621 – Athos 1946: memories of a British soldier

With great pleasure I can announce that one of our visitors, Patrick O’ Conner from the USA, was willing to share this interesting information about his visit to Athos in 1946. Here you can read some of his memories:

I was a lieutenant, part (the only part!) of a “Graves Registration Unit” and I had volunteered for the job as after only a few weeks with my regiment: “The Royal Fusiliers”, in Athens, I had become thoroughly bored with the farce of daily, regimental duties. So this is what had led me to Athos. I was taken to the well-kept grave of the soldier, which was on the edge of a small garden. He was New Zealander, I believe, who had died from battle wounds. I noted the exact whereabouts and map reference and this information was passed on to the “Imperial War Graves Commission” who would decide either to maintain the grave on site or transfer it to the British cemetery in Phaliron, Athens. The body, in fact, was later exhumed and reburied at Phaliron.
Another British soldier had been buried at a Skete a few miles along the coast from Daphne. He is also buried in Phaliron. I sent the soldier from my unit who was accompanying me to collect those details, which he did very ably.

Although there was no fighting around Athos a number of British and Commonwealth soldiers had made their way to the monasteries. W. Thomas’ book: “Dare to be Free” is the story of one such journey.

Boek_theunissen_hartog_1951_karyes
Karyes – 1951 (from a book of Theunissen)

Patrick continues:

I was entirely alone for my journey from Daphne to Karyes to Pantakratoras. There must have been good direction signs because I did not meet one person on the tortuous, rocky path from Karyes to Pantokratoras, except when I was passing through the courtyard of a monastery near Karyes (Koutloumousiou, maybe) a window was thrown open and a monk shouted out “Parlez-vous francais?”. I answered “Oui, un peu.” Unfortunately, he simply closed the widow and did not come down to join me.

To reach Athos, I had travelled down from Salonika to Trypiti in a jeep that I had borrowed from a vehicle pool. I had a driver, whom I had left in Trypiti, and crossed to Ammouliani with one private soldier. Somehow, I managed to persuade a boat-owner to take us to Daphne, stopping overnight at Panteleimon.

It seemed that the whole area was aware that I was visiting but not many bothered to come up to speak with me. I visited the inspector in charge of the gendarme and then the Holy Synod but I cannot remember speaking to any other person, except when I met the most helpful Michael at Pantakratoras. We communicated through my very poor Greek. It seemed that the monks were not concerned about the
outside world and simply carried on with their daily routine whatever was happening around them.

Img_0887
A German soldier in the authem of 1944 in front of Stavronikita – from Feigl, Vorhölle zum Paradis.

Patrick also told that:

The Germans did not interfere with the monasteries apart from having a detachment of troops in Karyes. A bigger problem was the Antates – ELAS guerrillas-, as this was during the civil war and there were bands throughout the Chalkidkiki peninsular. The night before I arrived in Trypiti the town had been attacked as the Antartes tried to release a number of their group who were prisoners in the local jail. I was invited to stay at the mayor’s house but I thought it safer to stay at the gendarme station — on reflection, quite foolish.
I have had for many years Sydney Loch’s book: “Athos, The Holy Mountain”, which is quite excellent. I think. However, I do think that his map leaves out a more direct path between Karyes and Pantokratoras.
Sidney_loch_kaart
the map from Sydney Loch’s book

I did not go through, or near, any other monasteries. I well remember walking higher and higher before finally descending to Pantokratoras — it was a most beautiful sight from above.
I did not have anyone to guide me to the monastery and I am amazed that I arrived there at all. At the monastery I was under the care of a charming monk — Michael a tall, red-beaded man. He took me to the grave of the British soldier and next day went with me all the way down to the port of Daphne. He actually borrowed a mule for me to ride but after a few miles I found it to painful and preferred to walk.

I wish I had had a camera with me, also that I had written to Michael to thank him for his kindness and kept in touch. “Next time round”, perhaps.

Duits_vliegtuig_op_athos
Disturbance on Athos: a German Ju 57 stranded on the beach of Agiou Pavlou during the Second World War (with a woman inside, who – in respect for the monks – stayed in the plane until she was “rescued”!) – from Feigl, Vorhölle zum Paradis
Wim, 13/11

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One Response to 621 – Athos 1946: memories of a British soldier

  1. George Frangos says:

    Fantastic article, I particularly liked the old photo of Stavronikita.

    Well done

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