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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

In A Greek Village

page 20

In A Greek Village


At last down on the road, then up to the Police Camp where the "mokes" were stored; and we set out on foot with our Sergeant. A typical old "sweat" of some twenty years service; tall and with a fine, raking stride, that made us pant and gasp as we stumbled along after him over the ridiculous caricature of a road-but more of that anon. He carried a nice, hefty looking little revolver handy, and knobkerry, that looked capable of laying out a decent few in an argument. He was well known and treated with wonderful respect everywhere.

We left the main road(?) of the village and turned down an alley about eight feet wide, going down at an incline that made you stumble helplessly along; then up just such a steep one again, all the way greeted with "Hello! Johnnie" from the kiddies, and "Kallispera" ('Good evening") from the old women— mighty fewyoung people about, all "Making hay while the British sun smiles on them"— probably.

Then we came to a Greek Church Orthodox: again the studied respect, on the part of the caretaker. Inside, the usual heavy smell of incense, large numbersof cut glass chandeliers suspended from the road, well-worn kneeling or praying seats around the walls, plenty of dirty gold paint made ugly by some fresh, cheap colouring of a deep crimson colour, and numbers of panels of the Madonna and various saints, were the things that struck me first. The sun shining in through the doors and windows made everything appear very cheap and tawdry.

A greasy-looking old priest was gabbling away at some prayers, crossing and bowing himself every few seconds. He was followed in muttering and gesticulating alike by an old woman, evidently mother to a young one who stood on her left and who held a squealing infant in her arms. A girl of fourteen was going through some of the motions in a very perfunctory manner, smiling at the "Johnnies" in the meantime; but she was the only one that paid any attention to us whatever. A little Greeko of four or five completed the family group. He was gambolling merrily round the party, and his yelps did not in any way interfere with their mutterings.

We left the place, and went to the churchyard!

Curiosity, pity, wonder, were all aroused. Picture a field littered over with mounds, shallow holes, small boxes like hen-coops, rusty petrol tins by the score, broken and battered slender railings, old bottles, shoes, bits of clothing, etc., etc.—it reminded me of nothing so much as a badly-kept allotment ground or municipal rubbish tip. We gathered from our omniscient

Tommy that the bodies are dug up after three years—or rather, the remnants of them—and placed in a box, which is then conveyed to a small house in the churchyard.

The shallow holes were the places where bodies had rested, and had then been disturbed after the customary period. We
The village.

The village.

even saw one recently operated upon—the cheap coffin remained; bits of the shoes were there and so were the Flies! At the head of each grave is placed a small box— petrol tins are cheaper nowadays—where messages are placed, candles are burned and other formalities are indulged in. Some had placed a few palings round the grave; one or two had even aspired to the dignity of a tombstone. It all seemed very pitiable.

We left amidst the outward beams and inward relief, I suspect, of the sallow faced, dark-eyed, caretaker. Once more into the narrow streets. I really cannot find a word which will convey the idea of the narrow, badly paved, winding, irregular ways— perhaps something like the Yarmouth "Rows" were in the 15th Century. We passed one open spot, where a blindfolded specimen of the equine race—I could not in all conscience call it a horse—was toiling wearily round in his never ending circle, and laboriously pumping water for irrigation. We looked down a gaping hole some 50 feet in depth, and our worthy "Sarge" remarked that half a dozen or so Greeks were recently stabbed in this neighbourhood. Quite melodramatic, wasn't it?—with rather an overdose of realism.

We dropped into one of the garden cafes that they have in this fashionable village, and had some of the native "Samos" and "Mastic". Good ' Samos" wine is quite palatable; but it's so hard to get it good. A night on "Samos" usually means the next morning in "Dock". "Mastic" lookslike water, is drunk neat, and water taken afterwards.

The Greek "bhoys" take to it duck-like. Several were dancing there to the grindings of a twentieth rate sort of hand-organ; they wanted us to do the "light fantastic" as well, but we weren't biting. I looked in vain for any girls about—but there were none. I heard that this was an entirely moral village; such a thing as an unfaithful woman was not to be found.

More visits, this time to some of the out of the way stores, where the best Cognac could be had; it was good, too, but you have such a small nip of it— 2 leptas' worth—that three or four visits running do not hurt you. They give you salted almonds with it, which do not exactly slake the thirst. The Greek is nothing if not artful. Here you see, loafing about, the idlersofthe village, the gossips— young and old—and the cronies of the shopkeeper, all sallow, silent, dark-eyed, who still look at you more or less wonderingly, for they wonder where the Britisher gets his limitless supply of "buckshee" from.

Among other places, we visited a beautiful home, clean as a new pin, bare boards with the exception of a rug or two—and a wonderful suite of furniture. I wondered what its history was, but left it to my imagination; the real might have brought me down to the too, too, solid earth, with a soul-stirring thud. We went into the bedroom, a lovely, old four-post bed was there, with real pillows covered with 1 ace-edged cases. Ye Gods! after three years of Army, and mainly camp-life. And in one corner of the room was a shrine—a personal one—true, it was gaudy, like all the others, and had the same cheap tone, but it symbolized something to these people; and we have far too little of such "idealism" in our modern whiil of life. The place of honour—after the shrine—was occupied by a portrait of Queen Victoria; in fact, the whole place breathed a Victorian air—it seemed a different world we had entered. We came away, back among the winding paths, near the great quarries where they still blast and dig the stone for the great highways, which the Allies have made in this out of the way corner of the world. We turned our faces seawards, to where the sun was sinking into the Aegean, throwing wondrous blues and purples among the darkening hills.