On 3 September 1943 special British detachments were sent to Castellorizo for the liberation of the island with further Royal Air Force troops landing on the 11th of the month. Two days later, 13 September 1943, Castellorizo was formally liberated by the Allies with the arrival of 350 men on the Greek destroyer Koundouriotis and the two French ships.
During the subsequent weeks Castellorizo's garrison for strategic purposes was hurriedly increased to some 1300 British troops, providing a somewhat significant target for the German Air Force. As anticipated, on 17 October, 1943 Castellorizo was bombed for the first time by six Stukas which were supported by two escort planes. The island was again heavily bombed on 18 October, 1943 at 10.00am by 12 Junkers 88s. Serious damage was caused to a number of residences with loss of life and injuries to soldiers and inhabitants.
Between 23 and 26 October 1943 approximately 1000 members of the civilian population were evacuated from the island at short notice to Cyprus and after a short stay there to Nuseirat in Gaza via Haifa. A smaller group were taken to the nearby Turkish coast at Antifillo with some onwards to Palestine.
Aftermath of the 1943 Bombing
Katina Verevis (then Simonides) was a 15 year old schoolgirl when the raids by German planes began. On the first day of the raids, a Sunday, she was attending to chores in her grandmother's home - where her family had moved because their own house had been dwarfed by Italian administrative buildings. Suddenly, deafening blasts from exploding bombs, combined with the frightening and incessant noise of Stuka aircraft, sent her into confusion. Unbeknownst to her, her brothers Nikos and Dimitrios, aged 19 and 18, who had gone to help an ailing aunt, were stranded as bombs fell around them. Nikos was badly hurt, and Dimitrios, with four other civilians, was killed instantly. Katina accounts the horror of the bombing:
At 2.00pm on Sunday October 17 1943 without warning German planes bombed Castellorizo killing people at Kavo and Mesi tou Yialou. The dead included Paraskevas Economou, Vasilios A Boyatzis, Evdokia Efe, Andonios Dimitriou (the son of Dr Halkitis) and my brother, Dimitrios Simonides.
The families of those who perished had little time to mourn their dead, as evacuation took priority. The Simonides family had seen their world turned upside down in a few hours. My parents were devastated, Katina recalls:
Dimitrios and others killed were hurriedly buried prior to our sudden evacuation from the island and Nikos was given emergency first aid treatment for his leg and other injuries. I left Castellorizo with our ailing aunt Skouna (who died on the boat) for Cyprus but my parents and sister Vayio remained to take care of Nikos, all going to Rhodes days later. He remained there for three months and later went to Alexandria for more treatment for five to six months, prior to joining us in Gaza.
Nick Loucas was six in 1943 and talks of the bombing.
I was sent by my mother to the market to buy meat when I suddenly heard high pitched whistling. This was followed by loud noise and people screaming.
A British soldier who was nearby dragged me through the door of a house and protected me under his body in the open fireplace. Some time later when the noise subsided we emerged from the house. I remember he was injured some what by shrapnel. He urged me to run home. Our home was fortunately close by at Mesi tou Yialou [one of the harbour-side squares of Castellorizo]. After hiding overnight in our dust filled basement (the dust was from the damage caused to the Economou home next door), we left next day in a small boat for Turkey.
Paul Boyatzis also then six years of age, recalls the events of that Sunday morning, again with appreciation for the efforts of a British soldier:
I was playing on the harbour and I remember seeing the Stukas flying over. A British soldier who was nearby manning an anti-aircraft gun saw me in my panic and took his tin helmet off his head and placed it on mine. Without me asking, he placed me on his shoulders and I then directed him to our family home as the Stukas flew overhead.
Maria Hatzikyriacos (then Papanastasiou) born in 1924, has a clear recollection of the events which led to her arrival in Australia on the Misr. She discusses those war torn days and the family evacuation of Castellorizo and in a later chapter the subsequent migration to Australia. Her story was recorded on interview with her son, Nicholas Kyriacos, of Sydney.
In 1943, British forces successfully wrested control of Castellorizo from the occupying Italian forces. The British occupation was short-lived, however. German forces, stationed on the Greek island of Rhodes, about 70 nautical miles to the west of Castellorizo, attacked from the air. I recall seeing, from our family's harbourside home, the first German plane arrive, sweeping over the monastery of Prophet Hlias. I initially thought it was an English plane. When I saw the first of many bombs fall on the township, I knew the island was under attack from the Germans. Our family had previously made plans as to where we would seek shelter if such an event occurred. I ran to the shelter of a below-ground cellar in a second home our family owned, some distance away from the harbour.
Between 23 and 26 October, approximately 1,000 civilians were evacuated in at least three contingents and shipped to temporary accommodation at camps in Cyprus. A few were able to remain in Cyprus, but on 4 January, 1944, most were transported, via Haifa and a temporary camp at Atlee, to United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Camps in Nuseirat, one hour's drive from Gaza in Palestine, there to remain until September 1945, with 14,000 other refugees, from Samos, and the Dodecanese.
Remembering back to when he was a twelve year old Arthur Athans recounts his experiences of his departure from Castellorizo and in later chapters talks of his life in the refugee camps, the fire onboard the Empire Patrol, their rescue and return back to a refugee camp:
Like an old black and white movie are the memories that remained in my mind of the scary and tragic hours of my experience aboard the British vessel S.S Empire Patrol. I will try to describe in a few words my personal experience during my voyage of return to Kastellorizo.
In October 1943 we were evacuated by the British from Kastellorizo to Palestine to protect us from German continuous bombardment. Getting to Palestine was an odyssey. First we were taken to Dikelia camp in Cyprus then to the small city of Xero living for a few weeks in small houses belonging to Cypriot miners.
In January 1944 we were transported to the Cypriot port of Famagusta on our way by ship to Haifa where we stayed again at another military camp named Atlee. There we slept in huge military wards under difficult conditions. The next day all refugees boarded a goods train without sanitary facilities except of one bucket behind an empty sack in each wagon.
Paul Boyatzis tells of the evacuation of Castellorizo:
On October 19 1943 the first group of Castellorizians left in a British vessel of the 'front end flap open type' bound for Cyprus. The remains of the dead were collected and hurriedly buried. People nailed the windows of their house, collected their valuables and few belongings and boarded the boat with children rolling bales of clothing to the waterfront.
We were on this first contingent which arrived in Cyprus at Dikelia (Kyrinia) and which was unrventful, other than a lady dying during the voyage and being buried at sea. We remained at Dikelia for forty days in quarantine and from there most were transported to Xero and a few of us to Skouriotissa.
After the hardships of Castellorizo life in Cyprus was very pleasant. We tasted normal white bread for the first time and other basic foods and luxuries were plentiful. The Cypriots were kind and hospitable to us refugees. We lived in little house units and cooked for ourselves. We could travel to other parts of Cyprus to see relatives. Some Castellorizians, with the help of others, managed to stay in Cyprus and not proceed to Palestine. Others would have also stayed in Cyprus save for the insistance of some who would not leave without them.
Evdokia Agapitou (nee Mihalaki) tells of her departure:
We left Castellorizo to go to Antifillo on small boats for a few days. We then returned to Castellorizo for a few hours to pick up additional people and proceeded to Cyprus. We arrived at Kokinotrimi for quarantine then travelled to Xero. I was fortunate to take on the boat with me my sewing machine which was later to be of great use at Nuseirat.
Maria Hatzikyriacos (nee Papanastasiou) tells of the aftermath of the bombing and departure from Castellorizo:
In the meantime, small fishing and sponge boats from the island of Symi, whose owners had thought they would find shelter in the harbour of Castellorizo, began to hurriedly depart. With my three sisters, two brothers and mother we boarded one of these small boats, carrying belongings which, as a precaution, had been sewn sometime beforehand in pillow cases. We were taken to the town of Antifilo (now called Kas) directly opposite Castellorizo on the coast of Turkey, not knowing where our future lay.
While we sought refuge in Antifilo, most of the remaining Castellorizians were, unbeknown to our family, evacuated by the British and taken to Cyprus and Gaza. Shortly after our arrival in Antifilo another Symian boat, which had also taken to sea to escape the Germans, arrived. The owner had been told by those Castellorizians who had been evacuated from the island that our family had sailed for Turkey. He collected us and set sail for Cyprus.
On the way to Cyprus the boat ran out of fuel. To compound our problems, violent storms tossed the boat off course. We were at the mercy of the elements. We drifted for eight days, unaware of our exact location. Despite the fact that we had imposed severe rations on ourselves, we ran out of food. My mother fell ill, and developed a high fever. In desperation, my siblings and I tied together the three icons we had taken from our home on Castellorizo when we hurriedly departed, and we dipped them into the sea. A series of extraordinary events followed. The storm subsided. As if there had been divine intervention, we drifted into the Cypriot port of Limassol.
Our family was then taken to English barracks near Lefkosia where, after a four year separation, we were reunited with my father, Nikolaos Papanastasiou. Dad took our mother and us six children to the coastal city of Paphosin south-west Cyprus. As my father had been
working in espionage with the British, he had made many professional and
personal contacts on the island. Thus began a four year period on Cyprus which
I remember with much fondness.
On top of the horrors of German bombardments—and the indignity of their forced evacuation - the environment which greeted the Castellorizians had a dispiriting effect. Katina Verevis recalls their arrival in Palestine:
We departed Cyprus on January 4 1944 and proceeded by boat to the Middle East, landing at Haifa. Then we were transported by army trucks to a military camp at Atlee. We were given boiled potato, bread and an army blanket. They put us in army huts where we slept for one night, a night of fear, despair and tears - all through the night torrential rain fell. After Cyprus this new environment was heartbreaking. At the end of the next day, they notified us that we were to be transported once again. That day for us was the most tragic - to see the elderly, the young and small children, in mud to their knees, boarding trains, some crying and others laughing hysterically. We were taken to Lida, fed with a hot meal and then continued onto our final destination, Gaza.