Friday 19 November 2021

Hester on Naxos

 Greek tales no. 2

"When we were not doing patrols or landing raiding parties we visited the various islands to 'show the flag' and create goodwill.  The Second Officer and I would leave the Coxswain in charge, hire some donkeys and visited the villages up in the hills.  In Mykonos we had a most heart warming reception.  We went to three villages, visited a dozen or so houses with the Mayor and the inevitable Greek who had spent some of his life in the US and could remember enough english to be understood.  We gave speeches, ate, drank and were merry, got kissed by countless children and a very beared priest who reeked of garlic.  Unfortunately in the excitement the donkeys had been taken away, so we had to walk miles back to the harbour.  Hours later we limped painfully aboard the ML , mouths as dry as a chip but feeling as though our duty had been nobly done.

The Aegean islands are steeped in history and mythology.  The island of Delos still had an air of mystery which seemed to set it apart.  Milos was renowned for its Venus, Rhodes once had its Colossus and we used to pass a headland which was marked on the chart 'Homer reputed buried here'.  Lemnos further north had been well known to the Gallipoli campaigners and is revered as the burial place of poet Rupert Brooke.

When we moved to Naxos I heard that an english woman had recently arrived, gathered up an escort of donkeys and guides to transport all her equipment and taken to the villages in the hills.  Without showing too much enthusiasm and with careful questioning, my suspicions were confirmed.  Cousin Hester had apparently been turned down by the Bishop of Jerusalem but had suggested to UNRRA that her ministrations were required for the poor and needy in Greece.  They had welcomed her warmly and given her passage to Alexandria where she soon had everyone dancing attendance on her.  She had organised all her medical requirements and sailed in a caique from place to place until she and her band slipped, unnoticed by the Greek authorities, into the Greek islands.  I didn't feel like an expedition by donkey up into the hills to renew acquaintance, so we headed back to base.

By mid-March the weather was getting warmer and the seas less stormy.  We were based on Symi doing patrols, checking caiques and landing raiding parties on Kos, Leros, Rhodes and other occupied territories.  On 13th April we were told Turkey had entered the war against Germany so it was now in order for us to hug the Turkish coast to avoid the Germans.  Better still we could make use of the Turkish ports.  It was always frustrating travelling up the coast at night to see all the lights blazing from the towns and villages on the way while we had to maintain a black-out both at sea and ashore.  We were ordered to go to Marmaris to make contact with the Turks and report how they reacted to us.    

As we neared the entrance we were a little apprehensive, as maybe the locals hadn't been told they were our allies and might not welcome us.  We knew there was a Naval Signals station on one of the headlands so we hoisted a few international  signals to let them know we were friendly and having located their base did some flashing with a lamp.  It must have been their morning siesta because we got no response for about half an hour.  Then someone must have spotted us as signals went flying up the flagstaff.  A Turkish soldier appeared at the entrance to the fort waving his arms with semaphore flags as if he had a hive of bees around him.  Nothing made any sense to us so we rang engines for slow ahead and with all lookouts watching for trouble from the fort we made for the  entrance to the bay.  All was quiet as we moved out of range and increased speed to close the jetty off the beach.  We tied up alongside a caique but for all the notice that was taken of us we might have been there every day of the week.  As expected there were some English speaking Turks but no-one seemed interested in us so we bought some boxes of Turkish delight and eggs and tied up for the night alongside the destroyer Active which had arrived after us.  Next morning , in an atmosphere of anti-climax, we left for Symi, keeping a watchful eye on the fort as we went out.  

After some leave in the classical atmosphere of Athens we returned to Syros where we learnt that cousin Hester was still in Naxos.  A caique going to the island next day took a parcel and a note offering my regrets at once again having missed seeing her.

Our next duty was to go to the island of Patmos where some 160 Italians had shown the white flag and had to be moved.  We took a caique with us as there were too many prisoners for us to handle on the ML.  She could only do 5 knots so we passed her a towline and got her speed up to eight.  Unfortunately, being slowed down in this way upset our timing and we had to go past the German guns on Leros and Kos in daylight which was rather a hazard.  But we passed without incident.   We found that the Italians were not on Patmos but on Lipsos which meant a return journey of about five miles close under the guns of Leros.  We loaded all the prisoners into the caique 'Pepina', waited till dark and towed them back to Patmos.  Next day we were taken up to the top of the hill to see the Monastery built to commemorate St Paul's sojourn in a nearby cave.  On the way back to Symi we noticed 'Pepina' with her cargo of Italians.  The caique was very low in the water and as the weather was worsening we took her in tow again, crawling back to Symi with a very miserable band of seasick Italians."


Unfortunately I know little about cousin Hester.  She was famous in our household for being another eccentric in the family tree, the one who trekked into the dark depths of a greek island on a donkey in the middle of a world war to help the poor.  I wonder what the greek villagers thought of her.


  1. Another fascinating snippet from your dad's exploits. Cousin Hester sounds like she would have been a hoot.

  2. I wish I could remember what else he said about her. A fearless English woman.

  3. The writing is so descriptive I feel I could be there with them. What a treasure :)

    1. One more episode to go. I'm just posting bits and pieces. Glad you like it

  4. My father's cousin (Aunt Nina) was a missionary in Kenya, and got up to all sorts of mischief. All families should have an eccentric Aunt.