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15 October 2014
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Captured by Communists in Greece: 1943

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Cecil Robinson
Location of story: 
Greece
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A4389267
Contributed on: 
07 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Paul King from the Burgess Hill Adult Education Centre and has been added to the website on behalf of Cecil Robinson with his permission and he fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I joined the RAF in May 1938 at 15 years as a trainee radio operator. I was a regular and at the outbreak of war had just become an Airman, based in Tangmere, Sussex. From 1939 to 1941 I served in Bomber Command flying raids over Germany. I was then an air gunner and wireless operator on Hamden bombers, but following a terrible crash I left flying duties.

In May 1943, back as a ground radio operator with Transport Command, I was posted to Aden then Egypt. In October 1943 I was part of an RAF unit sent to Greece, which had recently been liberated from the Germans. Our job was to set up an aerodrome at Kississa, just outside Athens. This was easy enough, but in the power vacuum following the German withdrawal, civil war broke out between the communists and the loyalists, backed by the British who wanted to restore the King. At first the communists left us alone, but in November 1943 the hotel from which we worked was attacked and I and 600 other RAF personnel were captured.

The communists (known as ELAS) had no idea what to do with us. They had no base and following the occupation food was scarce. The British army were advancing fast into Athens, so ELAS decided to march us north away from them. Rather than following the coastal road, from which they could be easily attacked, they marched us over the central mountains. This was terribly rugged terrain. It was bitterly cold in winter and at times we trudged through snow and blizzards. We were followed by Spitfires however, which meant our position was always known and annoyed the communists, to say the least, but about which they could do nothing. At one point they tried to move us by trucks and we were packed into open lorries in freezing conditions. I remember one of these went over the side on a mountain pass. Everyone was lost. Some of the Greek civilian prisoners who couldn’t keep up were shot by the communists. Their bodies left at the side of the road.

The communists were a motley crew and poorly equipped, not just in weapons, but it the bare essentials, including clothes. If you didn't hold on to your own clothes they would steal them and in the conditions we faced this could be deadly. The only way the communists could feed us was by marching us to a village and forcing the locals to give us food. Given the shortages we subsisted on olives and dried biscuits. En route we came across a Greek family that we had known in Athens and who had been very kind to us. They too had been captured, robbed and were prisoners. It was pitiful to them and although after the War I tried to find out what happened to them I never could.

We ended up at a place called Trikkala in Northern Greece and although still prisoners the RAF were able to airdrop food to us. A lot was taken by the communists, but we were able to get something and survive. By this time the British army was gradually winning against the partisans and the communists knew their time was up. In Spring 1944 they eventually let us go and via Italy I headed back to England. I was suffering from bronchial pneumonia, but had 6 weeks leave ahead and my first chance to see my daughter who had been born whilst I was away.

Following the war a book was written on this event, called 'The ELAS Prisoners'. It was a private edition written by the unit 'padre' and a copy was given to each person involved.

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