I Was There! - Greek Islanders Treated Me Like a King

The War Illustrated, Volume 4, No. 82, Page 331, March 28, 1941.

Here is another first-hand story of the R.A.F. units who are cooperating with the Greeks on the Albanian front. It depicts the difficult climatic conditions under which they work and, like earlier stories in this section, tells of the warm hospitality shown by the Greek peasants to wounded British airmen.

In torrential rain and thick cloud, which reduced visibility to zero, an R.A.F. bomber returning from a raid in Albania sought vainly for a landmark on the mountainous west coast of Greece. Lightning had put the radio out of action. Gusts of wind made control and navigation almost impossible. The young Flying Officer decided that the only chance of survival was to put the aircraft on the sea.

Tersely he told the crew. They prepared calmly for an emergency as he circled 400 feet above some shadowy islands near which he proposed to surface his craft.

"On my way down", said the pilot, "we opened the top hatches and undid our parachute harness while the air gunner got the rubber dinghy ready. The aircraft struck the water about a quarter of a mile from the beach of a small island. The nose went down immediately and the bottom was ripped off by the impact."

After a short struggle with the safety belt the pilot and observer came to the surface and swam round looking for the air gunner. They found him dead.

A few seconds later the bomber sank. With great difficulty they released the dinghy, but could not fully inflate it. Lying across it on their stomachs they tried to paddle it with their feet towards the shore. Repeatedly the exhausted observer fell of the water-filled frail craft and the steadily weakening pilot hauled him back. Finally the observer released his hold on the dinghy and floated away on his lifebelt. Desperately the pilot swam after him to find him lifeless.

"We drifted apart", he said, "and I saw him no more. I was almost in a state of coma from the extreme cold. I actually prayed I too might die of exposure rather than down."

"Quite suddenly I realized that the wind was taking me perceptibly nearer the island, I made final efforts to swim the 300 yards to shore and I was tiring rapidly when I saw a shepherd appear over the brow of the hill. I shouted with all my might until he saw me, and, after what seemed a long time, a motorboat, came alongside."

"They seemed to be taking me for an Italian, so I yelled frantically that I was English. I was lifted on board and collapsed. The simple islanders treated me like a king and overwhelmed me with their kindness."

"Two days later, when I had recovered, I got some stones and marked out my name in three-foot letters on top of the island in the hope that some passing aircraft would see it. None did apparently, but after some days the weather became calm enough for me to be taken to the mainland, where the English wife of a Greek doctor acted as an interpreter and I was able to 'phone my base."

Articles in the I Was There! category