Early Days Chapter 11

Hora Sfakion was a new experience unlike any other. I had stepped off of the bus and out of the blue into one of the most beautiful little villages or fishing ports that you could imagine. There in the early evening I just sat on the beach looking south to where Libya lies over the horizon. It was probably around seven in the evening and it seemed almost silent except for the waves washing in below me.

To the west behind the hill the sky was red and getting redder. Here in this tiny village had arrived all the beaten British, Australian and New Zealand troops following the defeat by the Germans along the north coast of Crete. In those days of course there were navy ships and later submarines to take them off of Crete and away to Alexandria in Egypt, but never enough transport arrived. While waiting to disembark they were harrassed by stuka fighters firing down on them and simply having nowhere to hide. A tiny sfakian village with hundreds of hungry and terribly tired and wounded soldiers arriving and simply settling down where they could to get some rest.

I have heard some of the stories told of this evacuation and even read of it in books, but sitting here now on a quiet evening it was hard to imagine. Small boats coming and going to and from destroyers and frigates. Utter chaos but driven by fear and uncertainty. The British navy ruled the seas then but not the air so all landings were a risk beyond any I could dream of on this quiet beach surrounded by mountains. I decided to go to the kafeneon to get some coffee and ask about a place to stay for the night.

The greek coffee was as always excellent and I sat outside the kafeneon on a wooden chair still enthralled by this place. Two or three young couples were starting to walk (volta) along the front near the beach. The kafeneon owner who had served my coffee must have told other men inside that a stranger sat outside staring at the sea because two of these men came out and sat with me and, after asking if I was well, they asked me who I was and where had I come from to Sfakia. I explained that I was English and I had come from Vrisses on the bus and arrived about an hour ago. “English” they asked, “are you sure, we thought you were German?”

They explained that two young Germans had appeared about two weeks ago in a car but they had left the same day. They didn’t speak to hardly anyone and were very unfriendly. “They must be these ‘tourists’ we have heard about, but they don’t come here very much, not to Sfakia.”

I explained that I needed a room for the night if they knew of one, so one of the men went back into the kafeneon and reappeared a minute or two later saying that I have the choice of three. The fourth man apparently had a sick wife so he couldn’t give me a bed and food. The best offer though was Dimitri, he lived at Frangocastello about three or four miles east of Hora Sfakion and when I was ready he would take me there in his new pick-up along with the gas cooker that also arrived on the bus.

But, siga siga, as always there was time for talk first. Where had I been, had I seen Iraklion – I had seen Athens Lord be praised? I was a much travelled man. They talked a little about the famous embarkation of the troops but not too much. It was almost as if it had been an everyday event for them to take in their stride as had been the sfakian risings against the Turks and the later attacks on the Germans. In between there were of course the feuds and the swines from the Hania police forces removing good sfakians  from Crete to other islands to stop the bloodshed. Beyond Anopoli there are empty villages I was told, because of the enforced emigration. But eventually it was time for Dimitri to leave after several tsikoudias so with my bag and the gas cooker safely in the back of the truck we roared off toward Frangokastello.

It was dark by now, of course, and with villages passing by with a surreal swiftness I have to admit to falling asleep there on the front seat of the truck. I blame the southerly night air, the smell of herbs on the wind and, certainly the several rakis that I was given to speed me on my way.

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