Dear New Left Review:
George Catephores’ review of The Kapetanios, Dominique Eudes’ account of the Greek Partisans (nlb, 1972), is the fullest and most balanced yet to appear. As a former member of the British forces and the British cp at the time, I would like to add a few footnotes, to that tragic story of betrayal. Perhaps other survivors could also add their recollections before they die, or their memories fail irrevocably.
First, the Lebanon Conference of May 1944 which was supposed to unite the different sections of the resistance. The physical arrangements were in the hands of British Intelligence and the official handouts were prepared by the British Ministry of Information in Cairo. These handouts were supposed to have been the agreed texts of all the participants. But they were constantly given a pro-Royalist slant against eam, the National Liberation Front. One example among many: eam claimed, since they were in control of most of Greece outside the cities, that in the post-war coalition they should have the key ministries of the interior, defence and foreign affairs. The handout to the press read ‘.Foreign Affairs, Ministry of the Interior and Defence [sic]’. The ironic ‘sic’ was added by the British secretariat.
At the end of the conference arrangements were made for flying the elas/eam representatives back to Greece. After considering that they might simply be ‘lost’ on the way, it was proposed to drop them by parachute over a part of Greece held by the anti-Communist Zervas. They would thus be reported to have ‘been killed by the Greeks themselves’. There was little time to spike this plot and it was impossible to warn the eam delegates, who were being held, in effect, incommunicado and who were in any case wary of local characters who approached them as ‘friends with inside information’. In an attempt to prevent the murders, details of the plan were leaked to a liberal American journalist who was the Cairo correspondent for the Chicago Tribune at the time. This far from liberal paper had a tradition of anti-British jibing which it found difficult to maintain in the conditions of the wartime alliance. Hence the calculation that it would welcome an inside story showing the goddam British aristocrats in an unfavourable light. The journalist filed his story and was startled at the furore in the censorship office. ‘They kept asking me where the hell I got all these lies and I kept saying that if they were lies maybe I just made them up,’ he said later.
As well as this, a man, who had still better remain nameless, went and nobbled the completely unpolitical raf pilots. As expected they rushed to report this extraordinary conversation to their superiors. A leaflet was got out, illegally, and distributed among the British forces most concerned. The plan was dropped. Whether or not these actions played any part in its defeat cannot be known.
Secondly: an incident during the British blockade of the Greek troops who had mutinied in April 1944 and demanded to be allowed to fight the fascists. Eudes mentions that ‘a few truckloads of supplies managed to penetrate the British blockade . . . ’. After water, it was these foodstuffs which were crucial in allowing the Greeks to hold out for as long as they did in the Egyptian desert. Of course the mutiny was a terrible defeat which ended by giving Churchill a ‘loyal’ Greek army. I would just like to add an explanation of how one of these trucks got through, ironically because of the miserable policies of a Communist Party. There was in Cairo at the time an American Master-Sergeant who had been a member of the American cp. This organization had just been formally dissolved by its secretary, Earl Browder, in pursuance of its class-collaborationist policy. ‘I now have no organization,’ said this Sergeant, ‘I guess that makes me an anarchist.’ Against all advice he drove a truckload of stolen American rations right through the British guards and into the Greek camp, simply pretending that he had lost his way in the night, an event not unknown in the us armed forces.
Something should also be said about the British troops who were sent into Greece after the rapid (and unexploited) German withdrawl. Units of British infantry had been prepared for the job in Syria. They had been in continuous action for three years and had become ‘pretty well brutalized actually’ as one British officer cheerfully put it. They were given a course in street fighting and house searching and told that at the end of this they would be sent back to England, given a month’s leave and then take part in the Second Front. The prospect of the longed-for return to Blighty cheered the men up. They worked hard at their training. They were then paraded and told that the promise of a return to England had to be broken ‘because some fifth-columnists in Greece have been making trouble’. They thus embarked for Greece in a sullen, anti-Greek mood. Attempts were made to tell them the truth by means of leaflets which had some impact because they stuck to the simple line that Greeks should be left to settle their own affairs and that men should put in, through official channels, for a transfer to Italy, on the grounds that this would help to end the war more quickly. The officers had some difficulty in explaining that the leaflets were the work of German propaganda but Harry Pollitt later castigated some of those responsible (by no means all were communists) for having ‘tried to break national unity during an anti-fascist war’.