9th October 2015 Athens, Greece
Tea with the UK Crete Veterans and Friends Society
Greece is known for the warm welcome it offers its visitors, and its ancient tradition of hospitality or filoxenia. This is the spirit in which the veterans of the Battle of Crete and their families have always been received on Crete, and to the members of the Crete Veterans and Friends Society there is a corner of Western Crete that they call their ‘second home’. Such is the affection of the people of the town of Maleme for them, that a tiny but significant piece of ground in the centre of the village has been dedicated to them. Here they have placed a plaque in both English and Greek commemorating those who died in the Battle of Crete in May 1941, with the Union and Greek flags alongside.
It was here on 18 May this year that the ladies of Maleme held a tea for the veterans and their families – local schoolchildren, dressed in traditional folk costumes, performed Cretan dances in their honour.
It was in the early 1960s that at a certain ‘tin shack’ in Maleme, Mike’s snack bar, a group of Crete veterans got together and decided to form the Crete Veterans Association. They had come back to Crete for the Battle of Crete commemorations, but decided to band together to organise similar trips back to Crete. Now that shack has evolved into a whole complex of buildings and gardens that is Mike’s Hote, Maleme. And now the Crete Veterans Association has evolved into the UK Crete Veterans and Friends Society, which also accepts friends and family. Significantly women were admitted in 2001.
It was two of these women members, Maureen Moss and Marina Myles, who effectively took on the running of the Society from 2001 until it was officially wound up in 2013, Maureen as Secretary and Marina as Treasurer. (The books were officially closed, and members’ subscriptions no longer collected, in 2013, although the Society still continues its many activities in the UK and Crete.) When on Crete earlier this year in May for the official commemorative events, I took the chance to meet up and chat with Maureen and Marina about their work and the links between the Society and the local community.
Although not a registered charity, the Society was and continues to be very active in contributing to the life of its members and the local people on Crete itself, and all the work is done in a volunteer capacity. Apart from the annual trip to Crete in May, a lot of other work goes on behind the scenes – organising the monthly meetings of their Bristol and West Country Branch, Christmas raffles and an annual raffle on Crete in May. The money raised from the fund-raising events, as well as donations from members, has been channelled partly into local causes on Crete. In 2006 they paid for a defibrillator and training for the Cretan Red Cross. The Society gave the local Kifaamea School for Physically and Handicapped Children in Chania a sizeable donation for the purchase of a new school bus. More recently, in 2009-12, they supported several local institutions in Maleme: Maleme Women’s Cultural Society for preparing their permanent exhibition on Memorabilia from the Battle of Crete; Maleme Primary School for new IT equipment and books for their library; and the local Maleme Greek Dancing School.
Which brings us back to the dancing in the village square by the village school-children and the tea offered by the Women’s Cultural Society in May this year. It had been the wish of many members of the Society to give back something to the locals who had always received them with such warmth – now it was the turn of the local community to put a sparkle in the eyes of the veterans, their carers, friends and families.
With thanks to the members of the UK Crete Veterans & Friends Society for their help in compiling the post and and Arthur Roper for the photographs.