In October, 1949, when the first of the Greeks arrived, 13 children remained long term. The account below was written in 1951
The transformation has been complete-the weak and wasted limbs are now strong
and healthy; timidity and insecurity have
vanished; education and training are together building up responsible Greek citizens of the future, who will always remember with love and affection the years they spent in England. The history of all these children would need pages to tell, but below are the bare outlines of four of them
Nikolaos Tsotsos is 18 years old and one of a family of five. They live in a village near Florina, close to the Yugoslav border. Nikolaos's elder brother was captured in the Civil War in 1948 and has not been heard of since. The father was killed in the Albanian War. Nikolaos is being trained as a tailor and is making excellent progress. He hopes to stay two or three years, and in the meantime keeps in close touch with his mother and family.
Panayottis Sevastalis is 14. He spent his life in a Greek village suffering
from a deformity of the feet, which were turned inwards at an angle of 30°,
preventing him from wearing shoes. After eight years of war, famine and poverty,
Panayottis came to Britain with one of the Greek parties. After a year's
treatment in hospital both feet are now normal; he walks like any other
good English and is hoping to be trained for a profession under our care. His personality has completely changed since his operation. Previously he would keep very quiet, and to such an extent that it was feared that his experiences had affected his brain. Now he is lively and talkative.
Parthena Felekidou is 13 years old and comes from Salonika. She is one of a family of 8 and her home was destroyed during the German occupation. Parthena came to Britain in 1949 and returned home six months later. While making a journey through Greece, however, Mr.Barclay, Organising Secretary of International Help for Children, visited Parthena in her home. She begged to be allowed to return to England so that she could receive proper education and later take up training for Nursing. Parthena is a very promising child and negotiations were begun at once for her returrn to this country. After some months, Parthena arrived by air (March 1951), and was given hospitality by a private family in Farnham, where she has been ever since. Parthena goes to school, where she is very happy and making splendid progress.
Charilaos Riganias is 13 years old, and comes from Athens. His father died of starvation as a result of the German occupation. The mother is very poor and keeps herself by doing odd jobs at irregular intervals. There are five other children in the family. The living conditions are of the poorest. Charilaos came over with the third party of Greek children and after four weeks in our Convalescent Home, Little Pond House, he went into a private family in Luton. This family has given hospitality to Charilaos for over a year, but at present he is staying with Nikolaos in Little Pond House, while a new family is being sought in
Farnham near the other Greek children.
The article below was written in 1969 and the sentiments expressed reflect the view of Greece at the time - very different from the confident and progressive country it is to-day. It describes the background to the holdays given to the children from the island of Euboea.
Greece is one of the most backward countries in Europe, but the reasons for this are not difficult to find. From the fifteenth century the Greeks had to endure four hundred years of Turkish occupation. A war of independence broke out in 1821 and ended successfully in 1826, but in spite of over a hundred years of freedom, the problems of integration remain between Turkish settlers and Greek peasants. In the last fifty years there has boon an increase of ten per cent in the population, mainly from 1923 onwards. The pressure on homes and land has therefore increased, but the bleak inaccessible mountains remain a block to expansion. The 2nd World War hit Greece badly and a tenth of the population died of starvation. The disturbances in Greece continued after 1945 and included the Civil War in 1949 which was really an attempted Communist coup, Greece is still very poor and without mineral resources, People live only by the land which is split up uneconomically. Attempts are of course being made to improve conditions.
The villages of Euboea have anything from one hundred to two thousand inhabitants but they are independent and isolated. The main occupation is tapping pine trees to produce resin, although weaving and local artisan workshops also flourish. Often the school would have scarcely half a dozen children between six and twelve years old who might be suitable for England, thus making the choice a very complicated matter.
Children were chosen from very poor families with a large number of offspring, according to Local Committee requests and provided they were fit. Medical examinations often eliminated deserving cases. The parents were not always willing to let them go especially if they thought a brother and sister would be separated, However many wanted to send their children to Britain to build up their health, to make contact with the outside world and to enjoy the gifts they brought back.
To reach the special centre in Euboea where the journey to England was to begin some children had to make a three hour walk while others began the journey at 3,00 am by mule. The results of the holiday were striking, many children had set off cowed, white and very quiet. They returned home with tremendous self-confidence and they and their families ware able to enjoy to the full the importance of having British friends.
Thanks to the artificial arm and special splint, Maria can now write, thread beads, move stools or chairs and bang out letters on a typewriter. Her great achievement was that under the guidance of the staff at Roehampton she made herself a new dress which she wore for the return flight on August 19th. Maria is highly delighted with the new world that is opening up before her and being intelligent and enthusiastic she is likely to make the utmost use of the appliances that have been given her. She has learnt quite a lot of English and thoroughly enjoyed displaying her skills to the staff and any visitors at Rochampton Hospital.
Now Maria has returned to Greece, the staff at the Hellenic Centre for Disabled Children will encourage her to use the appliances every day. At the end of 12 months we hope to arrange for her to come to this country again when new limbs will be made for her. Having taken on this case we intend to complete the job and she may need new limbs every year for the next three years or until she has stopped growing.
The North Euboean Foundation. (from an article written in 1964)
The Foundation, a British-Greek voluntary organization, is carrying out a pilot scheme for the development of the Limni district on Euboea Island to achieve for the population a better standard of living. It is doing this by running medical, agricultural and veterinary services with the help of British volunteers including a doctor, field worker and veterinary surgeon. The Foundation's centre, Achmetaga, is 80 miles from Athens. Many of the villages covered are remote and difficult to reach, particularly in winter when there is heavy rainfall. The district has potentially very fertile agricultural land with abundant water. The effects of war, occupation, and civil war, and of primitive and destructive ways of using the land and its resources, have, until now, kept many people in a state of backwardness and poverty. The Foundation grew out of the long association of the NoelBaker family with Euboea. When Irene Noel-Baker died in 1956, her friends subscribed to a Memorial Health Centre at Achmetaga, and from this beginning, the Foundation's other work developed. Mr. Francis Noel-Baker, M.P. is Chairman.
The further party of children from Euboea came over in 1968 escorted by IHC Founder, Margaret McEwen
Having been in close touch with Francis Noel-Baker, who established the North Eubocan Foundation in 1961, Margaret McEwen decided to visit Euboea to see the work of this small society at first hand. The idea to provide a model farm, veterinary and agricultural advice and to promote a weaving industry has, on the whole, been most successful. At the time of writing in 1968 owing to devaluation, the personnel of the N.E.F. had been drastically reduced and consisted of a Farm Manager and his wife and a Doctor. Five landrovers were at the disposal of the Foundation but at that time there was only sufficient funds to maintain one. The Noel-Bakers owned 10,000 acres in Prokopion (Euboea) and had a beautiful home overlooking the village. As long ago as 1830, the property was sold by Lady Byron to a Mr. Noel, the great-great grandfather of Francis NoelBaker, The land was previously in Turkish hands.
There were fifty applications, but only thirty places could be offered for the first holiday in England. In an attempt to reach the poorest children, applicants were included from the remoter villages in the rnountains. This meant that some of the children took two days to reach Prokopion and indeed most of the transport was be by mule as the terrain was too rough even for a landrover,
A Village in Euboea by Sue Nathan
Vlachia used to be one of the most isolated of villages with no motor road of any kind in the area, so visits required quite some organization, and usually all of us with work to do there - doctor, vet, agriculturist, home economist etc. - would travel together. ,ti 'phone call was made the previous evening, if the line was not "temporarily destroyed" (as the operator so picturesquely put it) to ensure that all those likely to need our services remaincd in the village and did not take themselves off to distant fields and forest.
The easiest way to travel was to drive to Pili and then take a motor boat, but the sea was frequently too rough, in which case we had a three hour walk from Pili, though sometimes mules would be sent half way to meet us. On landing from the boat, there was a steep climb to the village but often children were waiting on the beach to carry our equipment.
After a morning's work, we settled down to lunch. The picnics we originally brought horrified the villagers, so we partook of whatever we were offered, usually huge omelettes with fresh-baked bread and salty goat cheese, all washed down with resinated wine. Once I hLd a"school dinner" an innovation which was making an improvement in the children's health. I sat down with the one teacher and forty children to eat haricot bean soup, dry bread, cheese and water.
We never got away at the hour intended - there was always just one more thing to be done. As we finally set off home, the villagers would be returning from work to light their candles and kindle their cooking fires in the descending dusk.
Another story in 1969 tells of a special medical case brought over by IHC
In the April news-sheet, in an article on Greece, we wrote about 13 year old Maria Papakonstantinou who was born without arms and with a severe deformity of the right log. She was to come to England this summer in order to have artificial limbs fitted. This has now been accomplished. Lady Stewart, the wife of the British ,ambassador in Athens, who has made herself responsible for Maria and the Greek party, arranged transport by air with Olympic Airways. In the meantime, we launched an appeal in the Times and Telegraph '*agony' columns for Maria and sent details of her case to several local committees and supporters. Fortunately, we were able to find a Greek Cypriot family in Hornsey who were willing to give hospitality to her and thus save the cost of hospital accommodation.. The doctors have decided that, for the moment, she should only be fitted with a right artificial arm and on the left stump they have fitted a splint which enables her to use as much as possible the finger or thumb which has grown from
The Greek childrens' holidays did continue despite the military takeover in May 1967 as this reply to a letter from Margaret McEwen illustrates:-
"Your letter reached Athens yesterday - considering all that has happened in Greece this week such speed of delivery is quite remarkable, As is so often the case, those on the spot know far less than those removed from the situation. We crowd round our radios at B.B.C. news hours in order to learn what the latest happening is, and then inform our Greek colleagues. On the surface all is normal and the only evidence of change is the tanks and armed soldiers outside the Parliament buildings, and such main offices as the post office, Telegraph Office and Radio Station. Our programme may be affected if the present restrictions on Greek nationals travelling abroad are still enforced, but it is commonly thought that they will not last long, and it will be to the advantage of the new military government to establish normal conditions as soon as possible. I therefore suggest that we continue to plan ahead as if nothing had happened".
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