Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Mountain villagers preserve the memory of a British airman

I thought you’d like to see my new best friends in Greece.  They’re from Delvine.  It’s a little village just on the Greek side of the Albanian border: after scrambling over the bumpy mountain roads, you go under a homespun arch that tells you you’re in Greece.  I came to Delvine because an airman is buried here: not one of Herby’s 211 squadron but someone else who took off from Paramythia, Harold Sykes.  He was a fighter pilot and collided with an Italian plane he was attacking.   
The RAF initially reported him missing, because his body could not be found.  Later his remains were buried just outside the village cemetery, among the long grass, quiet and wild like everything in this practically semi-deserted village.  In the Communist era, the grave was kept hidden because the villages feared what would happen to it as a supposedly ‘capitalist’ grave, even though it was technically in Greece; it might have been destroyed.  But in the 1990s, it was rediscovered.   
Sykes’s family decided not to have his body repatriated; they were living in Australia by that time, and felt that it was a peaceful spot.  But the Commonwealth War Graves Commission made it a headstone.  It is to the same pattern as all the other CWGC headstones in war cemeteries across the world.  Only this one stands alone.
Incidentally, if you'd like to see the cover of my book War Memorial, which took me to the mountains of Northern Greece, click here.

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