What passing bells . . . .

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we shall remember them. It was at precisely eleven am on the eleventh of November in 1918 that the armistice was signed and the war to end all wars was finally over.

Then in 1939 a bigger war that had far more global consequences was fought until 1945. In both of these wars so many British people died. We remember them at eleven o’clock on the eleventh of November every year, wherever we are. For two minutes, we are silent.

Here in Crete there is a regular service in Souda Bay that is actually timed at one pm. With Greece two hours ahead of the UK this makes the Remembrance service both here and in Britain happen at exactly the same time. If you wish to go, then you should be at the Souda Bay War Cemetery at 12.45am.

The purpose of this service is to remember those men and women who gave their lives in both wars in order to protect our country and its way of life. It is not about glory or honour, it is just about remembering them and the supreme sacrifice that they gave us all. They gave everything.

And every year we should remember them in silence, in the privacy of our own mind, lest we forget . .

For if we ever forget how they died, how they suffered and what personal courage they mustered for a greater cause than themselves, we may find ourselves slipping back into war and death again. For them we have tried to build a world more civilised, a world free of war.

Whether we have yet done so will always be open to discussion, but that is and has always been our aim. We who remember them.

In the preface of his book of poetry, Wilfred Owen, a man who was killed in the closing months of the first world war, wrote these lines:

“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.”

Here is one of the poems that Wifred Owen wrote:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Souda Bay War Cemetery 2

Ray

As I was reading your sad experience from Souda Cemetery it reminded me of a story told to me of a British soldier who fought in the Battle of Crete. His name is George Hamlet, I say is, because, George thankfully is still with us. George was captured by the German army after some vicious hand to hand combat . He fought alongside, what George called, the bravest of the brave, the New Zealand Maori, to this day he is a great follower of New Zealand and Maori rugby. It was through rugby that I first met George, who was the President of Sligo Rugby Club in Ireland when I first played rugby.

To put the following in context I must point out that I come from Catholic Republican background and my Father was a member of the Old IRA in the Nineteen Twenties. George is a Protestant ex member of the British army.

Ray, the story is long and may be tedious, but I must tell it in its entirety to demonstrate the character that George Hamlet is.

I come from a basically working class background, and rugby, at the time I started playing, was, to a degree a snobbish or class concious game. After playing for a few years I was picked to play for my Province at Junior level. One weekend while playing junior against Ulster I was informed that I was being watched by the senior selectors because there was a vacancy on the Connaught senior team to play the Argentinian National team the following Tuesday in Galway. When I got home to Sligo that Sunday night I learned from the television that I was picked to fill the vacancy on the Connaught team.

That was the only information I received from the selectors, and it came through the medium of television.

Knowing that the game was on at half past three on Tuesday ( a working day) and not owning a car, I took the early bus for Galway. After a while I realised that at the rate of progress it was making I would not be in time for the build up and team talk for the game. As time past I started to panic as I knew if I continued on the bus I would be late for the game.

Enter George Hamlet, While looking out the window of the bus I thought I saw Georges car parked by the side of the road, and a man resembling George, watering a dog, which I knew George and his good wife brought everywhere.

At that point I knew George was heading for the game in Galway, so, I decided if I was to have any chance of making the game I better stop the bus on this lonely country road and thumb Georges car down, I might then have some chance of getting to the game on time. I duely stopped the bus, hopped off and waited for georges car to come along. After a few minutes waiting I had this horrendous feeling that maybe I made a mistake and that it was not Georges car after all. Seconds later Georges car comes around the corner and my heart jumps for joy, but, when I thumb the car and it drove on by, my heart sank, it was my last chance to make the game in time and I was distraught . A couple seconds later and who reverses back up the road but Georges car, he rolls down the window and the first utterences are expletives … Mc Hugh what the f..ck are you doing here, you should be in Galway for the bl…dy game your are going to be late. I explain how I happen to be on the country road on the way to the game. He said hop in quick and we will try and get you there in time.

We pull in to the hotel carpark where the team were supposed to meet pre all provincial games. I learn that the team are still at the hotel, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. George says you better have a good game today after all this.

So as George is reversing his car, I turn around and meet one of the selectors who asks me where I was. He said they thought I wasnt coming to the game and they made the decision to drop me and bring in another player, this, in spite of the fact that they never notified me officially in the first place that I was selected to play for my Province. Just as I turned around sickened by this news I spot George exiting the car park, and for some reason he rolled down the window of the car and shouts, are you ok, I mumbled something, so he stops the car and jumps out (leaving the car blocking the carpark) and comes across to me and asks me what is wrong. I explain what I have just heard. George explodes and demands to know where these selectors and aleckadoos and hangars on are. I said George just leave it, he says no, you come with me. He drags me into the packed dinningroom where all the great and the good and the selectors are finishing their lunch. In front of this packed dinningroom George tears into these selectors and tells them in no uncertain language that if they do not reverse this decision the whole country would be told how the Connaught Branch conducts there bussiness and how they treat their players. There was silence and embarassment throughout the room.

You see George comes from a very well known rugby family his Father or Grandfather played for Ireland, he also knew several of the National Sports reporters. So after a pause the selectors reconvened and quickly reversed their previous decision, and put me back on the team. Needless to relate I was overjoyed and without any doubt I had George Hamlet to thank, for me playing against the Argentinians that day. No other person would have made my case as good in that dinningroom in Galway all of thirty three years ago. We lost the game, I had a poor to average game. But I went on to play several more games for Connaught.

Georges wife has since passed away and George himself is now nearly totally blind.

Every time I thanked George for standing up for me he would say don’t thank me thank the dog, for if it didn’t need to go to the toilet on that road I would still be standing there.

The above is a small aspect of George Hamlet the soldier who fought in the battle of Crete.

Brian McHugh

Moments in Souda Bay War Cemetery

I spent a while this afternoon in the Souda Bay War Cemetery. Sometimes I just like to go there to sit and stare across the many neatly lined graves to the sea of Souda. I am too young to actually remember the war because I wasn’t born until 1946, but from what I have read, heard and seen on some newsreels, I have a good idea what happened here.

British and allied troops, New Zealanders, Australians and others were being rescued from the mainland of Greece and being brought to Souda by the Royal Navy. The British Expeditionary force on the mainland had been overrun by the German forces and those who could manage to get onto Naval ships were luckier than most.

Most of the battleships and destroyers had large red crosses on their decks to show that they were acting as hospital ships carrying wounded men. But this did not bother the Germans who continued to shoot at and bomb the British ships from the air. Some never even made it to Souda Bay. Eventually there were up to thirty British naval ships in Souda still being bombed and blasted by the German luftwaffe.

It is guessed that up to twenty of these ships are still there, sunk in Souda Bay. The men who could get off of the ships managed to climb up the sides of the bay and escape to olive groves wherever possible. It was a scene of absolute chaos and so many people died. More were to die in May 1941 when the German forces attacked the island of Crete, again by air.

After the war, all of the bodies that could be found, recognisable or unrecognisable, were brought back to Souda Bay to be laid to rest in this superb cemetery, gifted to the War Graves Commission by the Greek people. Each body has a stone, some of the stones have names, but so many just say ‘ A British Airman’ or ‘A New Zealand Soldier. Some of the stones have the names of famous people like John Pendlbury, curator of Knossos who joined up to defend Crete and died valiantly in 1941.

But today I saw the stone that had the name of a New Zealand Maori soldier who died fighting the Germans during the invasion of Crete. Just by the stone, a little wooden cross lies in the earth and beside that a photograph of him before he left New Zealand to come so far to fight people he had maybe never even heard of.

The photograph meant that someone, his parents, a brother or sister had also travelled this far. To pray for him and leave this small memento of his life cut drastically short by war. Today I looked right into his eyes and I felt desperately saddened by their terrible loss.