzled by the arrival of the medical supplies and stretcher.

     “How did Spitfires know about sick Englisi?”  one of them demanded.

     With an air of indifference, XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX  left his place in the ranks to say:

     “We have ways and means of keeping in touch with our Spitfires.  In fact, they are coming back later to strafe you”

    Terrified, the women fell on their knees, to wail abjectly: “Please, please, tell them not to kill us.  We will be kind to you.”

        King swelled out his chest.  “I will tell them,” he conceded, “but only on condition that you cease to ill treat my men.”

The women kissed his feet, clutching the hems of his tattered trousers.  “We be kind sir.  We no mean to hurt Englisi.  We love you.  But we have orders to ill treat you.”

     “Orders?  From who?” 

The women were reluctant to answer.

     “Very well I will instruct the Spitfires to strafe you”

     “No, not to tell.  It is General Saraphis.”* 

General Saraphis is Stephanos Sarafis and was a leader in the E.L.A.S.  He later married English academic Marion Pascoe who he met before the war.  He died in 1957 when hit by a car driven by an American serviceman.  His wife was badly injured but survived.  

Padre H.T.L. Lees’s booklet makes no mention of any possibility of General Sarafis’s direct orders to ill treat Prisoners of War.  

     It was impossible to confirm the claim.  But we had heard that Saraphis had something to do with the E.L.A.S. movement.

     “Seeing you have told me the name of your leader,” said XXXXX, “I will instruct the Spitfires not to strafe you.  But   my men must have rest.  Also, you must cook the food dropped to us.  Do that, and you may share it with us.”

       The women proved themselves surprisingly good cooks.   “They can certainly ‘and it out,” saidXXXXXX, the meal over.

    “They can ‘and out the other as well,” said XXXXX XXXXX .

      What other?”

      Why, the   other, Flight.”  

XXXXXX  stared, open mouthed. “You mean they’ve actually invited you to lay them?”

    “One has.”

    “What did you say.”

     “Not likely!  I might have caught a dose.”

     We laughed uproariously.  This was the funniest thing we had heard of.  It seemed that the Spitfires, supplemented by the Group Captain’s bluff, had won the day. 

    The female guards now showed a friendly attitude towards us.  They not only asked that the march be continued, but also offered to help in carrying  XXXXX XXXXXX.  Amused by this change of front, he began to sing a verse of “Git along, little doggie.”

    We felt an increasing admiration for the Cockney, who remained so cheerful when things were so much against him.  The drugs dropped for him gave a measure of relief, but he was still a very sick man.

     \the march ended at last at Amfissia 25 miles west of the mountain village of Distomon.  It had taken us no less than twenty four hours to reach it.

     The inhabitants astonished both captives and captors alike with shouts of “Welcome our British Liberators!”

     The inhabitants were pro British, and they gave us a hero’s welcome.

    We were housed in the local community hall and, later that evening, the Amfissians visited us in force, bringing us gifts of bread, wine and blankets.  These Greeks were themselves suffering hardship, but they realised that our need was greater than their own, and they gave to us out of their own need.

     The local Greek doctor appeared and, after a short chat with XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX approached XXXXXX   His manner was reassuringly pleasant and sympathetic.

    “May I see your leg?” he asked.

    When the lag was uncovered, it proved to be badly swollen.  “Can you move your leg at all?” the doctor asked.

   “I’ll try doctor.”

    XXXXXX did manage to make the leg move, but only at the cost of considerable pain.

    “That was bad?” the doctor asked.

    “It was ‘ell sir”

     The doctor adjusted his spectacles and re- covered the leg. “Okay my English friend.  If you cannot move it easily, do not worry.  It is only muscular trouble.”

     XXXXX  looked greatly relieved.  “Thanks, doctor,” he said.  “I was afraid it was something more serious.”

    “Then do not worry any more.  You are going to be fine.”

     The doctor told a different story  when alone with XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX    “I’m sure you know,” he said, “that your patient is very sick.”

   “I feared it.  What is the trouble, Doctor?”

    “Paralysis of the left hip.” The doctor looked worried.  “I would be more content if I knew what was causing it.  That, of course, calls for an X-ray examination, which is impossible up here.” He was silent for some moments. “Tell me,” he said at last, “Is it true you have medical supplies dropped to you by parachute?” 

    “Oh Yes.  Of course the supplies are small, but I am sure more will follow.” 

    “In that case I would like your permission to go with you on your march.”

    XXXXXX  was amazed.  “You wish to come with us?” he asked.

   “I do.” 

    “But do you understand the kind of march it is?” 

   “I have heard it is a planned Death March.”

    “Yet you would join us without hesitation?”

    “Group Captain,” the doctor smiled, “I am not afraid of death.  I have lived with it much too long for that. Like the rest of my countrymen, I have had death at my heels for many years.  First, it was the Nazis – now it is the Communists.  Yet I am still alive.  What is more, you have medical supplies, while we have none.  It seems I can be of more use on your march than staying in  Amfissia.”

     XXXXXX took his hand, saying, “I am most grateful.”

    I marvelled that this Greek, so dignified, competent and courageous, should be the compatriot of the men and women of E.L.A.S. who had shown themselves to be so brutal and sadistic.

    The doctor returned to XXXXXX  and told him of his intention to join the column.

    “They’ve taken you prisoner, too doctor?”  XXXXX  asked.

    “Why, yes, I suppose you could say they have.”

     At that moment they were joined by a young Greek girl, whom I decided was the loveliest girl I had ever seen.  Judging byXXXXXX expression he thought so too.

    “This is my daughter, Katrina,”  the doctor said.  Then he said to the girl.  “You won't mind acting as this man’s nurse?” 

    “Mind?” the girl replied.  “Why I shall be proud to care for members of the R.A.F.”

     She began to talk to XXXXX , and it soon seemed they had known each other for years.  She had classical features, a sensitive, warm mouth, large, dark eyes and a slender figure.

     XXXXXX  pushed back his receding headband, twitching his moustache, sauntered over to them.  “You’re a lucky devil, XXXXXX ” he said,l grinning widely.

    XXXXX blushed.. 

    Katrina began to cover him with blankets dropped by the R.A.F. , saying as she did so “Now,you must rest.”

     She began to hum a haunting Greek song, and as I listened to it, I feltI should remember it all my life.  In fact, I had the curious conviction that this moment would prove to be the most important in my life, although I could not say why.

   Throughout the day, there was no indication that the march was to be resumed.  Katrina and her father continued to care forXXXXX , while the rest of us moved about the small town of Amfissia.

    We heard that Winston Churchill was in Athens, trying to find a solution to the situation.  XXXXX XXXXX  gleaned the information that the Civil War was over, and newly arrived guards told us we were soon to be freed and returned to the British authorities in Athens.

    “War finished,” said a black bearded guard, patting Green on the back.  “Now we all brothers.  We fight wicked Germans.

     “Blimey!” he gasped “that's the biggest overstatement of the year!”   

XXXXX XXXXX  XXXXX  brought us the news that Spitfires had attacked an E.L.A.S. column and that British forces had broken through to Thebes.The town was agog with rumours, but it seemed wise to conclude that the war was by no means over.  It was ironical that the 4th Indian Division and 23rd. Armoured Brigade should be in Thebes, where we had been only a few days before.  Help, it seemed, was as near as twenty eight miles, but, for all the good it was, it might have been a world away.

      “A pity our boys didn’t get to Thebes a bit sooner,” said XXXXXX .   “Still it does seem we might be rescued soon.”

    “Then,” said the Gurkha soldier, slicing his fingers across his throat,  I cut off heads of E.L.A.S.”

     “With our blessing,” agreed XXXXXX , “as long as you leave one or two for us.”

    Many of us however, were by no means so confident.  In some respects, the situation was more threatening than ever.  The possibility of imminent rescue might result in E.L.A.S. shooting us to prevent losing us.  The behaviour of the guards suggested there might be an early rescue attempt.  The women had been replaced by men, who were now rushing about, ordering us into line to resume the march.

    XXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXX  seemed more anxious than the rest of us.  The inhabitants of Amfissia had been rounded up and many shot for their pro British sympathies.  And survivors had toldXXXXXX we were all to be shot within the next twenty four hours.

    We had no reason to doubt the warning.  We had learnt too much about the ways of Communist E.L.A.S. for us to be allowed the chance to make the facts known to the world.  

    The march continued the rest of the day, a further replacement of guards ensuring progress was not interupted  E.L.A.S. was doing all possible to keep ahead of the advancing British.   

    Ten miles outside Amfissia the guards halted the column, then unslung their rifles.  My heart was beating wildly in terror, and I saw that the faces of those about me had drained of colour.

    Was this to be our place of `execution?

The end of Chapter 3

Transcription and corrections

copyright  Nigel  King November  2023

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