Early Days Chapter 08

A couple of days later I decided to get moving again. I walked to the eastern side of the Amari valley and then to the north-west. At each village they knew that I was coming. People would see me and say hello, ask me into the kafeneon for a drink and some food. Before I arrived they already knew my nationality and my name and always there was a welcome and never would anyone accept payment from me for anything. I was the xenos, the guest or the foreigner, it meant the same thing. Philoxenia, hospitality – the liking of the guest or stranger was in the Greek blood. I had even heard that in the war they would take German captives out of the village in order to execute them. No one could harm a stranger to the village.

As I walked through the Amari valley, I kept hearing of the story of the kidnapping of General Kreipe. General Kreipe was the new German general commanding Crete during the occupation. On the 26 th April 1944, Kreipe was snatched by Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss from near the Villa Ariadne close to Iraklion. Nearly a three week hunt by the thousands of Germans failed to find them and General Kreipe was taken off of the south of Crete around the 14 th May. It is a long story and a book has been written of this action that many see as an act of great courage.

Part of the chase went through the Amari valley. The Germans punished the Amari by shooting people and burning the villages. George Psychoundakis, the ‘Cretan Runner’ spoke of being in a cave above the Amari seeing burning from one end of the Amari to the other. In fact General Kreipe was no great prize, he was an academic who had just arrived in Crete and could give no intelligence. The action however spurred the evil commander General Muller to greater atrocities across Crete.

I make no comment here as to the rights or wrongs of such and escapade. But when your village is burned and your family killed, it is hard to admire such heroics.

To the people of the Amari villages, the future is what counts to them and new buildings and houses are seen everywhere here. As I walked along the valley I could see people working in the fields waving to me as I passed them. Each village however has a war memorial commemorating their dead and in the ossuaries – the bone houses of the villages, there are many skulls with bullet holes above the ear.

I stayed a few more nights in various houses in the Amari, talked to everyone I met and enjoyed very much their company and their welcome. I was not allowed to spend any of my money at all, the philoxenia by its very nature is freely given. The Amari is certainly a fine and noble place and I recommend it to anyone to visit.

Eventually in one of the northern Amari villages I found a bus going to Rethimnon. That was quite a ride up and down hills and across mountain roads but as usual we arrived there without incident. Cretan bus drivers are a breed of their own.

Once in Rethimnon I found a room in a pension overlooking the old harbour. I ate some of the food that I had been given in the Amari, watched the boats for a while and fell sound asleep.

Early next morning I was up and, believe it or not, the pension had a shower. This was luxury and in no time I had washed myself completely and some of my T-shirts and jeans which I left to dry on the balcony. I had some things to do like telephone my parents to tell them that I was OK and all was well. In order to make a long distance telephone call I had to go to the post office and they would make the connection for me then I had to get into the correct booth where I could speak to home. I just had three minutes but that was plenty to let them know that I was fine and getting on well in Crete.

Rethimnon is a really great little town. It has a fortress on the western side built by the Venetians and a lovely little walled ancient town with dozens of really interesting little shops. There were bootmakers where you could have your boots made, chairmakers, bagmakers and all sorts of skills being practiced before your very eyes. The town has a small harbour and a lovely beach stretching to the east as far as you can see. You can buy all sorts of different foods and fruit here as well as an occasional English language newspaper. It was several days old, but at least it was available.

I found an estiatorion, a restaurant that serves premade foods like stews and lots of other stuff out of the oven. I ate some rabbit stew which was really good and very tender. I could mop up the sauce with my bread and be filled just by one plate. Lots of other Cretans were coming in, eating and going out again so this must be a popular place. I wandered through the park that they had made with all sorts of unusual trees and bushes and just generally enjoyed the town. A good place to live, I thought, Rethimnon.

Soon my clothes were all dry so I spent the rest of the afternoon writing letters to friends and family. I reconstructed the stuff in the rucksack ready to leave Rethimnon the next day. This town had the feeling that it was somewhere to return to. No fuss was made of anything here and you could live your life from day to day in real peace. In the evening I had a super fish meal at one of the tavernas on the quayside and then went happily to bed. Another day, another journey to look forward to.

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10 thoughts on “Early Days Chapter 08

  1. Hallo Ray,

    I’ve just red the 2006 discussion about the Kreipe abduction in the intercriti-forum. You mention there Tom Dunbabin /Tom Dunbabin’s report of 23 Sep ’43 (HS 5/723 in the PRO) who says, that “One of our agents is on good terms with his chauffeur”.
    I’ll accompany the son and daughter-in-law of Kreipe’s driver next month to Crete. They are invited by some people from Archanes. So, this information is very interesting for me and for the driver’s son also. Do you know more about this contact? And do you have this report and woukd it be possible that you email it to me, as I will not be able to visit British archives within the next time?
    Could you please as well tell me, in which archive the report can be found?

    Thanks a lot and best regards
    Annette

  2. Hi,

    Researching into the WW2 history of Crete can be frustrating and oft confusing. You seem to be discussing the AMARI VALLEY but this forum comes up if one is trying to find AMIRAS. I know. I have been preparing for my pilgrimage to the less wll known civilian war memorials in Crete one of which is in AMARIS. AMARI VALLEY has many villages with such memorials but the one in AMIRAS is quite different and some distance away. I will find it.

    2nd September 2008 will find me at 73 years of age setting off alone to seek out the memorials. With my pipes under my arm, sporran swirling, kilt whirling and God as my guide I will be taking a message to the hills of Crete. Not only “WE WILL REMEMBER THEM” but also “THANK YOU” for your sacrifice which gives me the freedom to travel and live my chosen life in peace.

    Bill Jenkins
    Liverpool UK

  3. Hi Annette,

    I have done a lot research to plan my months war memorial pilgrimage to Crete. A few changes. Firstly my wife is coming with me and secondly we will arrive in the Despo Hotel, Gouves on THE NINTH SEPTEMBER now.
    We seem to have got a bit confused with AMARIS and the village of AMARI. I will be visiting both but would like information of the memorial in AMARI. I am sure will be one but little detail can be found on the webs.

  4. Among the many great books on the resistance in Crete are
    [a] The Cretan Resistance 1941-1945, Dr Nikos A Kokonas [official British Report of 1945- foreword by Patrick Leigh-Fermor] 200 pages.
    [b] Crete 1941 Eyewitnessed, Costas N Hadjipateras and Maria S Fafalios, € 12.00, 328 pages.
    [c] The Abduction of General Kreipe, George Efthymiou Harokopos, € 9.50, 285 pages,
    [d] Documents from the Battle and the resistance of Crete, 1941-45, George I Panagiotakis, € 14.90, 429 pages [in English, Greek, German], and
    [e] Crete, the Battle and the resistance, Anthony Beevor, 383pages.

    As I stood in Souda Bay Cemetry recently, I thought of Royal Navy C-in-Chief, Admiral Andrew Cunningham, born in Rathmines, South Dublin City, 1 mile from where I write, and his retort to a staff officer,
    who was worrying about the risk to the Navy in rescuing the Army – it takes 3 years to build a ship but 300 years to build a tradition.

    Tom Carew, Dublin City, Ireland.
    tmcarew@yahoo.com

  5. Gentlemen, I read some of the posts. My grandfathers name was Manolis Vlepakis whom I am named after. He had a small part in the abduction of the general and was personal friends of Patrick Leigh Fermor. He was to leave and go to egypt to fight; however Patrick Leigh Fermor told him to stay in Rethimno as he needed him for a small part in the abduction. My grandfather stood guard with the general in his custody, and was in some sort of cave where they had him. As we all know he was then taken away by submerine. But there is more to the story. The story of a little boy who distracted the Germans and was later beaten until he turned crazy. This boy hero sacrificed himself. Some time later my grandfather was taken with all the men of Kardaki (village in Rethymno) and placed in front of a firing squad, before burning the entire village. The shot penetrated his lung leaving a gaping hole in his back. My grandfather was the only survivor of the Village. He played dead for many hours and before nightfall he got up to leave. It was dark and a German soldier saw my grandfather walking. The soldier assumed that my grandfather was a German Officer and soluted him. Manolis Vlepakis then walked to a distant village where he eventually healed of his wounds. My grandfather eventually died of lung cancer in the 70’s. I have his voice recorded recollection of the entire story, and the untold stories like the one of a boy hero. He was part of both the abduction of General Kreipe and the evil that came after. This story, from what I understand had many Cretan’s involvement, and the aftermath (the burning of the villages and the literal holocaust of the people of Rethymno ) was an incredible story in its own.

    • Hello Manolis,

      I’m making enquiries in regard to my uncle who was in Crete during WW2. I understand he was captured but escaped from the Germans and later helped the partisans. His name is Leslie (Les) Stephenson. He may have been a member of the SOE or SAS. One of the Cretan’s involved with my Uncle was Manolis Kanakis (same forename as you) who was shot in the back and subsequently was wheelchair bound. Manolis moved to England after the war. I think my Uncle and Manolis may have had some involvement in the capture and transfer of General Kreipe. I recall my Uncle taking me to see Ill Met By Moonlight when it was first screened in the UK. Typical with people involved in such escapades, he didn’t talk much about events during the war. At some stage I believe he was also associated with the Long Range Desert Group and the SAS. Late in life my Uncle married a lady from Crete called Nausica. Unfortunately, I don’t have Nausica’s family name. My Uncle is now deceased but he and his wife had property in both Athens and Crete. I have a photo taken during a reunion in Crete some years ago. Any information you might have would be appreciated. Many thanks.

      • Hello Bernard,

        I knew Manolis Kanakis, Les Stephenson and Nausica well having spent some time with both of them in London and in Crete. At this time (early 1980s} Manoli was living in Watford in the winter and at his family home in Crete. Les was living in Athens with Nausica and used to spend his holidays in Crete with Nausica’s cousin. They were both in the SBS, during the war, at that time, part of the SAS and the Army. After the war SBS was Royal Marines.

        Both men had an absolutely outstanding and almost unbelievable war record and it has been very humbling and an utmost privilege to have spent time with them.

        I last met Les in 1988, when I took him to the military hospital in Woolwich prior to having heart surgery. He had been living with a friend of mine just a few hundred yards from my house. Sadly he died not long after.

        I lost contact with Manoli and don’t know whether he is still alive.

        I hope you both this message up, but it is a long time since it was posted.
        Please email me on trilux21@yahoo.com as I have quite a lot more information on them.

        Jim

  6. hello
    The name Les Stephenson sounds very familiar. My grandfather’s name was Manolis Vlepakis. I have an uncle whose first name was Kanakis and last name Deligianakis. If you can give me a little more information I can ask my father to take a look into the matter. He is currently in Crete. He is retired so he spends 6 months in Crete and six months in New York. I hope I can help you.
    My name is Emmanoyil (Manolis) Vlepakis like my grand father.
    Nice to meet you.

  7. Hello Manolis,

    Deepest apologies for the long delay in responding to your posting. I hadn’t copied my previous posting or kept a copy of the web address and only found your comment tonight.

    I will undertake some further research and a review of family photos to see if I can extract some additional info.

    I met Manolis several times as a young boy. Later in life I met Les and his wife Nausica when my mother passed away in the mid 1980’s. I also met a daughter of Manolis when she visited Australia in the mid 1980’s. Unfortunately I don’t have his daughters name (more research). I do know that Manolis and his family lived in London.

    My wife and I may visit Europe later in the year and will see if it’s possible to include a visit to Crete.

    Kind regards

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