Tony Greenstein | 31 January 2015 | Post Views:

 The Greatest Briton or a Ruling Class Racist and Imperialist?

BBC Sycophancy and Bias at its best (or worst!)

When I lived in Merthyr Tydfil in 1963, I was only 10 but I was taken aback by the hostility of the people to Winston Churchill.  Merthyr of course was at the centre of the mines of the Rhonda valley. None of this has come out in the BBC’s usual sycophantic coverage of ruling class ‘heroes’.
On the 50th anniversary of his state funeral,
there has been a plethora of mush about the great person to live in the British
Isles since Alfred burnt the cakes.  The
truth however has been conveniently omitted, another casualty of Churchill’s
many wars.  In Ireland he oversaw
Partition, in Palestine he gave unstinting support to the Zionists whilst doing
nothing for the Jews of Auschwitz and the Extermination Camps.  In Wales and Liverpool he sent troops in to
do battle against working-class strikers. 
In other words he was a thorough racist and imperialist (as the cutting
from the Guardian demonstrates) but he made a few rousing speeches in WWII.
Always a racist – being a Zionist was therefore natural
In 1931 he had resigned from the Conservative Shadow Cabinet because of his disagreement with even the most limited concessions to Indian nationalism and support for the Government of India Act. His primary reason for fighting Hitler was to defend the British Empire and he came into conflict with Field Marshall Wavell over this.  He was quite open about his belief that the ‘half naked fakir’ Ghandi should be murdered and presided over the death by starvation of at least 2 million Indians in Bengal during WW2.
In Greece Churchill was responsible for putting the
collaborators with the Nazi occupation back in power in order to defeat the
Communists.  A Channel 4 programme on
this was shown about 25 years ago and was then promptly banned and never shown
again.  Part of the film can be seen

Tony Greenstein

“One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his
patriotic achievement.  If our country
were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our
courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”  Winston Church, Step by Step, p.143.

the Iraqi Kurds, Churchill beat Saddam Hussein to it by nearly 50 years.  As Colonial Secretary he explained:

‘I do not
understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted
the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of
gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man
with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his
eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas.

I am
strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral
effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum.
It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used
which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would
leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.

Churchill did not believe in discrimination when it came to meting out ruling
class ‘justice’.  The socialist newspaper
Justice laid the responsibility for the deaths at Churchill’s feet, and

“For the
fourth time in five years, British people have been murdered in the streets by
the forces of law and order on the instruction of a Liberal Government.
Belfast, Tonypandy, and now Liverpool and Llanelly… Their hatred of our class
is only modified by their contempt, as witness the alacrity with which
middle-class hooligans rushed forward to be enrolled as special constables in
the hope of an opportunity of breaking the heads of the ‘mob.’”
The Rhonda Riots
In the First World War the Gallipolli disaster cost tens
of thousands of lives and achieved nothing. 
In the Second World War, apart from a few rousing speeches what was his
contribution?  Wasting a year fighting
all the way up Italy instead of launching the second front in France in
Communist fighters
After WWI
he strongly favoured intervention in Russia to depose the revolutionary government
there. The following passage, from an article Churchill wrote in 1920, might
sound familiar to anyone who has ever read any material from the far-right:

violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the
International Jews …. There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the
creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian
Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews.”

Churchill was an avid supporter of the Zionist movement and in Ireland was responsible,
as Colonial Secretary, for the implementation of the Anglo-Ireland Treaty of 1920,
including the Partition of Ireland.  He
was also responsible for the creation of the death squads of the Black and Tans
and the incorporation of Protestant para-military groups into the Royal Ulster
In later
years he expressed his admiration for fascism in Italy, publicly praising it on
a visit to Italy in 1927, but also praising Mussolini’s labour policies during
the British General Strike in 1926. Franco, meanwhile, was a “great man” who
had “united his country.”
wasn’t so keen on people fighting to attain their liberty. Gandhi, for example,
was a “half-naked fakir” who should be “lain bound hand and foot at the gates
of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant.” See 
worse if you were a rebellious Kurd in British-governed Iraq in the 1920s:

Below is a history of British involvement in Greece and how we put Nazi collaborators back in power. That has many lessons for today and the base of Golden Dawn’s support.

The Observer 30.11.14.

When 28 civilians were killed in Athens, it wasn’t the Nazis who were to
blame, it was the British. Ed Vulliamy and Helena Smith reveal how Churchill’s
shameful decision to turn on the partisans who had fought on our side in the
war sowed the seeds for the rise of the far right in Greece today

day that changed history: the bodies of unarmed protestors shot by the police
and the British army in Athens on 3 December 1944. Photograph: Dmitri
Kessel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

“I can still see it very
clearly, I have not forgotten,”
says Títos Patríkios. “The Athens police firing
on the crowd from the roof of the parliament in Syntagma Square. The young men
and women lying in pools of blood, everyone rushing down the stairs in total
shock, total panic.”
Greek demonstrators shot dead by Nazi collaborator regime

And then came the defining moment: the recklessness of youth, the passion of
belief in a justice burning bright: “I jumped up on the fountain in the middle
of the square, the one that is still there, and I began to shout: “Comrades,
don’t disperse! Victory will be ours! Don’t leave. The time has come. We will

“I was,” he says now, “profoundly sure, that we would win.” But there was no
winning that day; just as there was no pretending that what had happened would
not change the history of a country that, liberated from Adolf Hitler’s Reich
barely six weeks earlier, was now surging headlong towards bloody civil war.

Even now, at 86, when Patríkios “laughs at and with myself that I have
reached such an age”, the poet can remember, scene-for-scene, shot for shot,
what happened in the central square of Greek political life on the morning of 3
December 1944.

This was the day, those 70 years ago this week, when the British army, still
at war with Germany, opened fire upon – and gave locals who had collaborated
with the Nazis the guns to fire upon – a civilian crowd demonstrating in
support of the partisans with whom Britain had been allied for three years.

The crowd carried Greek, American, British and Soviet flags, and chanted:
“Viva Churchill, Viva Roosevelt, Viva Stalin’” in endorsement of the wartime

Twenty-eight civilians, mostly young boys and girls, were killed and
hundreds injured. “We had all thought it would be a demonstration like any
Patríkios recalls. “Business as usual. Nobody expected a bloodbath.”

Britain’s logic was brutal and perfidious: Prime minister Winston
considered the influence of the Communist Party within the
resistance movement he had backed throughout the war – the National Liberation
Front, EAM – to have grown stronger than he had calculated, sufficient to
jeopardise his plan to return the Greek king to power and keep Communism at
bay. So he switched allegiances to back the supporters of Hitler against his
own erstwhile allies.

Tonypandy 1911 when Police and Miners were called in to attack Miners

There were others in the square that day who, like the 16-year-old
Patríkios, would go on to become prominent members of the left. Míkis
Theodorakis, renowned composer and iconic figure in modern Greek history,
daubed a Greek flag in the blood of those who fell. Like Patríkios, he was a
member of the resistance youth movement. And, like Patríkios, he knew his
country had changed. Within days, RAF Spitfires and Beaufighters were strafing
leftist strongholds as the Battle of Athens – known in Greece as the Dekemvriana – began, fought not between the
British and the Nazis, but the British alongside supporters of the Nazis
against the partisans. “I can still smell the destruction,” Patríkios laments.
The mortars were raining down and planes were targeting everything. Even now,
after all these years, I flinch at the sound of planes in war movies.”

And thereafter Greece’s descent into catastrophic civil war: a cruel and
bloody episode in British as well as Greek history which every Greek knows to
their core – differently, depending on which side they were on – but which
remains curiously untold in Britain, perhaps out of shame, maybe the arrogance
of a lack of interest. It is a narrative of which the millions of Britons who
go to savour the glories of Greek antiquity or disco-dance around the islands
Mamma Mia
-style, are unaware.

The legacy of this betrayal has haunted Greece ever since, its shadow hanging over
the turbulence and violence that erupted in 2008 after the killing of a
schoolboy by police – also called the Dekemvriana – and created an abyss
between the left and right thereafter.

“The 1944 December uprising and 1946-49 civil war period infuses the
says the leading historian of these events, André Gerolymatos,
because there has never been a reconciliation. In France or Italy, if you
fought the Nazis, you were respected in society after the war, regardless of
ideology. In Greece, you found yourself fighting – or imprisoned and tortured
by – the people who had collaborated with the Nazis, on British orders. There
has never been a reckoning with that crime, and much of what is happening in
Greece now is the result of not coming to terms with the past.”

Before the war, Greece was ruled by a royalist dictatorship whose emblem of
a fascist axe and crown well expressed its dichotomy once war began: the
dictator, General Ioannis Metaxas, had been trained as an army officer in
Imperial Germany, while Greek King George II – an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke
of Edinburgh – was attached to Britain. The Greek left, meanwhile, had been
reinforced by a huge influx of politicised refugees and liberal intellectuals
from Asia Minor, who crammed into the slums of Pireaus and working-class

Both dictator and king were fervently anti-communist, and Metaxas banned the
Communist Party, KKE, interning and torturing its members, supporters and
anyone who did not accept “the national ideology” in camps and prisons, or
sending them into internal exile. Once war started, Metaxas refused to accept
Mussolini’s ultimatum to surrender and pledged his loyalty to the Anglo-Greek
alliance. The Greeks fought valiantly and defeated the Italians, but could not
resist the Wehrmacht. By the end of April 1941, the Axis forces imposed a harsh
occupation of the country. The Greeks – at first spontaneously, later in
organised groups – resisted.

But, noted the British Special Operations Executive (SOE): “The right wing
and monarchists were slower than their opponents in deciding to resist the
occupation, and were therefore of little use.”
Britain’s natural allies were therefore EAM – an alliance of left wing and
agrarian parties of which the KKE was dominant, but by no means the entirety –
and its partisan military arm, ELAS.

There is no overstating the horror of occupation. Professor Mark Mazower’s
book Inside Hitler’s Greece describes hideous
or “round-ups” – whereby crowds would be corralled into the streets so that
masked informers could point out ELAS supporters to the Gestapo and Security
Battalions – which had been established by the collaborationist government to
assist the Nazis – for execution. Stripping and violation of women was a common
means to secure “confessions”. Mass executions took place “on the German
model”: in public, for purposes of intimidation; bodies would be left hanging
from trees, guarded by Security Battalion collaborators to prevent their
removal. In response, ELAS mounted daily counterattacks on the Germans and
their quislings. The partisan movement was born in Athens but based in the
villages, so that Greece was progressively liberated from the countryside. The
SOE played its part, famous in military annals for the role of Brigadier Eddie
Myers and “Monty” Woodhouse in blowing up the Gorgopotomas viaduct in 1942 and
other operations with the partisans – andartes
in Greek.

By autumn 1944, Greece had been devastated by occupation and famine. Half a
million people had died – 7% of the population. ELAS had, however, liberated dozens
of villages and become a proto-government, administering parts of the country
while the official state withered away. But after German withdrawal, ELAS kept
its 50,000 armed partisans outside the capital, and in May 1944 agreed to the
arrival of British troops, and to place its men under the officer commanding,
Lt Gen Ronald Scobie.

On 12 October the Germans evacuated Athens. Some ELAS fighters, however, had
been in the capital all along, and welcomed the fresh air of freedom during a
six-day window between liberation and the arrival of the British. One partisan
in particular is still alive, aged 92, and is a legend of modern Greece.

Commanding presence: Churchill leaving HMS Ajax to attend a conference ashore. Athens can be seen in the background. Photograph: Crown Copyright. IWM/Imperial War Museum

In and around the European parliament in Brussels, the man in a Greek
fisherman’s cap, with his mane of white hair and moustache, stands out. He is Manolis
, senior MEP for the leftist Syriza party of Greece.

Glezos is a man of humbling greatness. On 30 May 1941, he climbed the Acropolis
with another partisan and tore down the swastika flag that had been hung there
a month before. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, was tortured and as a
result suffered from tuberculosis. He escaped and was re-arrested twice – the
second time by collaborators. He recalls being sentenced to death in May 1944,
before the Germans left Athens – “They told me my grave had already been dug”.
Somehow he avoided execution and was then saved from a Greek courtmartial’s
firing squad during the civil war period by international outcry led by General
de Gaulle, Jean-Paul Sartre and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev Geoffrey

Seventy years later, he is an icon of the Greek left who is also hailed as
the greatest living authority on the resistance. “The English, to this day,
argue that they liberated Greece and saved it from communism,”
he says. “But
that is the basic problem. They never liberated Greece. Greece had been
liberated by the resistance, groups across the spectrum, not just EAM, on 12 October.
I was there, on the streets – people were everywhere shouting: ‘Freedom!’ we
cried, Laokratia! – ‘Power to the People!’”

The British duly arrived on 18 October, installed a provisional government
under Georgios Papandreou and prepared to restore the king. “From the moment
they came,”
recalls Glezos, “the people and the resistance greeted them as
allies. There was nothing but respect and friendship towards the British. We
had no idea that we were already giving up our country and our rights.”
It was
only a matter of time before EAM walked out of the provisional government in
frustration over demands that the partisans demobilise. The negotiations broke
down on 2 December.

Official British thinking is reflected in War Cabinet papers and other
documents kept in the Public Record Office at Kew. As far back as 17 August
1944, Churchill had written a “Personal and Top Secret” memo to US president
Franklin Roosevelt to say that: “The War Cabinet and Foreign Secretary are much
concerned about what will happen in Athens, and indeed Greece, when the Germans
crack or when their divisions try to evacuate the country. If there is a long
hiatus after German authorities have gone from the city before organised
government can be set up, it seems very likely that EAM and the Communist
extremists will attempt to seize the city.”

But what the freedom fighters wanted, insists Glezos “was what we had
achieved during the war: a state ruled by the people for the people. There was
no plot to take over Athens as Churchill always maintained. If we had wanted to
do that, we could have done so before the British arrived.” During November,
the British set about building the new National Guard, tasked to police Greece
and disarm the wartime militias. In reality, disarmament applied to ELAS only,
explains Gerolymatos, not to those who had collaborated with the Nazis.
Gerolymatos writes in his forthcoming book, The
International Civil War
about how “in the middle of November, the
British started releasing Security Battalion officers… and soon some of them
were freely walking the streets of Athens wearing new uniforms… The British
army continued to provide protection to assist the gradual rehabilitation of
the former quisling units in the Greek army and police forces.”
An SOE memo urged
that “HMG must not appear to be connected with this scheme.”

Archbishop Damaskinos. Churchill had previously described Damaskinos as a ‘pestilent priest’ and a ‘survivor of the middle ages’

In conversation, Gerolymatos says: “So far as ELAS could see, the British
had arrived, and now some senior officers of the Security Battalions and
Special Security Branch [collaborationist units which had been integrated into
the SS] were seen walking freely in the streets. Athens in 1944 was a small
place, and you could not miss these people. Senior British officers knew
exactly what they were doing, despite the fact that the ordinary soldiers of
the former Security Battalions were the scum of Greece”. Gerolymatos estimates
that 12,000 Security Battalionists were released from Goudi prison during the
uprising to join the National Guard, and 228 had been reinstated in the army.

Any British notion that the Communists were poised for revolution fell
within the context of the so-called Percentages Agreement, forged between
Churchill and Soviet Commissar Josef Stalin at the code-named “Tolstoy
Conference” in Moscow on 9 October 1944. Under the terms agreed in what
Churchill called “a naughty document”, southeast Europe
was carved up into “spheres of influence”, whereby – broadly – Stalin took
Romania and Bulgaria, while Britain, in order to keep Russia out of the
Mediterranean, took Greece. The obvious thing to have done, argues Gerolymatos,
“would have been to incorporate ELAS into the Greek army. The officers in ELAS,
many holding commissions in the pre-war Greek army, presumed this would happen
– like De Gaulle did with French communists fighting in the resistance: ‘France
is liberated, now let’s go and fight Germany!’

“But the British and the Greek government in exile decided from the outset
that ELAS officers and men would not be admitted into the new army. Churchill
wanted a showdown with the KKE so as to be able to restore the king. Churchill
believed that a restoration would result in the return of legitimacy and bring
back the old order. EAM-ELAS, regardless of its relationship to the KKE,
represented a revolutionary force, and change.”

Meanwhile, continues Gerolymatos: “The Greek communists had decided not to
try to take over the country, as least not until late November/early December
1944. The KKE wanted to push for a left-of-centre government and be part of it,
that’s all.”
Echoing Glezos, he says: “If they had wanted a revolution, they
would not have left 50,000 armed men outside the capital after liberation –
they’d have brought them in.”

“By recruiting the collaborators, the British changed the paradigm,
signalling that the old order was back. Churchill wanted the conflict,”
Gerolymatos. “We must remember: there was no Battle for Greece. A large number
of the British troops that arrived were administrative, not line units. When
the fighting broke out in December, the British and the provisional government
let the Security Battalions out of Goudi; they knew how to fight
street-to-street because they’d done it with the Nazis. They’d been fighting
ELAS already during the occupation and resumed the battle with gusto.”

The morning of Sunday 3 December was a sunny one, as several processions of
Greek republicans, anti-monarchists, socialists and communists wound their way
towards Syntagma Square. Police cordons blocked their way, but several thousand
broke through; as they approached the square, a man in military uniform
shouted: “Shoot the bastards!” The lethal fusillade – from Greek police
positions atop the parliament building and British headquarters in the Grande
Bretagne hotel – lasted half an hour. By noon, a second crowd of demonstrators
entered the square, until it was jammed with 60,000 people. After several
hours, a column of British paratroops cleared the square; but the Battle of
Athens had begun, and Churchill had his war.

Manolis Glezos was sick that morning, suffering from tuberculosis. “But when
I heard what had happened, I got off my sick bed,”
he recalls. The following
day, Glezos was roaming the streets, angry and determined, disarming police
stations. By the time the British sent in an armoured division he and his
comrades were waiting.

“I note the fact,” he says, “that they would rather use those troops to
fight our population than German Nazis!”
By the time British tanks rolled in
from the port of Pireaus, he was lying in wait: “I remember them coming up the
Sacred Way. We were dug in a trench. I took out three tanks,”
he says. “There
was much bloodshed, a lot of fighting, I lost many very good friends. It was
difficult to strike at an Englishman, difficult to kill a British soldier –
they had been our allies. But now they were trying to destroy the popular will,
and had declared war on our people”.

At battle’s peak, Glezos says, the British even set up sniper nests on the Acropolis.
Not even the Germans did that. They were firing down on EAM targets, but we
didn’t fire back, so as not [to harm] the monument.”

On 5 December, Lt Gen Scobie imposed martial law and the following day
ordered the aerial bombing of the working-class Metz quarter. “British and
government forces,”
writes anthropologist Neni Panourgia in her study of
families in that time, “having at their disposal heavy armament, tanks,
aircraft and a disciplined army, were able to make forays into the city, burning
and bombing houses and streets and carving out segments of the city… The German
tanks had been replaced by British ones, the SS and Gestapo officers by British
The house belonging to actor Mimis Fotopoulos, she writes, was burned
out with a portrait of Churchill above the fireplace.

“I recall shouting slogans in English, during one battle in Koumoundourou
Square because I had a strong voice and it was felt I could be heard,”
poet Títos Patríkios as we talk in his apartment. “‘We are brothers, there’s
nothing to divide us, come with us!’ That’s what I was shouting in the hope
that they [British troops] would withdraw. And right at that moment, with my
head poked above the wall, a bullet brushed over my helmet. Had I not been
yanked down by Evangelos Goufas[another poet], who was there next to me, I
would have been dead.”

their knees: women protest against the shootings, which led to more than a
month of street fighting in Athens.
Photograph: Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture

He can now smile at the thought that only months after the killing in the
square he was back at school, studying English on a British Council summer
course. “We were enemies, but at the same time friends. In one battle I came
across an injured English soldier and I took him to a field hospital. I gave
him my copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped
which I remember he kept.”

It is illuminating to read the dispatches by British soldiers themselves, as
extracted by the head censor, Capt JB Gibson, now stored at the Public Record
Office. They give no indication that the enemy they fight was once a partisan
ally, indeed many troops think they are fighting a German-backed force. A
warrant officer writes: “Mr Churchill and his speech bucked us no end, we know
now what we are fighting for and against, it is obviously a Hun element behind
all this trouble.”
From “An Officer”: “You may ask: why should our boys give
their lives to settle Greek political differences, but they are only Greek
political differences? I say: no, it is all part of the war against the Hun,
and we must go on and exterminate this rebellious element.”

Cabinet papers at Kew trace the reactions in London: a minute of 12 December
records Harold Macmillan, political advisor to Field Marshal Alexander,
returning from Athens to recommend “a proclamation of all civilians against us
as rebels, and a declaration those found in civilian clothes opposing us with
weapons were liable to be shot, and that 24 hours notice should be given that
certain areas were to be wholly evacuated by the civilian population”
– ergo,
the British Army was to depopulate and occupy Athens. Soon, reinforced British
troops had the upper hand and on Christmas Eve Churchill arrived in the Greek
capital in a failed bid to make peace on Christmas Day.

“I will now tell you something I have never told anyone,” says Manolis
Glezos mischievously. On the evening of 25 December Glezos would take part in
his most daring escapade, laying more than a ton of dynamite under the hotel
Grande Bretagne, where Lt Gen Scobie had headquartered himself. “There were
about 30 of us involved. We worked through the tunnels of the sewerage system;
we had people to cover the grid-lines in the streets, so scared we were that
we’d be heard. We crawled through all the shit and water and laid the dynamite
right under the hotel, enough to blow it sky high.

“I carried the fuse wire myself, wire wound all around me, and I had to
unravel it. We were absolutely filthy, covered [in excrement] and when we got
out of the sewerage system I remember the boys washing us down. I went over to
the boy with the detonator; and we waited, waited for the signal, but it never
came. Nothing. There was no explosion. Then I found out: at the last minute EAM
found out that Churchill was in the building, and put out an order to call off
the attack. They’d wanted to blow up the British command, but didn’t want to be
responsible for assassinating one of the big three.”

At the end of the Dekemvriana, thousands had been killed; 12,000 leftists
rounded up and sent to camps in the Middle East. A truce was signed on 12
February, the only clause of which that was even partially honoured was the
demobilisation of ELAS. And so began a chapter known in Greek history as the
“White Terror”, as anyone suspected of helping ELAS during the Dekemvriana or
even Nazi occupation was rounded up and sent to a gulag of camps established
for their internment, torture, often murder – or else repentance, as under the
Metaxas dictatorship.

Títos Patríkios is not the kind of man who wants the past to impinge on the
present. But he does not deny the degree to which this history has done just
that – affecting his poetry, his movement, his quest to find “le mot juste”.
This most measured and mild-mannered of men would spend years in concentration
camps, set up with the help of the British as civil war beckoned. With
imprisonment came hard labour, and with hard labour came torture, and with
exile came censorship. “The first night on Makronissos [the most infamous camp]
we were all beaten very badly. 

“I spent six months there, mostly breaking stones, picking brambles and
carrying sand. Once, I was made to stand for 24 hours after it had been
discovered that a newspaper had published a letter describing the appalling
conditions in the camp. But though I had written it, and had managed to pass it
on to my mother, I never admitted to doing so and throughout my time there I
never signed a statement of repentance.”

Patríkios was among the relatively fortunate; thousands of others were
executed, usually in public, their severed heads or hanging bodies routinely
displayed in public squares. His Majesty’s embassy in Athens commented by
saying the exhibition of severed heads “is a regular custom in this country
which cannot be judged by western European standards”.

The name of the man in command of the “British Police Mission” to Greece is
little known. Sir Charles Wickham had been assigned by Churchill to oversee the
new Greek security forces – in effect, to recruit the collaborators.
Anthropologist Neni Panourgia describes Wickham as “one of the persons who
traversed the empire establishing the infrastructure needed for its survival,”

and credits him with the establishment of one of the most vicious camps in
which prisoners were tortured and murdered, at Giaros.

From Yorkshire, Wickham was a military man who served in the Boer War,
during which concentration camps in the modern sense were invented by the
British. He then fought in Russia, as part of the allied Expeditionary Force
sent in 1918 to aid White Russian Czarist forces in opposition to the Bolshevik
revolution. After Greece, he moved on in 1948 to Palestine. But his
qualification for Greece was this: Sir Charles was the first Inspector General
of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, from 1922 to 1945.

The RUC was founded in 1922, following what became known as the Belfast
pogroms of 1920-22, when Catholic streets were attacked and burned. It was,
writes the historian Tim Pat Coogan, “conceived not as a regular police body,
but as a counter-insurgency one… The new force contained many recruits who
joined up wishing to be ordinary policemen, but it also contained murder gangs
headed by men like a head constable who used bayonets on his victims because it
prolonged their agonies.”

As the writer Michael Farrell found out when researching his book Arming
the Protestants
, much material pertaining to Sir Charles’s
incorporation of these UVF and Special Constabulary militiamen into the RUC has
been destroyed, but enough remains to give a clear indication of what was happening.
In a memo written by Wickham in November 1921, before the formation of the RUC,
and while the partition treaty of December that year was being negotiated, he
had addressed “All County Commanders” as follows: “Owing to the number of
reports which has been received as to the growth of unauthorised loyalist
defence forces, the government have under consideration the desirability of
obtaining the services of the best elements of these organisations.”

Coogan, Ireland’s greatest and veteran historian, stakes no claim to
neutrality over matters concerning the Republic and Union, but historical facts
are objective and he has a command of those that none can match. We talk at his
home outside Dublin over a glass of whiskey appositely called “Writer’s Tears”.

“It’s the narrative of empire,” says Coogan, “and, of course, they applied
it to Greece. That same combination of concentration camps, putting the murder
gangs in uniform, and calling it the police. That’s colonialism, that’s how it
works. You use whatever means are necessary, one of which is terror and
collusion with terrorists. It works.

Wickham organised the RUC as the armed wing of Unionism, which is something
it remained thereafter,”
he says. “How long was it in the history of this
country before the Chris Patten report of 1999, and Wickham’s hands were
finally prised off the police? That’s a hell of a long piece of history – and
how much suffering, meanwhile?”

The head of MI5 reported in 1940 that “in the personality and experience of
Sir Charles Wickham, the fighting services have at their elbow a most valuable
friend and counsellor”
. When the intelligence services needed to integrate the
Greek Security Battalions – the Third Reich’s “Special Constabulary” – into a
new police force, they had found their man.

 ‘I carried the fuse wire myself: Manolis
Glezos, senior MEP and ‘a man of humbling greatness’ in Brussels. Helena Smith Photograph:
Helena Smith/Observer

Greek academics vary in their views on how directly responsible Wickham was
in establishing the camps and staffing them with the torturers. Panourgia finds
the camp on Giaros – an island which even the Roman Emperor Tiberius decreed
unfit for prisoners – to have been Wickham’s own direct initiative.
Gerolymatos, meanwhile, says: “The Greeks didn’t need the British to help them
set up camps. It had been done before, under Metaxas.”
Papers at Kew show
British police serving under Wickham to be regularly present in the camps.

Gerolymatos adds: “The British – and that means Wickham – knew who these
people were. And that’s what makes it so frightening. They were the people who
had been in the torture chambers during occupation, pulling out the fingernails
and applying thumbscrews.”
By September 1947, the year the Communist Party was
outlawed, 19,620 leftists were held in Greek camps and prisons, 12,000 of them
in Makronissos, with a further 39,948 exiled internally or in British camps
across the Middle East. There exist many terrifying accounts of torture, murder
and sadism in the Greek concentration camps – one of the outrageous atrocities
in postwar Europe. Polymeris Volgis of New York University describes how a
system of repentance was introduced as though by a “latter-day secular Inquisition”,
with confessions extracted through “endless and violent degradation”.

Women detainees would have their children taken away until they confessed to
being “Bulgarians” and “whores”. The repentance system led Makronissos to be
seen as a “school” and “National University” for those now convinced that “Our
life belongs to Mother Greece,’
in which converts were visited by the king and
queen, ministers and foreign officials. “The idea”, says Patríkios, who never repented,
was to reform and create patriots who would serve the homeland.”

Minors in the Kifissa prison were beaten with wires and socks filled with
concrete. “On the boys’ chests, they sewed name tags”, writes Voglis, “with
Slavic endings added to the names; many boys were raped
”. A female prisoner was
forced, after a severe beating, to stand in the square of Kastoria holding the
severed heads of her uncle and brother-in-law. One detainee at Patras prison in
May 1945 writes simply this: “They beat me furiously on the soles of my feet
until I lost my sight. I lost the world.”

Manolis Glezos has a story of his own. He produces a book about the
occupation, and shows a reproduction of the last message left by his brother
Nikos, scrawled on the inside of a beret. Nikos was executed by collaborators
barely a month before the Germans evacuated Greece. As he was being driven to
the firing squad, the 19-year-old managed to throw the cap he was wearing from
the window of the car. Subsequently found by a friend and restored to the
family, the cap is among Glezos’s most treasured possessions.

Scribbled inside, Nikos had written: “Beloved mother. I kiss you. Greetings.
Today I am going to be executed, falling for the Greek People. 10-5-44.”

Nowhere else in newly liberated Europe were Nazi sympathisers enabled to
penetrate the state structure – the army, security forces, judiciary – so
effectively. The resurgence of neo-fascism in the form of present-day far-right
party Golden Dawn
has direct links to the failure to purge the state of right-wing extremists;
many of Golden Dawn’s supporters are descendants of Battalionists, as were the
“The Colonels” who seized power in 1967.

Glezos says: “I know exactly who executed my brother and I guarantee they
all got off scot-free. I know that the people who did it are in government, and
no one was ever punished.”
Glezos has dedicated years to creating a library in
his brother’s honour. In Brussels, he unabashedly asks interlocutors to
contribute to the fund by popping a “frango” (a euro) into a silk purse. It is,
along with the issue of war reparations, his other great campaign, his last
wish: to erect a building worthy of the library that will honour Nikos. “The
story of my brother is the story of Greece,”
he says.

There is no claim that ELAS, or the Democratic Army of Greece which replaced
it, were hapless victims. There was indeed a “Red Terror” in response to the
onslaught, and on the retreat from Athens, ELAS took some 15,000 prisoners with
them. “We did some killing,” concedes Glezos, “and some people acted out of
revenge. But the line was not to kill civilians.”

In December 1946, Greek prime minister Konstantinos Tsaldaris, faced with
the probability of British withdrawal, visited Washington to seek American
assistance. In response, the US State Department formulated a plan for military
intervention which, in March 1947, formed the basis for an announcement by
President Truman of what became known as the Truman
, to intervene with force wherever communism was considered
a threat. All that had passed in Greece on Britain’s initiative was the first
salvo of the Cold War.

Glezos still calls himself a communist. But like Patríkios, who rejected
Stalinism, he believes that communism, as applied to Greece’s neighbours to the
north, would have been a catastrophe. He recalls how he even gave Nikita
Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who would de-Stalinise the Soviet Union “an
earful about it all
”. The occasion arose when Khrushchev invited Glezos – who
at the height of the Cold War was a hero in the Soviet Union, honoured with a
postage stamp bearing his image – to the Kremlin. It was 1963 and Khrushchev
was in talkative mood. Glezos wanted to know why the Red Army, having marched
through Bulgaria and Romania, stopped at the Greek border. Perhaps the Russian
leader could explain.

He looked at me and said, ‘Why?’

“I said: ‘Because Stalin didn’t behave like a communist. He divided up the
world with others and gave Greece to the English.’
Then I told him what I
really thought, that Stalin had been the cause of our downfall, the root of all
evil. All we had wanted was a state where the people ruled, just like our
[then] government in the mountains, where you can still see the words ‘all
powers spring from the people and are executed by the people
’ inscribed into
the hills. What they wanted, and created, was rule by the party.”

Khrushchev, says Glezos, did not openly concur. “He sat and listened. But
then after our meeting he invited me to dinner, which was also attended by
Leonid Brezhnev [who succeeded Khrushchev in 1964] and he listened for another
four and a half hours. I have always taken that for tacit agreement.”

charge: Lt Gen Ronald Scobie (centre) who, on 5 December 1944, imposed martial
law and ordered the aerial bombing of the working-class Metz quarter of Athens. Photograph:
Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

For Patríkios, it was not until the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, that
the penny dropped: a line had been drawn across the map, agreed by Churchill
and Stalin. “When I saw the west was not going to intervene [during the
Budapest uprising] I realised what had happened – the agreed ‘spheres of influence’.
And later, I understood that the Dekemvriana was not a local conflict, but the
beginning of the Cold War that had started as a warm war here in Greece.”

Patríkios returned to Athens as a detainee “on leave” and was eventually
granted a passport in 1959. Upon procuring it, he immediately got on a ship to
Paris where he would spend the next five years studying sociology and
philosophy at the Sorbonne. “In politics there are no ethics,” he says,
especially imperial politics.”

It’s the afternoon of 25 January 2009. The tear gas that has drenched Athens
– a new variety, imported from Israel – clears. A march in support of a
Bulgarian cleaner, whose face has been disfigured in an acid attack by
neo-fascists, has been broken up by riot police after hours of street-fighting.

Back in the rebel-held quarter of Exarcheia, a young woman called Marina
pulls off her balaclava and draws air. Over coffee, she answers the question:
why Greece? Why is it so different from the rest of Europe in this regard – the
especially bitter war between left and right? “Because,” she replies, “of what
was done to us in 1944. The persecution of the partisans who fought the Nazis,
for which they were honoured in France, Italy, Belgium or the Netherlands – but
for which, here, they were tortured and killed on orders from your government.”

She continues: “I come from a family that has been detained and tortured for
two generations before me: my grandfather after the Second World War, my father
under the Junta of the colonels – and now it could be me, any day now. We are
the grandchildren of the andartes, and our
enemies are Churchill’s Greek grandchildren.”

The whole thing”, spits Dr Gerolymatos, “was for nothing. None of this need
have happened, and the British crime was to legitimise people whose record
under occupation by the Third Reich put them beyond legitimacy. It happened
because Churchill believed he had to bring back the Greek king. And the last
thing the Greek people wanted or needed was the return of a de-frocked monarchy
backed by Nazi collaborators. But that is what the British imposed, and it has
scarred Greece ever since.”

“All those collaborators went into the system,” says Manilos Glezos. “Into
the government mechanism – during and after the civil war, and their sons went
into the military junta. The deposits remain, like malignant cells in the
system. Although we liberated Greece, the Nazi collaborators won the war,
thanks to the British. And the deposits remain, like bacilli in the system.”

But there is one last thing Glezos would like to make clear. “You haven’t
asked: ‘Why do I go on? Why I am doing this when I am 92 years and two months
he says, fixing us with his eyes. “I could, after all, be sitting on a
sofa in slippers with my feet up,” he jests. “So why do I do this?”

He answers himself: “You think the man sitting opposite you is Manolis but
you are wrong. I am not him. And I am not him because I have not forgotten that
every time someone was about to be executed, they said: ‘Don’t forget me. When
you say good morning, think of me. When you raise a glass, say my name.’ And
that is what I am doing talking to you, or doing any of this. The man you see
before you is all those people. And all this is about not forgetting them.”

the battle between left and right

Late summer 1944 German forces withdraw from most of
Greece, which is taken over by local partisans. Most of them are members of
ELAS, the armed wing of the National Liberation Front, EAM, which included the
Communist KKE party

October 1944 Allied forces, led by General Ronald Scobie,
enter Athens, the last German-occupied area, on 13 October. Georgios Papandreou
returns from exile with the Greek government

2 December 1944 Rather than integrate ELAS into the new
army, Papandreou and Scobie demand the disarmament of all guerrilla forces. Six
members of the new cabinet resign in protest

3 December 1944 Violence in Athens after 200,000 march
against the demands. More than 28 are killed and hundreds are injured. The
37-day Dekemvrianá begins. Martial law is declared on 5 December

January/February 1945 Gen Scobie agrees to a ceasefire in
exchange for ELAS withdrawal. In February the Treaty of Varkiza is signed by
all parties. ELAS troops leave Athens with 15,000 prisoners

1945/46 Right-wing gangs kill more than 1,100 civilians,
triggering civil war when government forces start battling the new Democratic
Army of Greece (DSE), mainly former ELAS soldiers

1948-49 DSE suffers a catastrophic defeat in the summer of
1948, with nearly 20,000 killed. In July 1949 Tito closes the Yugoslav border,
denying DSE shelter. Ceasefire signed on 16 October 1949

21 April 1967 Right-wing forces seize power in a coup
d’état. The junta lasts until 1974. Only in 1982 are communist veterans who had
fled overseas allowed to return to Greece

  • A group of Greek historians writes
    concerning this article. It was reported that British troops opened fire
    on the Greek demonstrators from the Grande Bretagne hotel in Athens on
    December 3 1944. The hotel was British military headquarters, but the fire
    from it could also have come from Greek police. We also said that the
    Greek anti-Nazi resistance, ELAS/EAM, agreed not to oppose the landing of
    British troops in May 1944. The historians point out that the agreement
    was formalised at Caserta in September.
  • See also 

Winston Churchill the terrorist: His hunger
to take the fight to Hitler made him send thousands of heroes to needless death

Posted in

Tony Greenstein

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