I would like to dedicate this article to my old man. A bloke with whom I never saw eye to eye as I was growing up and never understood until I was 64.
Mind you, he is still alive, bless his soul, but I felt compelled to write my thoughts down for no particular reason on this day. Over the years I have recorded his stories and yarns and written extensively on my parents’ hardships and struggles without publishing them.
This brief article touches only the boundaries of my parents and I am hoping that it is the start of many other articles based on their lives.
I am a product of my earlier youthful experiences and those Greek Civil War experiences my father passed onto me and my young brother Phillip. This may explain why I enlisted in the Australian Defence Force and why I chose a particular Australian political party.
My right wing conservatist views are those of basic human rights, a respect for our elderly, institutions, to those who hold office on our behalf, protection of our youth, support to our family, contribution to society, economic and physical security to a nation we all call home, Australia.
These right wing conservative values were embedded into my psyche at an age when most children were out playing. My Dad would hang me with my two arms clasping the bough of an olive tree at the age offour, insisting upon me not to give up. It was his way of hardening me and preparing me for life’s experiences, whatever they were to be. My father, who had fought with the ‘HITTES’ (Χηττεσ – right wing irregulars) during the Greek Civil War, post WW2, became hardened to the horrors he witnessed and as such instilled in his children the following:
“Never give up in the face of adversity”.
From the age of 15 to 20 years old he witnessed many horrors that he wished he never had to face or overcome. It was at a time when there was no real government in Greece and brother killed brother, relative against relative, father against son and village against village. Despite his right wing views he never did subscribe to any extremist party left or right, as both ideologies left no room for the other to breathe. He knew that the right wing was created as a bulwark against the communists, who were growing in numbers during WW2, and he also knew that sooner or later he would be called upon to do his bit.
When a group of communists came to the village Dad was almost killed by one of their members for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was only through sheer luck that a relative of dad’s was in the vicinity and saved his life. This same relative (bless his soul), at great risk to his life, put his arm up against the communist’s weapon just when he was about to shoot my father dead. The weapon discharged harmlessly into the air and missed Dad. After this incident my father ran away as fast as he could outside the village. After hiding out until dark, Dad made his way into the mountains where one of his elder cousins, who was with the right wing forces, was hiding. After his near-death incident Dad became a full time member of the ‘HITTES’, fighting against the communists.
I must also add that despite my father fighting the communists, he never had a bad word to say against them but recognised that many Greeks were forced to make choices depending on which side was superior at that time and location. Education and up-to-date communication was poor which also led to the diverse nature of the communist and the right wing forces. My Dad did say that they were just as bad as each other and that atrocities in some cases was for profit and not for any ideological reasons. In fact, one chap my father met again on his first trip to Greece was a man who sold the weapons to the other side for profit. When this man recognised my father he went pale and disappeared quick smart never to be seen in the village.
Another alleged fighter killed people in cold blood for the fun of it and incidents like these turned my father into the man we knew. I guess with time I will write upon his civil war experiences.
Some 64 years later when dad was 85, I took him back to Greece for a two month holiday in order to breathe some new life into him, visit his remaining relatives and enjoy the tranquillity of his birth place. It was to be exhilarating, exhausting and very profitable from a relationship point of view, and we finally got to know each other. During the day for the next two months, Dad and I fought verbally every day and on each occasion we got to know each other a lot better than we had known each other for the past 64 years.
We shared stories, jokes, life experiences, hurts, griefs, dreams, past ambitions, the future and personal matters that only a father and son share. Neither of us gave each other an inch and I realised where my stubbornness and never give up attitude came from. At night, however, it was different, we would sit and watch the local television stations and talk in an amicable manner as if nothing had occurred between us during the day. Dad would sit on the couch and I at his feet either cross legged or lounging length ways, looking up at him occasionally when discussing the future.
One of the taxi drivers was the grandson of a famous Laconian Communist fighter who was renowned for his leadership and fighting abilities, whom my father knew of. I took a photograph of the grandson with my father for posterity. The young bloke was eager to hear of his grandfather from a fighter of the opposite side. It appeared that this young bloke was trying to find out as much as he could about his grandfather. It was a chance meeting but well worth the experience for both.
In 1949 Dad married my mother, whose elder brother had joined the communists and who my father saved from being shot by the ‘HITTES’ who had captured him. It was this uncle’s daughter Helen (my first cousin) from whom I purchased the land with the olive tree adjacent to my parents’ home. Talk about love overcoming all barriers.
During my time with him, Dad had many visitors to the home, all of whom had come to pay their respects to him and to pass on the news of the past, present, of the future. It was also through them that I finally realised that there was a complete other side to my father, a side that I and my young brother Phillip never knew or were privy to. I found that he was a very compassionate, loving, overly generous and forgiving person who hid behind a veil of granite in not wanting to show his soft side.
It reminded me of a story my mother confided to me in late December 1973. I had just returned back to Australia from my posting with the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment in Malaya and Singapore.
My mother told me that my father was like a block of granite that many people over the years had tried and failed in their attempts to topple and bring him down. She said that my father always stood up for what was right no matter what adversities and challenges he faced. My mother then lowered her voice as if she did not want anyone else to hear, and said to me softly that she alone knew what my father had faced and went on to say that if you went closely to that granite rock, “you could see the scratch marks and the damage left by those who tried to bring down your father”.
This year Dad, by Greek standards, turns 87 and by Western standards he is 86 years old. He is strong physically, his mind is alert, still a stubborn bastard and occasionally will smile that smile which so often evaded us during our childhood. I hope that in 2015 he is still fit enough for another trip to Greece. Although I am now 64 years old, and have been in Australia since 23 July 1954, I call Australia home. Having said that, I still yearn for the mountains of Taygetos in Laconia, Greece, with its many meadows, flowers and trees, and the tranquillity that it brings.