Repatriation

 

 

The aftermath of the rescue from the Empire Patrol and subsequent return to Port Said, some for medical treatment and most going back to the refugee camps.

 

Arthur Athans continues his story of the aftermath of the rescue:

 

I remember being covered with purple ointment, given sailor's clothing and blankets, and falling asleep on a stretcher. When I woke up I found Jack Venitis next to me. In the evening of the following day on 30th September we arrived back in Port Said where we spent the night in tents. Our first meal was boiled potatoes, white bread and tea. So was the start of the second stage as refugees. Assistance was rendered to us from local Castellorizians residing in Egypt including Mr Nikos Paleos, past teacher of Santrape School in Castellorizo, and also, I believe, Mr Elias Battalis.

 

The next day we were transferred to trains on our way back as new refugees at El Shat camp living again in huts or tents. We were clothed by gifts which came quickly to the camp from people in Egypt. We were given bedding, shoes and new or second hand clothing. Food was provided in a military communal style. We were under the auspices of UNRRA. Later we were told that the Empire Patrol sunk together with all our belongings and all our dreams. We lived in those harsh conditions at the camp for a further two months until the return to our war torn island.

 

J J Gower of H.M.S. Trouncer talks of the aftermath of the rescue:

 

We stayed in the area until next day when we were joined by other vessels.  We rescued many hundreds in fact the aircraft hangar was absolutely crowded with survivors, many injured and burned.  Then came the sad part, burying the dead at sea. The sailmaker Able Seamen Pink had the unenviable task of placing the dead bodies in weighted canvas bags and sewing them up, he told me the last stitch was through the nose.  The reasoning being if they jumped as the sailmakers needle passed through, they weren’t dead.  I will leave you to decide if he was telling the truth.  Once all the bags were laid out at the stern, the burial service was carried out with their own Priest or whatever religion it was, but there was lots of bowing and wailing as each body was put on a board which was raised at one end and the poor deceased person slid into their final resting place at the bottom of the sea.  All other survivors were landed at Port Said.

 

Surviving Castellorizian refugees in the hanger area of H.M.S. Trouncer

Named persons in this photograph can be viewed at the following URL (after registering on the website):

www.castellorizo.org/showmedia.php?mediaID=1804

 

Maurice Conway, a member of H.M.S. Trouncer's Damage Control Party, writes further re the aftermath:

 

The considerable wave-size and the prevailing swell during the rescue effectively prevented a tow of the freighter. The Trouncer was little affected by the sea conditions but the Empire Patrol was moved about so much that a large tow-rope between the two vessels soon parted. When the writer last saw the Empire Patrol it was still smoking and still afloat but it did not look as if it was sinking.

The Trouncer left the scene and proceeded to Port Said with all the rescued,we found,sitting or lying on palliasses or blankets in our hangar. They were fed with fresh orange juice and various foods available from our kitchens.

They were all very distressed, the women most of all, many of whom believed they had lost children, husbands, relatives etc. Their anguish could not be diminished because of the language barrier between us. The continuous back and forth rocking motions accompanied by the mournful moans were all typical of the recently bereaved, as I was to learn later on in life.

 

Evdokia Agapitou (nee Mihalaki) tells the loss of her father:

 

My father, Michael Mihalakis, died as a result of the disaster two weeks later. He had jumped into the water on the 29th and injured his leg when he was hit by a piece of wood. He was hospitalised in Kantara, developed gangrene and died. Zambetta Exindaris died and was buried at sea from the Trouncer on the way back to Port Said.

 

Paul Boyatzis had been drifting in the carley float overnight with others, unaware that most had been rescued by the ships. He tells of what happens next:

 

In the carley float that I was in were twelve people, including my mother and my cousins, Paul and Leffy Boyatzis. We were floating in water submerged to the waist and leaning on the rim of the rubber with our feet supported by the criss-cross straps. My mother supported young Leffy, who was three years old, on one of her legs and with the other alternated myself and cousin Paul.

 

When we spotted a light craft go past us my mother tore a piece of her dress off. Being of light frame she stood on the rubber rim and supported by others waved the material to attempt to attract the passing boat. But it was to no avail as they did not respond.

 

The next morning an aeroplane was seen over us and dropped flares. We were convinced that it had spotted us and the cries of help and waving recomenced with added effort and elation. A few hours later, and out of nowhere, a ship suddenly appears heading towards us. It stopped close by, threw us a rope, we picked it up and were pulled towards the boat. One by one we climbed a rope ladder and onto the boat. I must have then fallen asleep quickly.

 

I remember waking hours later on a stretcher on the open deck, in line with others, wearing only a naval singlet and a small cross around my neck that had been there since birth. It appears that I had missed out on the underpants which other children possessed. The ladies looked very smart in their naval shorts and shirts which were with the compliments of the Royal Navy. One wonders the reaction to this sight for those rescued earlier and waiting at Port Said when we arrived. Being few of the last to be rescued we were thought to have perished. I was informed later that my Uncle Anastasis Finikiotis, my mother's brother from Alexandria, had chartered an aircraft, and with him aboard, had joined the air search.

 

Paul Boyatzis (Centre) and Steve Boyatzis (Right) arriving at Port Said

 

 


Leffy (Eleftherios) Boyatzis

Article compiled by Dr Paul Boyatzis

Leffy Boyatzis, as a 3 years old, was arguably, one of the youngest survivors when he was rescued from the Empire Patrol disaster. His whole immediate family and extended relatives left Castellorizo in 1943 with the exception of his elder brother,Vasilis who didn't survive the German bombing.

 

Leffy's father, Andony, played a significant part in the rescue of survivors from the burning ship. Andony, desperate to ensure that at least some of his children may have some chance of survival lowered with ropes Leffy and eldest brother Paul, to the Carley float to join his aunt Zoe and cousin Paul. The float carried 12 survivors, women and children who floated submerged in water for 24 hours before being rescued the following day by the British navy and taken to Port Said . The two brothers were reunited with the rest of the family and eventually transferred to Castellorizo.

 

Leffy obviously does not remember the disaster but he often narrates the story as he heard from his cousin Paul. Due to his young age he spent the period in the float nursed on his aunt Zoe's knee and innocently even though floating up to his neck in water he would periodically ask permission to urinate.

 

The Andony Boyatzis family in 1948 migrated to Perth to join relatives when Leffy was six years old. Hence the nick name “ Leffy Six”. For even at that age the young boy's intelligence was apparent. When he was asked his name, it came to his notice that the next question would be regarding his age. To save time therefore his response to “what is your name” was “Leffy Six”, by which he is fondly referred to up to this day.

 

Leffy completed his schooling in Perth and worked and travelled widely. Eventually he graduated as a school teacher attaining the post of headmaster in London from which he retired several years ago. He is now a property owner, Britsh citizen in London , whose hobby and pleasant past time is to entertain friends and relatives from Australia and other parts of the world. If one goes to the UK and happens to have had some connection with Leffy invariably he or she will be a house guest or at least be invited home for a roast pork meal. “Leffy Six…our Man in London ” is now a more appropriate “title”. If you are unable to travel, you can still catch up with Leffy at one of his frequent holidays in Perth .

 

Concluding this section is a wonderful article written by Emeritus Professor John M Papadimitriou. He tells of the experiences and emotions of those Castellorizians based in Port Said who witnessed the aftermath of the disaster as the survivors returned to Egypt.

 

RECOLLECTIONS OF AUTUMN 1945: THE EMPIRE PATROL TRAGEDY

 

In September 1945 I was just seven years old and central Port Said in Egypt was my universe. Nonetheless I was already an expert on the Second World War. I used to avidly eavesdrop on most adult conversations, read the newspaper headlines and listened to Greek programmes from the BBC. I knew who the good guys were and who the bad guys were (those oldies amongst you will remember the Greek acronym AEPA). I was aware of the war in Europe, the battles in the Pacific and the successes of the allies at El Alamein. Moreover I was familiar with Stukas, warships (I actually saw the Averoff), V2 rockets and atomic bombs. I still vividly remember the scream of sirens before air raids, the ghostly shadows of enemy planes caught in a web of search light beams, the screeching of bombs raining onto our homes and the hoarse grumbles of anti aircraft guns. All this I accepted as part of normal life; my days were not complete without finding the quickest routes to air raid shelters, selecting the best fitting gas mask and cautiously examining the skeletons of buildings that punctuated the Port Said landscape after every bombing raid.

 

At school we were well armed with many patriotic songs (several of which I remember to this very day), which we all sang loudly, often and with great fervour. I became not only a little Greek “palikari” but thanks to the efforts of the Kastellorizian Brotherhood a fully-fledged Kastellorizian as well – in fact I knew more about Kastellorizo than Cairo! In Port Said the “grapevine” was very well established. We were all aware of what was happening in Kastellorizo and we knew that a contingent of Kastellorizians was being transported back to Kastellorizo after their incarceration in Palestine. (I now know that this was happening on Saturday September 29 in 1945 and the ship that was carrying them was the Empire Patrol).

 

It was on Sunday morning September 30 th 1945 (I am sure it was Sunday because I was not at school that day.) that we heard of the disaster that had occurred at sea. The rumour was that the Empire Patrol with all its human cargo was torpedoed, the ship had sunk, several had drowned but many were rescued and were being brought to Port Said. I had these terrible visions of a ship enveloped in flames exploding into the night, spewing bodies into the cold dark sea.

 

By the afternoon of that fateful Sunday almost every Kastellorizian family in Port Said collected blankets, clothes and assorted food stuffs for the survivors that were being ferried to Port Said. (I remember being asked by my mother which of my clothes I was prepared to donate.) Armed with what we had collected my grandmother, my aunt and I travelled to the camp where the survivors had been brought.

 

I remember seeing men and women of all shapes and ages as well as many skinny children, all very dishevelled and staring at us behind a cyclone wire fence. I am still haunted by an image of a sad middle-aged woman with long grey hair and aquiline features her body partly covered by the remnants of what had been the Kastellorizian national dress – I have always wondered who she was. My grandmother recognised several of the survivors and engaged them in conversation but I cannot recall what was said. We could not directly hand over to them anything of what we had collected, so everything was thrown to them over the wire fence. Several children, yelling at each other ran like ferrets and gathered the various scattered parcels.

 

It was two years later in 1947 when I first came in direct contact with one of the survivors. He was a boy of roughly my age with a mop of black hair and rosy red cheeks. He came from Kastellorizo to the school that I was attending (in fact the same class) and stayed in Port Said for a few weeks. He recounted a little of his experience of that night in September 1945 and that he was now on his way to Australia. I naively gave him my uncle’s name (he had emigrated to Australia several years before the WWII) in case he met him. That boy was Apostolos (Paul) Boyatzis.

 

In 1956 I met Apostolos again. At that time both he and I were studying Medicine at The University of Western Australia. He has been my friend ever since.

 

JOHN MICHAEL PAPADIMITRIOU

Emeritus Professor

School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

The University of Western Australia

 


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