Just after my accident on the moped and just before I went off on my next adventure (which I am yet to write about – because I want to maintain the suspense) I went off on a day trip with another girl to the Plateau of Lasithi. (I’m still on Crete, 1979).
The plateau was (is?) a fertile farming area where hundreds of windmills were used for irrigation. At around 840 m (2,760 ft) elevation, it meant a reasonable upward chug for our little vehicle, given that we started at sea-level from Stalis.
You can get an idea of the panorama we saw on that day from the below photographs which I have roughly sticky-taped together.
If you clicked through to the Wikipedia entry, you will note they refer to the ancient white-sailed windmills of this area, and claim that today there are only two remaining of the type that had been used for two centuries. At the time we were there, 1979, there was still a goodly number of them. You could see them scattered all across the plateau. Their purpose was to move ground water around for irrigation.
I can’t remember exactly what else we saw on that day, but I definitely remember the little “scrape” we got into. And for this story, we need to focus on Exhibit 1 – the Citroen Dyane (complete with sexy sunroof) in the first photo.
The road in the first photo was one of the major ones in this area. Any other roads were little more than goat tracks, running alongside the various irrigation ditches.
Just as the day before I had skidded the moped in the dirt and gravel, so too did my companion on this day, only she chose a car as her machine of choice. Here we were, merrily exploring all the nooks and crannies, when we slid straight off the track, ending up half on our side in an irrigation channel.
Now, there is not a lot to these little cars, weight wise, but all the same it was too heavy for two girls, one of whom had a dud leg. So we were forced to wait, and wait, and wait, on a very deserted track until finally another car came along.
We knew someone would come along eventually, and we hoped they would rescue us, but there was a tiny anxiety, as on occasions when I went exploring with this girl we got the cold shoulder from some villagers. Not that it was a serious anxiety, no one would have left us stranded out there, but it does let me tell another story.
It all goes back to the war. In 1979, in some of the smaller places, the sufferings of the Cretan people was still an open wound (with good reason).
And my companion, who was actually English, was so very, very, blonde, fair-skinned and blue-eyed that she could be mistaken for Aryan background.
Conversely, if I was on my own, I’d get a double welcome.
One for being Australian, because they had fond memories of our soldiers, and in fact, some years later I discovered that a distant relative had been captured in Greece. (more about that as a footnote).
Secondly, I am half Italian – not that I knew anything about the culture at the time, I only carried the olive-skinned, hazel-eyed gene (and the chubby figure), but back then there was a popular saying in Greece: una faccia, una razza, signifying the “one face, one race” strong relations between Greece and Italy which may or not exist even now (does anyone know?). Anyway, after a few months on Crete, I was so dark it was hard to tell the difference between whether I was Italian or Greek, but no one would have guessed Aussie until I told them.
There was no need to worry of course. Along came a car with two strong male occupants and rescue was at hand. The four of us simply picked up the vehicle, set it back on the track, and we were home in time for dinner.
My person of interest was a Sergeant in 2/5 Australian General Hospital and served as an orderly. This unit originally set up in Greece near Athens on 9 April 1941, fully operational, ready to receive 50 patients, casualties from the battles of Northern Greece (source: http://www.2-5agh.org/).
On evacuation, around 160 personnel (including six doctors ) were left behind to look after the 100+ patients who could not be moved. On 27 April 1941, all these people became Prisoners of War (of the Germans).
They continued as an operational hospital in various locations near Athens until December 1941 when the POWs were transferred to Stalag XXA at Thorn (Turun) in Poland. In October 1943 they were repatriated in a POW exchange.
My relative was promptly re-posted to New Guinea.
An autographed flag made in the Stalag still exists and forms part of the Australian War Memorial collection. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C400658