One of the proprietors of the -ABC Cafe at Gilgandra, Mr Peter Poulos, all through the war years and since has been concerned about the fate of his family. Their arrival in Gilgandra after such a long separation was the signal for much rejoicing at the ABC. The stirring experiences, of the party can be likened in many ways to tho adventures of Ulyssus and his party as recounted by Homer. Their fortitude during their perils and the final happy home coming after- all their trials and tribulations are the grand Greek tradition. “The Weekly” had the pleasure of an interesting evening with the Poulos family, to which Mr. and Mrs. Paul Kelly acted as host and hostess and we recount some of the incidents from the time when Peter and his wife and son left those shores to visit relatives in Kethyra.
The couple were married in Sydney in 1934 and the following year they were blessed with young Theo, who is now 13 years of age.. Three years later their daughter was born in Kethyra.. Peter left his home island (which is 120 miles ot the coast from Athens) and returned to Australia in 1939.. His wife was to follow shortly afterwards and the passage was booked in a boat to leave just after Germany and Britain went to war.. However, the entry of Italy on the side of the Germans resulted in the boat sailing two
days earlier than scheduled and the young woman and her family were left behind, not knowing then that it would be many years before they would again be able to come to tho land of their adoption..
Of a pleasing personality, and with eyes that sparkle like diamonds, she shows a great interest in the conversation that takes place, and although she speaks little English, is always keen to know what has been said, following the remarks with a lively sense of humour. Son Theo is a bundle of energy, possessing an alertness that is impressive, and an indication of his future well being. The daughter is rather shy and reserved, which is only natural for one her age, but a few months amongst other children of her own age, as well as a little tuition from young Stella, will find a transformation in her outlook.
Referring to tho early stages of the war, Mrs. Poulos told us through her husband, that when Greece first came into the war they were all very happy about the early victories of the Greek army, but unfortunately these did not last long. When they heard of the coming of the Germans they were down-hearted. This was signalled by the telling of
the church bells in tunes of sorrow and they all knew then that they were facing defeat.
THREE GREEK HEROES
Mrs. Poulos told of an incident of three soldiers defying the Germans when they arrived at the Acropolis, the ancient citadel of Athens. These three men were guarding the Greek flag and when asked to bring it down by the Germans they refused. One was then shot. The other two were again asked to come down and again refused.. Another one was then shot.
The last man was again asked, when ho covered himself with the flag and threw- himself over the high cliff to his death. Today plans are afoot to erect a monument to these national heroes. Three weeks later the Germans occupied Kethyra, bringing 50 motor cycles across from the main land. When they came they took control of the telegraph office, wireless station and other import and buildings and after three months sent the Italians to take over. Asked who were the most favoured, Mrs. Poulos replied “Neither,” but stated that the Germans treated them best. The Italians were rather severe on them, demanding everything they had, taking all their food and being cruel. When complaints were made to the Italian commander that people were dying through starvation his reply was, “There is plenty more room in the graveyard…”
On this island was a New Zealand soldier who had escaped from Greece and who was befriended by the Greeks for several years, and later on was rescued by an English submarine. This incident indicated that the Italian Commander had sours feeling at least towards an enemy, for when it was reported to him by some fifth columnist that the N..Z. was in hiding, he sent a messenger to the place to tell, the inhabitants that lie would make a search, thus giving them time to get their friend away. When he did come
and make the search, and found no one he had the informer thrashed and advised him not to spread false rumors. The N.Z. later sent for one of the local girls and married her.. “I knew her well,” said Peter, ”and now they are living in N.Z. and have a family.’
FOOD SITUATION DEPLORABLE
The food situation was deplorable, and it was only the resource born of desperation that saved the islanders from starvation. Kethyra in normal times was a rural community, with olive groves, wheat fields and grazing stock that supplied the people with their basic needs. With the arrival of the Italians all this was changed —there was wholesale confiscation of foodstuffs, grain, stock, even the precious olive oil. For 18 months no one saw bread and different kinds of island grasses, supplemented by fish, and carefully hoarded olive oil, became the daily diet. Olive oil became the currency; money had no value for it could buy nothing, and one could live on olive oil. People in
the towns feared worse than the farmers, of course, though any where in the island it was a common occurrence for people to faint through lack of nourishment and need a doctor’s aid to be revived. On a diet of grass and more grass, what else could be expected! “To make matters worse, the Italians were short of firewood, and their method of rectifying this was wholesale removal of doors and roofs from houses!
SAW NAVAL BATTLE
Early in the war great excitement prevailed early one morning. Just off the island, close enough to be watched by everybody, a naval engagement was in progress; A ship was sunk, and later they learned that they had witnessed the sinking of the Italian ship the “Bartolomeo Colleoni” by the Australian cruiser “Sydney” There were great celebrations to commemorate that event. Two weeks later the Italian fleet was sunk at the battle of Mataban. The islanders’ share in this was a night filled with the ..in of gun fire, -and then weeks during which dead bodies floated on to their beaches.
BATTLE OF CRETE
The battle of Crete to them was the sight of hundreds upon hundreds -of German aeroplanes flying over the island. They were 100 pro-British these people, and every movement in the Mediterranean was vitally important to them. As the planes continued to go across, and when 60 miles away they could hear incessant gun fire they knew that serious things were afoot. Their disappointment on earning … Crete was lost to the Germans was almost overwhelming, and it required all their courage not to abandon hope of ever seeing an end to the war. They now began to marshal their resources.. An underground movement organized mainly by school teachers and priests came into active existence, and all able bodied men who could left the island to join the guerilla movement on the mainland. This was indeed preferable to being conscripted into the German labour camps which operated in and around Greece during those years.
SECRET SUBMARINE VISITS
During live occupation, a Greek submarine the “Papanicolis”, did noble service to the British. Every island was visited secretly and a great deal of useful information was collected.. lit. also had the distinction of sinking an Italian cruiser as well as other shipping. The captain of the submarine was a frequent visitor to Kethera, under different names and varies disguises. Through the efforts of Con Tsambras (a Greek who had previously been in Australia) the islanders were able to hear wireless news.. The set was concealed in some caves five miles outside the town..
The entry of Japan into the war made little difference to the island but the attitude of the Germans changed considerably when the USA declared war. Things took a decided turn for the better in 1944, when British paratroops made secret landings and British cruisers were seen circling the is land.. The paratroopers were hidden in various houses until the time was ripe, and finally, on December 24, 1944, Kethyra woke up to find the Germans gone, and the British in occupation. Kethyra thus had the proud distinction
of being the first Greek soil on which the British landed.. The sight of British sailors landing from the cruisers was the signal for wild rejoicing and everyone took an unofficial holiday, as befitted the greatest event in the history of the island.
BEGINNING OF THE END
This was the beginning of the end—the liberation of Athens six months later.. For a while things were much better on the island, but the inevitable aftermath of war came
to Kethyra too. Inflation became rife. Food and clothing were there to -be bought—at a price— but the ordinary worker had a job to keep his head above water with the cheapest meal costing him £1. Things are still exorbitantly priced—a loaf of bread 6/-, lib., sugar 5/-, meat 7/6 lb.. (8,000 drachmas equal 7/G)..
ANOTHER WAR INEVITABLE
Greece today is in the grip of political and economic chaos— wages are insufficient to cope with the inflated prices and no one is satisfied from the professional man to the labourer.. And the government does not know what to do next. (A picture of the whole European scene today). Most Greeks are of the opinion that another war is inevitable and many think that it would clear the atmosphere, and show the country where it stands.. Others shrinking from tins prospect would prefer t0 seek haven in countries more fortunately situated such as Australia and the U.S.A.
TO PROMISED LAND
The Poulos family finally began their voyage to the promised land on 4th June, when they left by plane for Australia with 15 others. However, their adventures were not yet over, for their plane, a Belgian air transport, broke down on Macassar Island in the Celebes, and there they were stranded for ten days. Ten days of mosquitoes and more mosquitoes, the marks of which they still carry.
But here they are safe and sound in Gilgandra. “Wonderful,” says Mrs. Poulos and the youngsters.. And the climate? “Wonderful,” says Theo and his sister Helen, who wishes she could have her grandmother (Peter’s mother) out here with them. But she is 70 and like most elderly people shrinks from radical changes. Maybe she will come out later. Present at our interview was smiling George Psaltis, the proprietor of the Monterey Cafe at Gilgandra, and he had reason to look pleased. His parents run a store at Kethyra and the traveller brought good news as well as some tokens ‘from George’s home folk. Another interesting guest was Miss Helen Hangars, whose brother owns the Vogue Cafe in Dubbo. She is not long out from Belgrads in Yugo Slavia, where the communists are in control, and she could tell some interesting stories of the slate of affairs in Europe. She was a school teacher and was refused a passport- so made her way out by various means.. She has been in this country five months.
HAND OF FRIENDSHIP
To all these people who have endured such frightful privations and who have come- through undaunted in spirit (and miraculously unharmed in body) we extend the hand of friendship and a warm welcome. May your day in your now home here be untroubled and peaceful as Heaven.