NO COUNTRY IN EUROPE suffered more privation than Greece during the occupation by the Axis powers. No country put up a more vigorous resistance through guerilla action, none became the victim of more bitter tragedy when the guerillas of the Right and Left fell on each other. The delirious joy of liberation quickly gave way to civil war, which was officially ended by the military and diplomatic intervention of Britain, but in fact smouldered on, constantly breaking out in acts of violence and bloodshed. Workers who entered Greece at the end of 1944 were to find that political bitterness and victimization made infinitely more difficult the task of rendering urgently needed relief impartially and constructively. The breakdown in the country's economy and the consequent inflation aggravated the situation.
The first Unit members to set foot in Greece in 1944 were Lewis Waddilove and Jack Eglon on the visit of investigation already described. Jack stayed behind with Red Cross stores, and on 23rd October Harold Dromard, Sydney Carter and Paul Townsend landed at the Piraeus with the Military Liaison Headquarters staff (the "Allied" was dropped, and A.M.L. became M.L.). They were the advance party of the Medical Supply and Transport Unit (M.S.T.U.). Living in part of a burnt out warehouse at Faliron Bay, they set to work at once on sorting the bulk medical stores which were arriving, and preparing them for distribution by antiquated Red Cross lorries and converted buses. Soon they took on the additional job of checking out from the depot many thousands of tons of food supplies. Work was complicated by frequent strikes caused by the physical weakness of the Greek workmen and by the political bitterness which was growing hourly.
On 24th November Bill Buck and Don Nicol arrived, bringing the first two of the M.S.T.U.'s own trucks. They set to work on the distribution of medical requirements to hospitals in the Athens area. But Athens was not the whole of Greece: the plan had been to set up in the provinces machinery for stores distribution, and on 2nd December, as a beginning, Sydney Carter and Paul Townsend left for Patras and Preveza respectively.
In Athens there had already been spasmodic firing at night. On 3rd December a state of emergency was declared. Three days later it was war.
The rest of the month brought feverish activity. There was no Greek labour at the store; the British personnel set to work on issuing supplies to hospitals and medical posts on both sides. A First Aid Post was set up at the depot. On their journeys they ran into frequent firing. A diary records:
"Just short of University were stopped by Greek Red Cross man and five frantic nurses who wanted us to help wounded British soldier. Proceeded up long side road only to find ourselves right in the thick of E.L.A.S. there was no going back. Overshot the turning where wounded were. Left Bill & Co. with truck and went on to scene of injured with Red Cross man waving his flag violently amidst crackle of firearms. We made seemingly endless trek up bad road at foot of Likavittos . . . could see one or two British . . . shouted I was coming for wounded . . located one injured and then found E.L.A.S. had stipulated surrender of his rifle as price of pass through their lines. British O.C. on other side of road refused to let us leave on such terms and said they were in tight corner but tank and armoured cars coming . . . . Both retraced our steps in deadly silence."
"E.L.A.S. sniper at bottom of road up which I had started had been hit and wounded badly in the neck. Bill and Don ran gauntlet of British fire across street corner . . . told when to run by E.L.A.S. leader . . . dressed wound before he went to hospital close by. . ."
In the meantime Jack Eglon was establishing the British Red Cross store as well as being for a time imprisoned in hospital.
The main body of voluntary society teams for Greece had been due to leave Egypt in November. It did not arrive until 11th January; it was accompanied by Philip Sanford, who, as representative of all the voluntary societies, was to take over the distracting problems of liaison with U.N.R.R.A. and M.L. Meanwhile the original workers, together with a further group of drivers under Harry Skewes, who were able to land after riding off the Piraeus for nearly a fortnight, carried on the work of relief.
The Unit's Relief and Refugee Unit was destined for Ipiros in Western Greece. The war made that impossible. Instead, some members were added to those already on transport work. This involved the evacuation of patients from E.L.A.S. hospitals and the collection of supplies and carriage of foodstuffs through the agreed truce lines in order to feed and bring back to Athens the hostages released by the retreating E.L.A.S. armies. One trip took three members south to Tripous. On the way they were warned that no British personnel would be allowed into E.L.A.S. territory, but, unwilling to return without delivering their supplies, they posed as Americans and carried it off successfully even through a banquet given in their honour by the local heads of E.L.A.S. and attended by two prominent civilians who had spent twenty-five years in the States.
Of the remainder of the R.R.U., Peter Ure attended to disinfestation, registration and the provision of rudimentary medical and welfare requirements at the Hostages' Reception Centre in Athens, while the women members worked on the inspection of two women's prisons where political prisoners were herded together under inhuman conditions.
At the end of January the R.R.U. was reassembled and ordered to Corfu. They sailed for Taranto and there joined forces with the Albanian Mobile Hygiene and First Aid Unit under Ray Bollam. Hopes of relief work in Albania were indefinitely delayed for political reasons; the M.H.F.A.U. was transferred and the two teams together reached Corfu on 13th February.
Meanwhile in Athens the work of the M.S.T.U., the numbers of which from various societies rose eventually to forty-two---Harold Dromard was in charge of the whole team, to which the F.A.U. contributed eight---continued its work. So far events had made it live from day to day. But now, with the truce, a new system of distribution was worked out and steps taken to concentrate at a central warehouse the medical supplies which were at the time scattered in Greek Red Cross, M.L. and Government stores. Four F.A.U. members were attached to this central warehouse, which dealt with the distribution of supplies for all Greece under a joint Medical Supply Committee consisting of the Greek Red Cross, the Swiss Commission, the Greek Government, and M.L.
Transport and drivers were kept fully occupied as drugs were distributed in the region of Attica and sent down to the docks for shipment to the islands, then on longer journeys north to Volos, Salonika and Kavalla, west to Patras, Preveza and Ioannina. The aim was to establish as soon as possible an effective system which could be handed over to the Greeks themselves.
There were muddles and delays, inevitable in the state of the country ; stores accumulated to the embarrassment of storekeepers because the joint Committee could not agree on a settled policy of distribution. But the work went on. As the Athens warehouses became more established, the chief need for supervision lay in the provinces.
Sydney Carter had arrived in Patras early in December, but in the middle of the month was evacuated to Italy in view of the disturbances. He himself returned later to Athens for special work on educational surveys with U.N.R.R.A.; the stores work at Patras was taken over by Brindley Marten, who remained until March 1946. Similarly Paul Townsend had acted as representative in Preveza until he was evacuated to Corfu, where he remained to deal with incoming medical supplies. Here he was joined in February by the M.H.F.A.U. and R.R.U. which came over from Taranto. Together they crossed over to the mainland, and Paul once more became M.S.T.U. representative in Preveza and later in Ioannina.
During the autumn and winter of 1945-46 the main depots in Athens, controlling about 85 per cent. of all supplies entering the country, and sub-depts in Patras, Ioannina and Irakiion in Crete were handed over to the Greeks, and in the others responsibility for supervision and the eventual transfer passed to U.N.R.R.A.; Greek personnel had already been installed.
Over a period of approximately twelve months the M.S.T.U. transport fleet of twenty-three vehicles had covered approximately 250,000 miles; in six months 30,000 cases of medical supplies were issued from Athens. As a joint concern of four British societies and the Greek Red Cross, the M.S.T.U. had done a job which would otherwise certainly have remained undone.
ON 13TH FEBRUARY 1945 the R.R.U. under Don Pitcher and the M.H.F.A.U. under Ray Bollam arrived in Corfu, or, to give it its Greek name, Kerkira. After a chequered history from the sixteenth century onwards of occupation by Venetians, French and British in turn, the island was restored to Greece in 1867. The present population is about 100,000 of whom 30,000 live in the capital city, also, called Kerkira. Their livelihood comes from olive oil, livestock, the burning of charcoal, and, in peacetime, from tourists.
The situation when the Unit arrived was described by a member of the R.R.U.:
"At the outset of the civil war the forces of the right-wing guerilla leader Zervas were partly destroyed and partly ejected from Ipiros by E.L.A.S. Some two thousand guerillas thus flooded into Kerkira, and with them eight thousand civilian refugees fleeing from the real and imagined dangers of the Elasite administration. With their atrocity stories and their violent opinions they were a source of considerable unrest among the relatively neutral and peace-loving islanders.
"But however much one might disagree with the political opinions of the refugees, one had to recognize that they presented a problem in terms of human need and suffering. Most of them came with only such possessions as they could personally carry. During their stay in Kerkira their food rations, distributed free by M.L., were pitifully inadequate, sometimes consisting simply of a pound of bread per day. The great majority were clad literally in rags. . ."
The refugees were divided between the city and five inland villages, and the three M.L. officers and three U.N.R.R.A. officials had shared between them the responsibility for Corfiotes and refugees. The M.H.F.A.U. planned two main pieces of work. The medical section formed a mobile clinic which visited the refugee villages weekly and other villages at shorter or longer intervals, while the hygiene section disinfested the refugee barracks and villages and undertook anti-malarial surveys.
The R.R.U. instituted two Information Offices, one for Corfiotes and the other for refugees. In addition to their main function they gave opportunity for case-work and estimation of need.
But estimation of need was beside the point in the absence of food supplies. A supply ship had broken down; two other shiploads were to arrive in due course, but meanwhile the team decided to concentrate on the one commodity available, thirteen tons of clothes sent from America.
Unpacking and sorting and sizing of the clothes, registration on a specially devised system of cards on which particulars and requirements of the needy were noted with the help of local committees, and then the distribution---there can have been few jobs more nervously exhausting than trying to handle the jostling throngs of refugees at a clothing distribution.
While working as a nurse with the M.H.F.A.U. in Corfu, Norah Protheroe was taken ill. She was moved to Athens, and finally to Naples to be brought to England by hospital ship. But on 8th May, while still in Naples, she died.
Norah was older than the average Unit member. She had taken up nursing late, and had worked with a Nigerian Mission and as a district nurse in the north of Scotland before joining the Unit. Intensely shy and retiring, she did not find it easy to fit in with a team of younger people, but those who came to know her best realized that her life was indeed, as a friend wrote of her, "devoted under considerable strain and with courageous self-sacrifice to the relief of suffering".
Some useful work was done on Corfu, but it was not a satisfactory situation. The destination of the teams was Ipiros, as soon as conditions allowed them to go across; on the island they were living from day to day. The shortage of supplies added to their difficulties.
At the end of March they were asked by U.N.R.R.A. to cross to the mainland; an advance team of three was first sent to survey the situation. In Preveza, the chief port of Ipiros, they soon found, lying scattered among several warehouses, a hundred tons of gift clothing with no prospect of its distribution. So the major part of the two teams was summoned. By mid-April some twenty members had arrived; and on 8th May Kerkira was finally quitted.
Lewis Waddilove arrived on a visit from Rome just as the first party was going across. In the discussion of policy that took place it was decided to amalgamate the two teams into one section for economy and flexibility, and the F.A.U. West Greece Station came into being, with Don Pitcher in charge.
The section became responsible for the Unit's largest piece of work in Greece, work that can best be described from a report which Don Pitcher wrote a few months later.
"Even in the height of her pre-war prosperity, Greece was a very poor country, judged by Western standards. Her wealth, such as it was, was largely due to her merchant navy and her extensive commercial undertakings. The rural areas remained sunk in poverty, and of all these, Ipiros was the most neglected.
"Ipiros is a barren province, redeemed only by the productive vale of Ioannina, and the fertile plains of Arta and Fanari. Its industries were almost negligible, and the population was largely rural; the 1942 estimates show only four towns with over 5,000 inhabitants, out of a total population of 366,000. Agricultural possibilities were never exploited to the full.
"Communications were always bad. There were no railways in the province; the main roads included two going north-south and one east-west, with an occasional subsidiary road, and nothing else but mule-tracks. The medical services, in a region with the highest incidence of malaria in the country, were grossly insufficient; the area was served by three hospitals. in Ioannina, one (incomplete) in Filiates, one in Preveza, and a projected building in Arta. There were few doctors in the villages, and their charges for consultation were exorbitant.
"None the less, actual destitution and starvation were probably infrequent. The villagers maintained the pastoral existence they had led for centuries, and managed to keep themselves warm by weaving their own clothes from their sheep and goats.
"Then came the war. The Italian campaign of 1940-41 was fought, as far as Greek territory was concerned, entirely in Ipiros. Igoumenitsa, the western port, was heavily bombarded, and large tracts of the country were ravaged by the invading armies. Following on the German occupation in April 1941, the Italians once again took possession of Ipiros, accompanied by large numbers of Turko-Albanians, who viewed the north of the province as properly belonging to their country. Later on, the Germans themselves took control of Ipiros, and the long period of guerilla warfare began.
"Lengthy talks which we have all had with both townsfolk and villagers indicate quite clearly that the Italians and Albanians were hated more bitterly than the Germans. The former showed great personal cruelty to the people, while the Germans, on their many punitive expeditions, usually warned the inhabitants that they proposed to destroy a village on such-and-such a date, allowing them time to flee with as many of their possessions as they could carry to the mountains before the soldiers proceeded to a systematic burning of all the houses. We are constantly being bombarded in this office with petitions from villages relating their sufferings during the occupations, and urging special assistance.
"None of the conquerors managed to control any large area apart from the main towns and roads; and the mountain districts were rarely out of the hands of one or other of the guerilla organizations. The extreme north and east were from the first controlled by E.A.M. and its army, E.L.A.S.: the south and east were occupied by E.D.E.S., the right wing pro-royalist party of General Zervas. When the Germans began to withdraw in the late summer of 1944, the enmity flared up into open hostility. Zervas was penned into the Preveza area, until he was finally defeated by E.L.A.S. and the remnants of his shattered army escaped to Kerkira.
"The combined effect of these war years was tremendous. The ports were rendered almost valueless (the last act of the retreating Zervas being to destroy the Preveza water-front) ; nearly a hundred villages had been totally burnt; agricultural produce, ploughs, and draught-animals had been looted wholesale; the output of crops had dropped by 35 per cent. of its pre-war average; no attempts had been made to control pests, so that the locust and the grape-blight flourished mightily ; the northern strip of Ipiros was almost entirely depopulated, as the large numbers of Albanian inhabitants had been chased out or killed; the towns were crowded out with refugees pouring in from the devastated countryside; education had come almost to a standstill with the destruction of the schools and the intimidation of the teachers; and the incidence of disease multiplied as the unreplenished medical stocks disappeared."
It was in this region that the Unit was to work. Its first job was one of clothing distribution.
"The discovery of one hundred tons of gift clothing in Preveza led to the question of who was responsible for its distribution. The Joint Relief Commission in Ipiros was practically dormant, and U.N.R.R.A. had no personnel available for the task. The U.N.R.R.A. Regional Director readily agreed that the F.A.U. should undertake the work, and devolved full responsibility for the entire distribution in Ipiros.
"We set up our H.Q. in Ioannina, having first found a commodious store for the clothing inside the ancient citadel of Ah Pasha, the 'Lion of Janina'. We then set about the formation of a Central Clothing Committee for the nomos, and the first meeting, which was presided over by the Acting-Governor, and included the Bishop, two prominent townspeople, the U.N.R.R.A. Distribution Officer and myself, handed the executive authority over to the Bishop and me.
"Athanasios, Bishop of Vellas, immediately showed himself an energetic and invaluable ally. He provided us with an excellent storekeeper, and mustered some dozen ladies to assist in the work of sorting the clothes.
"'We decided that we ourselves would visit the villages, and fix the actual allocations after full investigations on the spot.
"Ten members immediately set out, in pairs, and within a fortnight had visited over a hundred villages, gaining the necessary information about their state, deciding how many should be clothed in each, and instructing the committees to return to our office completed lists of the indigent up to the number given. As soon as these returns arrived, they were checked off against the clothing cards we had brought over from Kerkira, to make sure that no returned refugees who had already received clothes should benefit a second time. Then indents were made out on the store for the necessary number of garments, the village committees were notified when the clothes would be taken to the nearest roadhead, and the loaded trucks were despatched to this point. The committee then became responsible for the distribution of clothes, the recording of the articles given to each family, the signature of the recipient, and the return of the completed lists to our office.
"At the same time that we started our village visitations in Ioannina nomos, we felt it right to get things moving on similar lines in the other nomoi. Kanty Cooper went to Igoumenitsa on 27th April, Mary Shaw to Arta on 29th April, and Gordon Tilsley to Preveza on 8th May, where they proceeded to set up central committees, and to organize the work of sorting clothes in the store.
"It was not to be expected that the work would proceed smoothly and without complaints. In fact, a considerable number of petitions have poured into the office stating that this or that committee has held back the clothes, or has made political discriminations, or has distributed lavishly among its own families and left only the poorer quality garments for the rest of the community.
"The decision that only by seeing for ourselves the state of the villages could we hope to ensure equitable distribution, proved one of incalculable value, not only for the purposes of the clothing scheme, but also by showing us where the greatest needs lay and how best we could help. The visits also had the psychological value, not to be lightly discounted after four years of terror, of making the people feel that at last someone was taking a personal interest in their welfare.
"As one visit was very like another, perhaps I may quote from my own experiences as recorded in my journal.
"'As we had three other villages to visit before nightfall, we pressed on and after pausing by a spring on the hillside to eat our lunch, we came in half an hour or so to Manassi. It was burnt to the ground. The situation was indescribably tragic. The village was in a perfect Arcadian setting, nestling half way up the mountainside, with the glorious shades of spring colours transforming the scene to a riot of supreme loveliness; and yet the village resembled nothing so much as a quarry, or a particularly ghastly bombed site in East London. The Germans had destroyed it in October 1943 on one of their punitive expeditions which ravaged the whole valley; not a house was standing, and the two hundred inhabitants were living in the ruins. Yet close to the wrecked church still stood an enormous plane-tree circled with stone seats, where the elders met to arrange the parish affairs; and here we found the committee. One aged character appeared, and escorted us round the village, showing the three houses which he had built on his return from fifty years as a merchant in Rumania---fine houses once, but now reduced to piles of rubble, in the midst of which the old man stood and wept.'"
It was against such a background that the organization of relief proceeded.
"The Ioannina Social Welfare Committee was set up at the end of April at the instigation of the Ministry of Social Welfare, which had been persuaded by U.N.R.R.A. to pass a bill setting up welfare centres in each nomos, the function of the committee being to organize the work of the centre. Harry Skewes was asked to sit on the committee from the second meeting onwards.
"In the early days it was apparent that the idea of opening a welfare centre on the lines laid down was a little ambitious, so, as a start, an information office was opened, and housed most unsuitably in a room in the Bishop's office---a dingy enough affair never empty of visiting priests waiting to see their Bishop. Harry endeavoured to impress upon the latter the need for privacy in case-work and interviews, with the result that every time he walked into the office all the Greeks left it.
"The committee members showed little initiative, and business seemed likely to come to a standstill, so we suggested that they should become responsible for distributing clothes to the indigent of the town. After some dispute, they capitulated, and the Dhimarkh was authorized to set up parish committees to compile lists of the needy. The Bishop promptly forbade his priests to serve on the parish committees; and when we quoted the law to him, said that it would probably be superseded by another shortly, and anyway he would take responsibility for his actions.
"It was obvious yet again that nothing would be achieved unless we did it ourselves. So Harry got hold of the first parish committee, and after much hesitation on their part, they set to work to determine need, interviewing about a hundred people (thirty families) a day. Clothes were promptly despatched from our store, and eighty people were clothed on the first day. On seeing that it could be done, the Dhimarkh was filled with enthusiasm, summoned the other committees in turn, and had thousands of forms printed, in spite of Harry's warning that the forms intended for use throughout Greece would be arriving from Athens any day.
"At this stage, the Governor-General returned from a protracted visit to Athens, and was astounded to hear that the Welfare Committee had been meeting for so long. He said that the law (of which he at last had a copy) stated that the committee had to be convened by the Archbishop of Ioannina, who had left Ipiros in February and wasn't returning for at least ten days. However, when Harry told him that the distribution would stop if the committees were disbanded, he authorized us to continue compiling the lists of indigent.
"Our main energies had been directed towards the completion of the clothing programme, and although it was evident that the food in Ioannina was not getting out to the villages as it should (some villages had not received rations for several months), there was little we could do to assist, beyond lending an occasional truck to transport supplies to the roadheads.
"However, when Kanty Cooper reported from Thesprotia that the whole organization of that nomos was in chaos, and when M.L. finally pulled out at the end of May leaving no U.N.R.R.A. officials at all in the area, it became clear that here lay another field for endeavour, and on 29th May, Ralph Connelly (who had been mainly responsible for organizing the clothing distributions in Corfu and Ipiros) went down to Igoumenitsa with a mandate as U.N.R.R.A. Distribution Officer.
"On paper, the situation looked impressive, as during April and May Thesprotia appeared to have had four food distributions compared with one for Ioannina. But inquiry showed that the distribution had been very inequitable. Government officials had favoured their own districts ; it was doubtful whether the more distant villages had received their due ; there were only two trucks available for transporting food to the roadheads, with the result that the mass of supplies was bottlenecked in Igoumenitsa warehouses.
"As a result of Ralph's stay in Thesprotia, order was evolved out of chaos. A definite programme was laid down whereby monthly allocations were made to the four Eparkhiai---the Rural Districts---and from thence to the villages ; all orders were first seen by Ralph, who could check the accuracy of the allocations U.N.R.R.A. and the Government brought in adequate transport to deal with the distribution, and Ken Cue went to take charge of all the trucks and to arrange the orderly distribution of supplies until such time as a Greek Transport Officer was appointed; a complete survey of the state of the roads was made, and a report presented as to essential priorities for repairs ; the Agricultural Bank was bombarded by Ralph with a plan for the shipment of supplies via Kerkira direct to Parga, Igoumenitsa, and Sayiadha Bay, rather than from Preveza en bloc to Igoumenitsa, where the warehousing space was insufficient; and medical committees, both central and eparkhial, were set up.
"This is not to say that all difficulties have been removed, but at least the people can now be assured of getting their proper share of the food supplies."
Distribution of supplies was one problem; another was medical attention.
"When we arrived in Ioannina, we had no clear picture of the medical needs, nor of the best use that could be made of medical and hygiene personnel. There were practically no medical stores, except a handful which Paul Townsend had brought across from Kerkira; and there was no U.N.R.R.A. Medical Officer. Fortunately, we were able to keep members busy on the clothing distribution, while Dr. Joan Franklin-Adams (a British Red Cross worker attached to the F.A.U.) made inquiries as to possible lines of action.
"The local authorities produced an impressive list of twenty-nine doctors in the town and thirty-nine in the rural districts, but investigation showed that at least four of these were dead and several others were no longer in Ipiros. So the list was reduced to forty effective personnel, until our village visits proved that many of the rural physicians were elderly and decrepit, that they were in charge of groups of scattered communities which they were quite unable to visit, and that they charged such exorbitant prices for a mere consultation that the vast majority of the peasants could not afford to ask for advice, much less treatment.
"The incidence of malaria was very high---in some villages 100 per cent. And many communities were afflicted with a large percentage of scabies.
"Some work, therefore, was immediately possible. Dr. Franklin-Adams helped some of the Ioannina doctors who paid visits to the villages on Sundays: she also went out herself during the week to different parts of the nomos served by no doctors, and made surveys of the institutions in the towns of Joannina, Arta and Preveza; sulphur ointment and soap were taken to the scabies spots, and a number of communities were instructed in the method of treatment; the Ioannina prison was disinfested with D.D.T. a typhoid outbreak was discovered in the Konitsa area, the population was inoculated, and instructions were given regarding the water supply ; and the vaccination of children was set on foot.
"Meanwhile, the U.N.R.R.A. Regional M.O.H. appeared; and at long last, partly through his constant signals to Athens, partly as a result of my persistent badgering of the authorities there during a visit, but mainly because the problem of a three-month-old bottleneck in the Piraeus was suddenly resolved, medical supplies began to appear, first in driblets, then in a flood.
"At the same time, the development of a more satisfactory medical programme became possible, and this coincided with the discovery that in Thesprotia there were no hospitals, and only eight doctors, two of whom were too old for duty. Also, another doctor, Pat Griffin, joined us from Ethiopia, and Lewis Waddilove arrived from Rome with the news that the Unit was prepared to assist any developments with money and extra medical goods.
"Investigations on the spot showed that the best work could be done by establishing a clinic in the centre of Thesprotia, where one of the doctors could give drugs, advice and treatment. This would form the base for a mobile clinic into the surrounding villages of the Fanari plain, the fertile valley in the south of the nomos which is the most disease-ridden part of the Ipiros.
"On 2nd July, therefore, Pat Griffin went to Paramithia, and, in co-operation with the two local doctors, set up the clinic."
Such was the gist of the section's report published in July 1945.
For the second half of the year they built on these foundations.
During the autumn work tended to concentrate on Thesprotia, in which province the Unit found itself in full charge, occupying all the posts of U.N.R.R.A. responsibility. Ralph Connelly was succeeded by Ken Cue as Distribution Officer, Donald Swann became Welfare Officer, and Willie Beamer was responsible for an U.N.R.R.A. scheme to eliminate malaria in the Fanari plain, working with a staff of fifteen men, transport, and supplies of D.D.T. powder and diesel oil.
The establishment and supervision of the clinics was continued by the two doctors. In Paramithia at first the F.A.U. paid the rent of the premises taken over ; later the local authorities provided and equipped rooms in the municipal offices. Pat Griffin left the Paramithia clinic well established at the end of August, and in December it was flourishing under a doctor paid by the Greek War Relief Association of America. Further clinics were set up at Parga, Filiates and Ayii Pandes ; the last was used as a base for work in the north of the nomos. Once the clinics had been shown to fill an obvious need, the Greek doctors began to take an interest in the scheme, and a deputation to Athens induced the Government to pay salaries to clinic doctors who worked among peasants unable to afford payment. Younger doctors were persuaded to return to Thesprotia and several clinics were placed on a permanent basis.
In Igoumenitsa a doctor was found; the difficulty lay in finding suitable premises, but finally three rooms were secured in the unfinished Town Hall and the F.A.U. undertook part of the cost of putting the rooms in order.
Work on clothing distribution and general welfare continued in the rest of Ipiros. In the latter sphere five members joined the U.N.R.R.A. staff. The war was over, the F.A.U. would soon be coming to an end, and those who wished to carry on after the Unit's withdrawal were well advised to transfer.
At the beginning of the year, the Unit was preparing to withdraw. How far the special schemes that had been established would last became increasingly doubtful in view of the precarious political and economic situation ; but the several members who stayed on in the territory with U.N.R.R.A. were able to supervise developments through a further phase. Meanwhile something had been done to help Ipiros over the first stile.
THE UNIT PROVIDED two Field Bacteriological Units for the Balkans, No. 1 F.B.U. for Jugoslavia and No. 2 F.B.U. for Greece. The latter was formed later, but was at work long before its unlucky counterpart.
It arrived in Athens late in January 1945. Its first job was to work with a Water Purification Unit of the International Voluntary Service for Peace in a large-scale inspection and testing of all the secondary water supplies in the Athens area, until in March the work was handed over to members of the Greek School of Hygiene.
The team was moved to the west. Based on Patras, it was to make a survey of the water supply in Western Greece, as part of the U.N.R.R.A. programme. There was no Public Health Laboratory Service in Greece outside Athens and Salonika, and in the west the condition of urban and rural water supplies and sanitation was unknown.
With a laboratory in an as yet unopened children's hospital, to which they were able to arrange extensive repairs, the members of the team proceeded to make weekly examinations of the Patras supply and carried out a survey throughout the region, carefully planning their journeys to enable samples to be brought back to the laboratory within the maximum time allowable for a reliable result. The Patras supply was found to be occasionally contaminated and the local authorities were eventually persuaded to carry on a system of chlorination which had been started on a temporary basis by the military.
In all, up to November 1945, they carried out twenty-five full sanitary surveys and examined supplies in sixty-one towns and villages in the nomoi of Achaia, Aitolia-Akarnania, Ilis, Argolis-Corinth, Preveza, and Arta, and in the islands of Kefallinia and Zakinthos. In only seven did they find a drinkable supply, and arrangements were put in hand by the U.N.R.R.A. Regional Sanitary Engineer for improving the supplies in the winter of 1945-46.
Throughout the survey, Greek technicians and engineers worked with the team, and the foundations of a permanent public health organization began to take shape. In Patras a Public Health Laboratory was set up in November to serve the medical needs of the city and region. Support and help came from many sources, including army units in the neighbourhood. Two Greek technicians were trained by the team and showed promise of becoming efficient at their job. At the official opening of the Laboratory the Mayor made a speech in eloquent praise of the work accomplished, and formally named it after the leader of the team, the "Wilfred Daily Laboratory".
In November 1945 the team was moved up to Edessa in Macedonia to carry out the type of work accomplished in the west, and in addition to produce a survey of the incidence of venereal disease in the whole province. The work kept it busy for the first half of 1946.
In the summer of 1946 the team was awaiting transport home to Britain when one of its members died. Dennis Mann had been in charge of the Typhus Team which went out to Naples early in 1944 and had worked on relief in Italy for a year before being transferred to work in Greece.
Such were the main fields of work which Unit members found for themselves in Greece. Individuals were engaged on other activities. John Sykes, who had a longer continuous period of service overseas than any other member---he went to Finland and was still overseas when the end of the war in Europe came---was seconded to the Welfare Division of U.N.R.R.A. in Athens; Michael Asquith and Sydney Carter worked together for a time on a Swiss Red Cross child-feeding and milk-distribution scheme in the Peloponnese ; and Dr. Ken Llewellin, and later Paul Green, became responsible for a medical caique which sailed from island to island in the Cyclades, many of which were without doctors or medical facilities of any kind.
THE DODECANESE ISLANDS, lying off the south-west coast of Asia Minor, had been by spirit and tradition and population predominantly Greek ever since, in the dawn of Greek history, settlers from the mainland had colonized the coast of Asia Minor and the islands that lay around it. But politically they had belonged in turn to many conquerors, and since 1912 had been in Italian hands. The war in the islands had been uneventful, the most important factor being the British blockade, which began as soon as Italy entered the war. After the surrender of Italy, the British made their attempt on Leros and Kos which went awry; then the Italians tried to retain control of their islands for the allies, but the smaller German forces gained the mastery. Some of the small outlying islands fell, but the main islands of Rhodes and Leros remained in German hands until the end of the war in Europe.
Conditions in the occupied islands were terrible, especially in the winter months. In the winter of 1944-45 refugees were pouring out of Rhodes and others of the larger islands, and were encouraged by the Germans to do so. Caiques laden with the hungry and sick dumped their cargoes on the coast of Turkey, where they were neither welcomed nor well treated. So a regular traffic began away from Turkey to some of the islands already in British hands. Picked up at Marmorice or other points on the Turkish coast by caiques, the captains of which made fortunes in the process, the refugees reached Simi, a small island north of Rhodes, and were thence sent on to Kasos and later to the larger island of Karpathos---the two islands which lie in a direct line between Rhodes and Crete.
Unit work in the Dodecanese fell into three clear phases. Starting in January 1945, a small section based on Simi helped with the staging and escort of the refugees between the Turkish coast and Kasos and Karpathos; then larger groups became responsible for the refugee camps on the two islands ; finally, in May, as soon as Rhodes was freed, the main body of the section, relieved of work in the other islands since the refugees were mostly able to return home, moved in and embarked on various forms of relief work for those already in the island and for returning refugees.
It will be recalled that of the Mobile Hygiene and First Aid Units assembled in Egypt in the autumn of 1944 it was thought that the one destined for the Dodecanese would be the first to move off. In fact, it was the last, and, after a period at the camp at Nuseirat, it found itself back at Maadi. As a team it was larger than the normal M.H.F.A.U., having three Greek Red Cross nurses in addition to the full F.A.U. complement.
As the Dodecanese islands were ex-enemy territory, U.N.R.R.A. was at first to have no hand in their relief; all arrangements were made through the Civil Affairs Branch of the Army, which for the Dodecanese carried the title of British Military Administration AT(B)i. The advance Headquarters of this body during the early autumn of 1944 were on Cyprus, and here Brindley Marten had spent some weeks engaged in the division of medical stores into lots for the various islands, producing a guide to their use for the doctors and chemists of the Dodecanese, and eventually escorting a convoy of stores back to Haifa.
The M.H.F.A.U. was still in Egypt when, in January 1945, AT(B)1 suddenly requested a group of five men to work with refugees on the island of Simi. Two members of the M.H.F.A.U. were detached, and with three new arrivals from England they formed F.A.U. Relief Detachment No. 1 On 29th January, with Fulque Agnew in charge, they arrived in Simi.
Here, at a monastery gloriously situated in a cove at Panormiti, they found a refugee staging camp full to over-flowing. Shipments were constantly arriving from Marmorice, and to relieve the pressure, parties of refugees had to be made up hurriedly and sent on to Kasos. The Relief Detachment divided itself into two groups, one to take over and organize the camp in Panormiti, the other to provide escorts on the caiques as they sailed on to Kasos.
The camp, which on their arrival contained 600 refugees, had no office and no records, no system of disinfestation or routine medical examination, no hygiene or medical supplies. The first job, constantly interrupted by the arrival of fresh refugees, was to provide essential supplies, open an office, provide adequate records, clear and clean the reception block, arrange for the routine medical examination of new arrivals, organize camp labour and have a committee of the refugees appointed to help with the management. Medical care was greatly improved by the arrival of an Indian doctor and later of Miss Saddler, a matron of the Queen Alexandra Imperial and Military Nursing Service. A small hospital was organized, and later a milk clinic for expectant mothers, young children and invalids.
The condition in which many of the refugees arrived can best be illustrated by quotation from a report on the arrival of the caique Minelder; its condition had been almost rivalled by a previous caique which arrived ten days before.
"The Caique Minelder dropped anchor in Panormiti Bay on Sunday, 25th February 1945. Two members of the Relief Detachment went aboard immediately in order to estimate the number of refugees and to survey conditions. They found that the refugees were overcrowded to such an extent that it was quite impossible for all of them to lie down at the same time, and only just possible for all to sit down at the same time. The refugees stated that they had been aboard for seven days.
"There were, of course, no sanitary facilities, and the decks, both above and below, were indescribably foul. There were rations aboard (chiefly corned-beef and biscuits) but there was no water left and there was no provision for water storage on the caique. A large number of those on board were hoarse or voiceless, probably due to lack of water. Nearly all passengers on the upper-deck were suffering from exposure and extreme exhaustion. A considerable number were hysterical and one man appeared to be insane.
"There were many very old and feeble persons, and many very young and sickly infants aboard who could not be expected to survive if required to continue their voyage.
"In the circumstances it was quite impossible to make a reasonable estimate of the numbers aboard. A figure of 750 was hazarded as a guess.
"When the preliminary, report was received a small caique (Ioanna) was put into service.
"Matron Miss Saddler, a third member of the Relief Detachment, and a group of picked volunteers from the Panormiti refugees boarded the Minelder, vetted all the refugees on board, and disembarked those whose condition was such that they could not be expected to survive the journey to Kasos.
"When the refugees on board the Minelder learned that some of their number were to be disembarked they became quite wild. A large number attempted to get ashore; some tried to jump overboard.
"Ninety of the worse cases were brought ashore. Of these, two died before reaching hospital, and a third died thirty-six hours later.
"The rest were extremely emaciated as a result of starvation over a long period. Some of the adults were unable to walk without assistance and several crawled on all fours when conducted to their quarters. Many of the children were in advanced stages of starvation ; several had lost control of their muscles and had to be carried from one place to another. Three small children averred that both their parents had died on the Minelder. Other families reported deaths during the voyage."
Three months later, as the work in Simj was coming to an end, a report by a visiting officer commented:
"The whole camp was a model of cleanliness and order. Bakeries, a café and all the familiar facilities of a well-run community had been established. The official reports on the camp had commented on the high standard which the leader of the group had set."
When, early in February, members of the Relief Detachment engaged on escort work arrived in Kasos, they found that Raymond Mills, the Medical Officer of the M.H.F.A.U., had preceded them with an advance party of AT(B)1 from Egypt. Before the middle of the month the rest of the M.H.F.A.U. arrived with all its stores, and work could begin in earnest. But Kasos in turn was becoming overcrowded. New arrivals were diverted to Karpathos and there three members began work.
Simi, Kasos, Karpathos-they were a particularly suitable field for the activities of an emergency organization. Full responsibility for the management of the refugee camps was in due course handed over to the Unit, which was enabled to build up the organization from the beginning and see the work through, until the final dispersal of the refugees back to their own islands brought it to a natural end.
On Kasos, the two villages of Panayia and Ayia Marina had been almost cleared of their inhabitants to accommodate refugees when the M.H.F.A.U. arrived, the villages contained between them two thousand refugees. In March a tented camp was opened at Fonte, exclusively for Italians---for one of the problems previously had been the mixing of Greeks and Italians---and in the three camps work proceeded through the spring. At the end of March the team had an administration of three in each camp, while four members covered the jobs of medical officer, dispenser, quartermaster and hygiene supervisor for the whole island. As fresh shiploads of refugees arrived, Ray Mills found it useful to combine disembarkation and medical examination. Refugees were then sent ashore in families, registered, and sent up to the camps where billeting, ration arrangements and issues of clothing followed. It gradually became possible to add to the camps such welfare activities as milk centres, baby clinics, barbers' shops and schools, and the Italians ran an amateur theatre. Conditions on the island were primitive. There were no roads, and so no motor transport; Ray Mills did his rounds on a white horse. But the main difficulty was the water supply which from time to time almost gave out altogether at Panayia.
The day to day work was much the same as in any refugee camp.
"The work falls roughly into two categories---those things which can be controlled by a little premeditation, e.g. distributions (food, clothing, soap, lamps, bowls, paraffin, boots, blankets, information), reports and statistics, labour, construction, hygiene, and so on-and those things which descend out of the blue and defy any effort to regulate them. Such are case-work of all kinds (complaints, applications and personal problems generally), crimes (fighting, black-marketing, prostitution) and any other day to day headache worked up by the unpredictable refugee. It's difficult to say which category produces the most grey hairs. A clothing distribution over three days or so, when there aren't enough clothes (for all the garments are of varying type and quality), is no joy-ride. You start by examining the personal effects of some hundreds of people who are doing their best to deceive you, and then draw an arbitrary line between what you choose to call "greater" and "lesser" need, which actually decides those who shall receive something and those who don't get anything at all. Everyone comes to the distribution of course, and there is the job of weeding out the sheep from the goats. No one is satisfied; those who take, demand (and very likely need) more, while those who don't take (maybe 50 per cent.) become your life enemies on the spot and plague you for weeks afterwards.
"On the other hand, one can have a most uncomfortable half-hour with the man who draws rations for his wife and four kids and eats the lot himself---or with the woman who has just beaten up the camp policeman and insists she is a British Government secret agent. The more adept the criminal the better is the story he can tell, and though you start off with the assurance of squashing him completely you can finish up by implicating half the decent citizens of the camp."
At Fonte the Italians were not an easy crowd to handle.
"The camp is presided over by Tom Osborne and Minnie Doherty, with a Greek Red Cross nurse. The committee is well established, and I was able to attend one of its meetings with Tom. The committee asked him to address the entire camp on the implications of the end of the war so far as they were concerned, since the refugees were becoming restless. A date was duly fixed for this mass meeting; the speech was to be interpreted and then printed and sent round for all to read. Tom then told them that I had just arrived from Italy, so we spent an interesting hour in which I answered as many of their questions as I could. One feels sorry for them. They realize that they have no future in the islands since feeling against them is strong. They have business interests and homes, and added to that the Italian Government is reluctant to have them in Italy. Their prospects are bleak indeed."
Clinics were held in each camp, but the central hospital for the island was in Ayia Marina. It had some twenty-five beds, and altogether 250 people received some kind of medical treatment each day.
To cope with the overflow from Kasos, some 700 refugees were billeted in the villages of Karpathos until a tented camp to accommodate 5,000 could be erected in Effialti Bay. When the camp was ready, it was put under the direction of an Army officer and the refugees moved in. Six men were sent in March from Italy to reinforce the three who had been at work there for five weeks, and later Miss Saddler arrived from Simi and Marjorie Herron from Kasos to get the camp hospital of thirty beds going; Dr. Peter Early assumed responsibility for it when he arrived at the end of April. By this time the Army had withdrawn from the work and left the full responsibility for refugees to the Unit under Frank Harwood, who acted as Camp Commandant.
Karpathos had roads, not mere tracks as did Kasos, and transport was available from the Army Transport Unit. Gradually most of the Greek refugees from Kasos were moved to Effialti Bay. "The end of the war found 3,500 refugees herded into this camp, with the permanent off-sea wind blowing down a few more tents each day, and people becoming more fed up at the cramped accommodation and chlorinated water supply. The Unit had the job of returning the refugees to their homes. Unfortunately it wasn't until June that a start could be made in emptying Kasos and Karpathos of refugees. The task was completed in under a month, camp staffs growing haggard with the unannounced ships arriving at all hours, necessitating the laborious processes of nominal rolls, withdrawal of stores, etc., being carried out by the light of our two remaining pressure lamps."
And so the third phase of work in the Dodecanese began. With the end of the war Rhodes was open.
Three days after the occupation of the island by British troops, Lewis Waddilove, on a visit to the Dodecanese section, wrote of the town of Rhodes:
"It is a lovely city, and the Italians have spared no expense in its development. After the primitive conditions of other islands I found myself in a good hotel. Hot and cold laid on, and a balcony looking over the beach and sea to the Turkish coast. That, however, was the beginning and end of luxury in Rhodes. The food situation had been relieved by Red Cross supplies allowed through the blockade. The condition of the people had thereby improved considerably from the state of those who had escaped from the islands in earlier months. The Red Cross ration was, however, small, and equal to about 1,000 calories. It was interesting to be assured that the Germans had allowed the distribution to proceed without interference, despite the fact that their own need was acute."
The British authorities decided on a special hospital to draw off the worst malnutrition cases, so that special feeding could be provided. The three men and Greek Red Cross nurse left on Simi, where the work was virtually at an end---it was finally closed by Valerie Gargett at the end of the month---were immediately transferred to Rhodes with a refugee staff of eight, and Marjorie Herron came across from Karpathos. Gradually other members joined them, until at the end of August the last member of the section arrived---John Wigzell, who had stayed behind on Kasos with the Italians at Fonte Camp, which was the last to be cleared. It had now become possible to organize the section as one group; Frank Harwood had been appointed section leader for the purpose, and a separate office established in the Unit's flat from which all activities were co-ordinated, the Unit assuming responsibility for certain specific projects rather than allowing its personnel to be scattered over too wide a field.
The consequent work of the Rhodes section, as valuable and satisfying to the workers as any piece of work the Unit ever undertook, fell naturally into two main divisions---medical and general relief.
The first emergency job was the establishment at the Miramare Hotel of a 100-bed hospital for malnutrition cases. By the end of July the arrival of more members made possible, at the request of the Military Administration, a more ambitious scheme---the establishment of a 135-bed general hospital at the Terme Hotel, a modern four-storey building which, except for the size of the rooms, was ideally suited for the purpose. For it the Unit provided the medical director (and for a time a second doctor), the matron and some nursing staff, the lay administration and quartermaster. Each day three clinics were held, and in addition a special clinic for scabies and impetigo. The aim from the beginning was to hand over to locally trained staff and members of the Greek Red Cross. By the end of November Unit staff was able to withdraw.
There were other jobs undertaken---Peter Strevens was attached to the Public Health Department of AT(B)1 as adviser in dietetics, with a view especially to improving the ration in hospitals; Susie Carter organized a V.D. clinic; while in July and August Ray Mills and Eric Hughes spent six weeks on the island of Leros to reorganize the civilian hospital there. They returned to Rhodes for supplies and equipment, and then stayed on to see the hospital in working order before handing it over to Italian nuns.
But medical work was not the only need. From the time when the first refugees returned to Rhodes, it was obvious that there would be work on relief and rehabilitation. The B.M.A. had established a food ration of some 1,800 calories, but it was useless to the refugees unless they could pay for it. And not only the majority of the refugees, but also many of the people who had stayed behind in Rhodes, were completely destitute. About 600 people had been temporarily accommodated under shocking conditions in two local schools.
Eric and Valerie Gargett addressed themselves to the problems of relief. Eric set up a Relief Office, and as Secretary of the Central Relief Committee he obtained permission to distribute the Committee's funds. Progress was only gradual; at one point, indeed, he was obliged to resign with interesting results. He had asked the Committee for a sum of £350 for temporary relief, but although it was agreed to, it was impossible to obtain the cheque. He explained the position to a crowd of poor and destitute waiting outside the town hall and told them that they would have to apply to the authorities themselves. This they did in no uncertain way, and the next day Eric went back into business with a cheque for £2,700 without conditions, after which relief work went ahead.
Valerie Gargett, responsible for re-housing, worked for a Billeting Order, which was obtained only after long delay and a great deal of pressure on the authorities. When it at length appeared, it was possible to set up a Housing Office, through which 250 of the refugees were billeted, while the remainder were moved into better accommodation in the Italian Military Hospital, under a Greek supervisor. When the Terme Hospital was opened, the Miramare Hotel became a transit camp for the many refugees who were being returned to Rhodes for "forwarding" to other islands, while Marjorie Herron, making use of International Red Cross stores, started a milk clinic in the old city, where very soon over 1,500 children under six and pregnant women were receiving milk daily. The scheme was extended to most of the villages of the island. Penrhyn Jones spent some time in sorting, checking and listing the Red Cross stores which had been taken over by the Central Relief Committee. Apart from supplies issued to hospitals and institutions, and those included in the B.M.A. ration, there was a remainder which it was decided to sell in aid of the relief fund. He therefore opened a shop, which proved a great success. The quantity sold to any one person was limited to prevent black market activities and to ensure fair distribution. In one month sales reached the figure of £2,000.
Meanwhile the Relief Office, administering over £10,000 a month, had quickly exhausted the Central Committee's funds, and begun to draw on the B.M.A. This made possible the extension of relief to the Italian and Turkish communities. The programme involved constructional work, the import of olive trees and the revival of the sponge industry. For the Italian refugees returned from Kasos, a new camp was organized in the palatial residence of the former Italian governor at Monte di Profeta. Frank Blackaby extended the relief system to the forty-four villages on the island, and John Wigzell was appointed to extend it to the island of Kalimnos. A visit to survey the needs of Tilos and to distribute food and clothing had already been made by two members in June and early July.
As in many other spheres of Unit work, the adverse effects of continued Poor Relief were soon recognized. Nearly all fit men were removed from the lists, and in town and villages Public Works were started to provide employment for them.
Towards the end of the year the devolution of the medical work was practicable and so desirable ; to maintain the welfare and relief work outside support was still required. But in November U.N.R.R.A. entered the field and by taking over several Unit members with the relief work which they had initiated, ensured its continuation. Early in 1946 the Unit's responsibilities in the Dodecanese came to an end.
There is no doubt that in the final assessment of the Unit's work throughout the world the year spent in the Dodecanese must rank as one of the most successful episodes. There was an obvious and limited objective of short-term relief for which a temporary organization, if it was prepared to adapt itself to any circumstances that arose, was particularly suited; the need, as many visiting Army officers confessed, was one which would not otherwise have been met ; relations with the Army authorities were always excellent; and nowhere within a military area was the Unit granted such complete freedom to organize its work in its own way. The appreciation of the Unit's efforts by those for whom the work was done was shown in a letter from the Mayor of Rhodes to the section leader to say that a plaque was to be set up in front of the Terme Hospital to commemorate the Unit's stay. Nor must it be forgotten that the fascination of life in the islands, the loveliness of sea and mountains, the friendliness of the people, provided a setting in which any section of the Unit would be anxious to justify itself.
THE UNIT HAD experience of work among Jugoslavs in Italy and the Middle East. Impressed by their vigour and sense of purpose, many members had set their hearts on working among them in their own land. But a national rebirth breeds national exclusiveness, and entry into the country and movement within it were hedged round by so many restrictions and safeguards that it was surprising that Unit teams destined for Jugoslavia were able to work there at all. As it was, only two teams, the Medical Supply and Transport Unit and a Field Bacteriological Unit, were able to enter the country, and their entry was long delayed.
"The problem of travel for a foreigner, or indeed, until recently, for a native, is comprised in the word 'permit'. I have never had so many pieces of paper by which to be identified. There is first a pass to enter the country, and a strong case must be made before it is issued. Then a separate pass must be obtained for each journey out of Belgrade. At frequent intervals there are check posts. Sometimes the single word 'English' will allow one to pass without question; at others, elaborate notes are taken of the pass and the number and make and load of the vehicle, and a general search is made. One member of the M.S.T.U. once overran a check post in error, and was rewarded with a bullet in his rear tyre."
Inevitably, it was this suspiciousness of foreigners which obtruded itself most noticeably at first, because it was the factor which most of all affected the work which the sections were trying to do. It was but a symptom of the wave of nationalist enthusiasm which had in it, combined with intolerance and ruthlessness and the seemingly unavoidable rise of a new privileged class, many refreshing elements after life in Greece and Italy.
"One is conscious of an 'authority' that runs from Belgrade down to the most remote village. In Greece a law may be solemnly passed in Athens, and one may be told in Ipiros that it will not apply. In Jugoslavia there is a sense of purpose and direction everywhere. The Partisans may well be going in the wrong direction, but at least they are going somewhere. The Jugoslavs are proudly independent, and insist they can do everything for themselves, given the supplies. The result is that their progress in reconstruction is slow, but sure. They are gaining experience painfully, but in a year's time there will obviously be a lot of ground recovered, and, perhaps more important, well consolidated. In Greece, they will accept almost any help that is offered: from the long-term point of view, I believe it will not be much good to them. When the support is withdrawn, there will be a big fall backwards: when help is withdrawn from Jugoslavia, provided supplies continue, it will not make the slightest difference."
The Unit teams destined for Jugoslavia under M.L. and U.N.R.R.A., with the exception of the Field Bacteriological Unit, had left Maadi for Italy at the end of November 1944. There followed protracted negotiations throughout the winter, the intricacies of which need not here be entered into---M.L. and U.N.R.R.A. anxious that with their supplies should go personnel to ensure fair distribution, the Jugoslavs insisting that given the supplies they could do the rest themselves. At last, in March 1944, six members of the M.S.T.U. arrived in Jugoslavia and began work distributing supplies from the two ports of Split and Dubrovnik. Over the next two months reinforcements arrived and the number grew to seventeen, with two workers of the Save the Children Fund attached who could not get on with the job which they had arrived to do.
The work from Split and Dubrovnik was similar; a store was established in which imported supplies were received, and convoys of trucks ran the supplies to provincial centres under instructions received from the Jugoslav authorities. At the time that U.N.R.R.A. entered the country and took over from M.L., the Unit was the only foreign group in the country rendering direct service to the Jugoslavs, and there is no doubt that it carried out work which the Jugoslavs themselves were unable to do for lack of transport and of drivers.
Road and driving conditions were as bad as any encountered by the Unit anywhere:
"Knowledge that had been acquired at Failand and Hackney came in very useful, as the state of the roads and the amount of low gear work to be done had their effect on the trucks. The roads, which are unsurfaced, and which have never been very good, are in an extremely bad way after five years of neglect. Relaxation at the wheel is impossible, as the roads are tortuously serpentine (a preceding truck at only 200 yards distance will perhaps not be visible for ten miles or so, although one collects all the dust sent up by it, and can adjust the convoy spacing by its density). Mountain roads are usually cut out of the rock face at a given contour with a drop of several hundred feet at one side. Bridges which had been constructed out of what was nearest to hand gave us some anxious moments. One consisted of rows of loose planks laid on three barges (Faith, Hope and Charity) which dipped, swayed and buckled in the most alarming fashion. Another was composed of a flexible base slung on wire hawsers. The whole structure creaked, groaned and swung as we took up the slack. The more devout of our passengers crossed themselves frequently ; we maintained Quakerly silence and tried to look unconcerned."
In their cargoes there was endless variety.
"The loads consisted of clothing, canned food, tinned milk, potatoes, drugs and dressing units, Jugoslav Red Cross stores, U.N.R.R.A. and M.L. medical supplies, Partisan Military Hospital supplies, D.D.T., anti-typhus and anti-typhoid vaccines, anti-malarial equipment, soap, the complete necessities for fully equipping 40-bedded and 200-bedded hospitals, veterinary supplies, food and clothing for French Displaced Persons returning from Germany. These were the official loads. Returning, or incidental, loads were often most interesting. A group of Jugoslav hitch-hikers is probably one of the world's most colourful groups; embroidered peasant costumes, bright headdresses, veils, and baggy trousers, gold coins slung across foreheads. The Partisans are armed with anything from a sub-machine gun to a revolver (Partisan girls are usually content with a few hand grenades swinging at the belt). A partisan hitch-hiker is usually prepared to back up his claim for a lift with his rifle and most people have had their trucks shot at some time or another. Besides the casual hitch-hiker we often carried returning refugee families ; some of them we had met before in the refugee camps in Egypt. Part of the Italian Garibaldi Division was transported to the ports for repatriation. Loads of furniture, household pets, domestic animals and aged grandmothers were not infrequent, whilst a quantity of live crated pigs squealed its way fairly happily across Montenegro. We used our trucks as hearses on at least two occasions, firstly when a number of suffocated Albanians failed to revive after all our efforts at artificial respiration, and secondly when we picked up the victims of a lorry which had failed to make a corner."
For a short time stores and distribution work from Split and Dubrovnik continued, personnel being concentrated at one place or the other according to the pressure of work. By the beginning of July the Unit had carried over 800 tons of material over a distance of 65,000 miles. Despite official watchfulness, individual Jugoslavs were friendly enough. At their destination drivers were often fed from a Partisan kitchen, and there was no lack of hospitality, though conversations had to be skilfully negotiated.
"The idea of a crowd of British people coming over to Jugoslavia to do a disinterested job of work is something that the Jugoslav mind cannot grasp. Although there may not appear to be an ulterior motive for our presence, the Partisans assume that there must be one. We found that, like all British and Americans, we were at the receiving end of a non-fraternization policy."
Journeys were undertaken farther afield ; three trucks were set to work at Cetinje in Montenegro; two members went north to Sibenik; and finally there were journeys through Mostar, Sarajevo and Zvornik to Belgrade with supplies for Serbia and Macedonia. But difficulties were on the increase. U.N.R.R.A. moved from Split to Belgrade and new regulations were issued regarding passes for U.N.R.R.A. personnel generally. The freedom to obtain passes from local authorities ended ; henceforth all passes for all journeys had to be obtained from military headquarters in Belgrade, two days' drive from the ports. Meanwhile, the Jugoslav had also set up a new Medical Stores Commission to be responsible for the transport of medical supplies, and by the beginning of August it was clear that the M.S.T.U.'s original work had come to an end.
But the section was anxious not to withdraw until all other possible spheres of work had been considered ; and after various discussions in Belgrade, and with the agreement of U.N.R.R.A it was decided that they should work for the Jugoslav Red Cross. The fact of working for a native organization had its effects; within twenty-four hours the team had received general passes for two months covering the whole country. But the work, which began with the transport of American and Jugoslav Red Cross supplies, was not to last for long. The Jugoslav scheme for training drivers had made progress, and the Red Cross was to have a share of the several thousands of trucks which were being sent into the country by U.N.R.R.A. The section became too small to operate its fourteen trucks, and in the state of transport in the country the arrangement for keeping them under a separate administration could no longer be justified. It would be worth reinforcing the section---assuming that entry permits were available---only if there was a prospect of some months of solid work; in fact it was only a matter of weeks before the snows of winter arrived. So it was agreed that U.N.R.R.A. should allow all the trucks to be handed over to the Jugoslav Red Cross to be handled by drivers whom they were confident they could obtain. A few members were to stay on to recondition the vehicles before they were finally transferred and to coach the Jugoslavs in convoy driving, and the Unit was to make arrangements for tyres and spares. And so, at the beginning of December, the M.S.T.U. came to an end.
One woman member worked in Jugoslavia; Angela Martin was seconded to the Health Division of U.N.R.R.A. in Belgrade throughout the summer and transferred to work with the Jugoslav Red Cross at the same time as the M.S.T.U.
Most ill-fated of all the Balkan teams was No. 1 Field Bacteriological Unit. Formed in Egypt in the autumn of 1944, it spent the winter in Maadi. Transferred to Italy, it went on waiting. In April 1945 its leader, Denis Greenwood, visited Jugoslavia with a Save the Children Fund doctor to discuss the help that voluntary societies might give. In June the section was still in Italy standing by, while its counterpart for Greece, formed later, had long since been at work. But the time in Italy was not wasted. A great deal of extra equipment was obtained, and many refinements added to the section's seven-ton laboratory truck. If only it were wanted, it was ready to do a good job.
There were obvious reasons why the team, like others destined for Jugoslavia, should be disbanded for other work, but equally strong ones for keeping it together. At last, in August and September, it moved across the Adriatic, and found itself in Sarajevo.
But its troubles were not at an end. The central authorities in Belgrade had made no advance arrangements, and while Denis Greenwood soon found a niche, the rest were not being used as a team. Denis was attached to the local Hygiene Institute which had a well equipped laboratory; he was able to help in introducing the laboratory work necessary for the use of penicillin and to promote new techniques of dealing with excremental diseases.
For the section as a whole it was ruefully decided that, unless a more obvious field was available, the axe, so often threatened, should at last be applied. And then the move that they had waited for took place; they were to go to Derventa, some 10 miles from Sarajevo, to cover a rural area where they would obviously be needed. George Series went on ahead with a small truck---for a broken bridge made the transport of the seven-tonner for a time impossible---and reported that the local hospital would welcome help, particularly with a thorough bacteriological survey of the waterholes and wells in the region. Then at last, in mid-October, with the bridge rebuilt, the whole team moved to Derventa, and established a permanent laboratory and workshop in the Agricultural College there, while using the mobile laboratory and other transport to collect and test specimens in outlying villages.
Many of the wells, which were almost all shallow and uncovered, were found to be contaminated, and a scheme of water sterilization was started, while the authorities prepared for the construction of deeper and more adequately protected wells. Throughout the winter work continued, largely on typhus and typhoid and dysentery, which had reached epidemic proportions. Kahn tests for syphilis also received attention, and an attempt was made to popularize D.D.T. as an insecticide.
During the spring of 1946 the same question faced the section as faced the Unit in other parts of the world. Much of the value of what had been done would be lost if the F.A.U. withdrew without ensuring that the work was taken over by the local health authorities and continued with their own personnel. Discussions were initiated with U.N.R.R.A. and the Health Ministry in Sarajevo ; the latter readily agreed to take over responsibility for the unit, which it envisaged as one of four field units which were now to be developed and employed in Public Health in the state of Bosnia. As F.A.U. members were one after the other withdrawn, Jugoslavs were attached, and on 10th June responsibility was finally transferred. There was every prospect that what had been begun would be continued, and that a few months of work following on many months of waiting would not have been in vain.
Civilian Relief in Europe, continued
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