SOCIETY

Notes from the Albanian front

Stavros and Spyros were brothers living in Athens who set off for the Albanian front on October 28, 1940. A collection of letters they wrote to their family was found a few weeks ago inside an old book at the Monastiraki flea market. They were pinned together in order, with the first letter being that sent from a base in Corinth, the day after Greece found itself at war against Italy. The two infantrymen had arrived safely at the first stop on their journey north and asked their parents and siblings to show “courage and patience.”

The letters discovered in the book are few and don’t tell us what became of the brothers, nor do they reveal the details of the family. What we do know is that Stavros and Spyros reached Albania at the end of November, and remained in good cheer throughout their journey. Below are some extracts of the letters that are still legible:

Corinth, November 2, 1940

Stavros and I send greetings from Corinth, where we will be staying for the time being. Things have been quiet here with the exception of two unsuccessful attempts to bomb the Corinth Canal.

Infantry Regiment 912, November 17, 1940

We are well. We have been on the road for a few days, traveling over mountains and through gorges illuminated by the silver light of the moon, interrupted now and then by a refreshing drizzle.

Infantry Regiment 912, January 1, 1941

I kiss you, my dears. Happy New Year, with joy and peace. Give my regards to everyone, Stavros. PS Spyros is well. I had a letter from him today. He is an hour or two ahead of me.

Infantry Regiment 912, January 11, 1941

I suggest that you and everyone else we have left behind not simplify things; don’t become drunk on enthusiasm but be patient and help things along in any way you can, so you can contribute to the quick resolution of this ordeal, brought on to us by history and Mussolini’s empty head…

How are you doing for entertainment? I trust that Panos finds a free night every once in a while to take you to the cinema or the theater. As far as we are concerned, if we survive, I need never go to the cinema again because the things I have witnessed with my two eyes cannot compare with anything two centuries of films could offer.

Please send us the items we have requested, as well as envelopes, cards and matches – hide the matches somewhere in the parcel as they are much sought after here.

At one of the Albanian villages where we were put up for three days of sleep and food – the two us as well as three others – we met a wonder child, aged 14. She was smart, delightful and vivacious – qualities we all admired. Stavros saw her as the reincarnation of some ancient beauty, but what a shame that she is Greek and yet doesn’t speak Greek! Stavros arranged with her parents to have her sent to Athens once the transportation situation has improved so she can help around the house and learn the skills to open her own fashion studio in Tirana! I jest not!

Infantry Regiment 912, March 3, 1941

Yesterday, no the day before, we had a huge air battle in our area where the British and Greeks brought down five Italian planes and, from what we have heard, a total of 35. Bad luck for them but you should see how our guys go after them. The rattle of the machine guns and the way the ground shook as those steel birds came down and three parachutes floated in the void was impressive but also shocking to behold.

Infantry Regiment 912, March 15, 1941

What pleased me most was your excursion to Mount Hymettus, which we all love so much. So don’t miss any opportunity to climb. I have also heeded your wish that we annihilate these ruffians as soon as possible.

Infantry Regiment 912, March 17, 1941

Please send me a pen as I have lost the one I had.

Infantry Regiment 912, March 20, 1941

These fools are trying to deafen us with their shelling, they’re making so much noise they have twice interrupted me and made me lose my train of thought. More idiotic marksmen have never existed.