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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 08 July 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 8 JULY 2017 21 TRAVEL The Monastry of the Archangel Michael on Panormitis Bay PHOTO: JIM CLAVEN A Hellenic war memorial, honouring the Greek soldiers who died on Symi during WW2 and the surrender of the Germans in 1945, Symi Town The beautiful coloured houses rising from Yialos Harbour, Symi Town. PHOTO :JIM CLAVEN came to Symi in September 1943. Danish-born Anders came as part of a small force of elite soldiers led by the Edinburghborn Captain Jock Lapraik. And it was Anders who led the way into Symi harbour in his canoe. Arriving at the quayside in the darkness of the evening of 17 September, the locals erupted in celebration, ringing the church bells for their liberation – much to the consternation of the newly arrived Allied soldiers. Over the next few weeks the Allied force convinced the local Italian garrison to join them and prepared its defence. For a few days the soldiers enjoyed the sun, a rest, and the hospitality of the locals. When the anticipated German attack came on 7 October it was defeated. The fight on Symi was an intimate one, as Anders and his troop silently hunted the advancing Germans in the alleys and buildings of Symi Town. One of his comrades said that he could smell the Germans. Soon the Germans were in retreat. As I stood on the ridge above Symi looking across to Pedi Bay, I could only imagine the fear of the Germans as they reboarded and sought to sail away from Symi, under fire from Anders and his comrades standing on these very stones. Anders accomplished this while suffering major burns and other illnesses. He was awarded his third Military Cross for his bravery in those days on Symi. The locals seized the opportunity to aid the Allied cause – some fishermen like Marco Costandi volunteered to sail with the Allied commandos in their raids on nearby islands, the local blacksmith became an armourer and repaired a powerful Italian Breda gun Anders had brought from a raid on nearby Alimnia and as German and Italian troops retreated to the mountains The lost grandeur of Symi’s former mansions they were hunted by the local villagers. One of the most significant Allied supporters on Symi was Abbot Chrsyanthos Maroudakis of the monastery at Panormitis. Along with his young nephew Mihailis Lambrou, the abbot gladly operated a radio transmitter given to him by Lassen, and warned the Allies of enemy troop movements. The defeat of Allied forces across the Dodecanese saw Anders and the Allied force withdraw undefeated. Anders returned in 1944 to exact a terrible revenge on the local Italian fascist troops for their execution of the abbott, his nephew and another local Allied supporter in February 1944. As with all wars, the fighting on Symi had come at a terrible cost to the island. Many islanders had been killed and many houses destroyed as the Germans launched bombing raids on Symi Town. As they left the island many of the Allied soldiers felt sorry for what had become of the island and its people, one writing how they were terrified, homeless and foodless, living in a town gutted and on fire. Returning to the harbourside I discovered two memorials to those dark days. The first stands in a small area carved out of the rising hillside. Here stands a memorial – like the many others that dot Greece - to those members of the Hellenic armed forces who fell here in the latter Allied raids of 1944. Further along the harbour is a unique memorial carved in English and Greek. It commemorates the surrender of the German forces across the Dodecanese which took place in this small building by the waters of Symi's harbour. I almost stumbled across this humble sign, attached to the wall of the former Town Hall building, recently a restaurant and when I was there under renovation. There was Anyone for a sponge? A sponge seller, Gialos harbour, Symi Town no sign directing me to it, no story about that day on 8 May 1945. It was here that German General Wagner sailed into Symi Harbour and signed the formal surrender to the Allies, witnessed by Colonel Christodoulos Tsigantes, the commander of the Greek Sacred Squadron. And so the war in the Dodecanese came to an end. In 1948 Symi was joined to Greece. I have read that after the war much remaining war material was put to more practical use by the islanders – the Church of the Ascension on the hill above Symi Town has what must be one of the most unusual church bells in the world, made from the nosecone of a 1,000-kilo bomb! After a relaxing swim in Symi Town's beautiful little beach, nestled to the north of the harbour, a harbourside meal in one of many taverns, it was time for my ferry ride back across the Aegean. So if you are in the area during your next summer in Greece, I highly recommend you take the time to discover Symi. For me, I love its essential unpretentiousness, in the small but beautiful things that it offers the inquisitive visitor. Despite everything it has endured – from the losses of emigration, through war and occupation, to the waves of temporary tourists like myself – its essential character remains. Maybe that's why the famous English chef and travel writer Rick Stein has made Symi his second home. And what a lovely wish. Maybe I'll ring that number. *Jim Claven is a historian and freelance writer. In November this year he will take part in a commemoration of the service of Major Anders Lassen at Melbourne's Denmark House, along with the Thessaloniki Association 'The White Tower' and the Battle of Crete and Greek Campaign Commemorative Council.
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