In post nr 574 I described the book of W.B. Thomas and his escape to Mount Athos in 1941 (252 pages).
The first 150 pages of the book are about his escape, after being captured in Crete by the German forces and his life as prisoner of war in camps near Athens and Thessaloniki. He arrives on Athos in the autumn of 1941 and crosses the border on foot. He mentions arriving at a small monastery on the top of a hill, maintained by monks of Sografou. He spoke with a Russian monk who could not give him sanctuary, because the Senior monks would probably betray him to the Germans. He fled to a stone cottage near the coast and was welcomed by a monk named Sergos. He gave him something to eat and even washed his feet (full of blisters)! Later on Sergos says the buildings on the top of the hill were only an annex to the main monastery and originally were constructed to be a hospital, when there were many thousands of monks. In 1941 50 of the Brotherhood remained.
Thomas continues his path in the direction of Karyes, where he hears the mournful howling of wolves in the distance, ending up on the 24th of december 1941 in the monastery of St. Peter. I think this must be Simonas Petras, because no other name of a monastery resembles to St. Peter on Athos. Here you can see how badly informed the young New Zealander was, which I can understand is his position, but he did not take any trouble to find the right names of the monasteries after returning home and when writing his book. Later on he will vist the monastery of St. Denys for 9 days (this has to be Dionysiou), and he took a two day boat trip to the St. Lawrance monastery (meaning the Great Lavra). Here he meets the monk-doctor, Dr. Pavlides:
and in this monastery he is almost caught by the Germans. However, the monks of Lavra help him by putting on a monk robe and by showing him some walled-up cell-like rooms in the roof of one of the old buildings that was not in use anymore. If found by The Huns, a monk suggested to act the part, even to putting those manacles on your wrist and ankles. He pointed to some rusty old chains fastened to the walls. I realised that they had been used for centuries for the custody of maniacs.
Who has ever seen these cells in Lavra and knows more about them ? Do they still exist ?
After the Germans searched the monastery and left without finding him, he moved to a house from a man called Costos, who would help him escape to Turkey. They lived well on fish and snails, as big as a potato: stewed in vegetable water with a little olive oil, eaten with bread and wine, they were delicious. Later on he was forced to find a hiding place with the hermit Elisais (early in March, for 14 days), who was living on the mountain side, with a view of Lemnos and Samothrace. Elisais lived from hunting and eat nothing but meat. He caught wild poultry, sometimes a fox and more rarely a pig or deer. Thomas describes how he was offered to eat the head of a wild pig, not only the tongue, but also “two eyes were goughed out and put in front of him to eat”.
Thomas also mentiones barrels as large as a living-room in the cellars, containing wine, and how he helped Elisais destilling ouzo.
Together with other fugitives he finally steals a boat from a Russian boat-house near Lavra (on Good Friday), but he unwillingly returned to Athos and had to abort the escape because of a heavy storm.
Another hide-out was the lodge of the Monastery of St. Paul, and the old boat they found but that did not bring them any further than somewhere near Kavsokalivia (?). Finally a small group of men walked back to the mainland of Greece passing Longos, to Pyrgos and managed to steel a boat that brought them save to Turkey.
It was nice to read the book, but that is all I can say about it. The author wanted to write an escape story and Mount Athos is no more than a beautiful scenery and landscape. After living on the Holy Mountain such a long time he could have given us more background information about the people he met, but he does not show much interest in the monks or their religious way of life.