War Tales at Mother’s Knee: Sales and Princes

My mother, Diana, managed to escape from Greece literally as the Nazi forces were marching down from Thessaloniki in April 1941 and fled with my father to Cairo, Egypt.  So she never experienced all the pain and misery of occupation – in fact these were the happiest years of her life!  The war didn’t touch Egypt in quite the way it did Europe so she had me (what could be nicer!) and carried on with her acting profession and had a good time.

Her aunt and uncle in Thessaloniki owned six dry cleaning shops called Alektor (it means ‘cockerel’) and when it came to it they couldn’t refuse to clean the German uniforms; they also had a contract with the Greek police.  Because it was in his nature, Uncle Ioannides cleaned all the uniforms beautifully and as the soldiers often forgot marks in their pockets, saved them and put them in a jar which he displayed openly.  No one ever asked him to return the marks.  Image

The Germans often bought ikons and other precious items from the Greeks and the Greeks were obliged to sell what they could in order to survive and have some money for food.   Mum’s Auntie Theodora had a wonderful Russian samovar for making tea.   It had embossed engraving, was made of brass and copper and had a tap to pour out water. There was a tray around it with tea pots standing to keep warm.  It sat on a little spirit stove and thus one could make tea all the time.  Sadly she had to sell this unique item as she had six children to feed and clothe.  When the war ended, many of these ikons and other valuables were bought back from the Germans as it was they who were starving then!  The tables had been turned!  But we never recovered the old samovar.  I wrote about it in my book The Long Shadow so it is preserved in memory at least.  I found this picture of a samovar for sale that may have been something like Auntie’s one.

 In 1935 just before the War began, The Prince of Wales, then Duke of Windsor, came to Athens with the American, Mrs Wallis Simpson, the woman who later married him and cost him his throne.  My grandmother was a journalist at the time and managed to get an invite for herself and my mother in this capacity.  The Prince had taken the restaurant for the night, doors were closed to the public and only certain people were allowed to stay to provide a little atmosphere.  He sat quietly in a corner with his paramour but was not as attractive as my mother had imagined though he was actually a handsome man as were all that family of Windsors.  Mum was about fourteen at the time so had a romantic view of the whole business as did many Greeks.  The British were not so enthusiastic about their future King consorting with his twice-married mistress all over Europe!  No one was allowed to leave before the couple and they didn’t look at anyone or engage in conversation with others but they did serve everyone with a bottle of champagne.  However, they guests were told not to raise their glasses to the Prince and his lady.


As we know, David became King Edward V111 briefly in 1936 when his father George V1 died.  He was never crowned King and obliged to abdicate his throne to his younger brother George X1.  He chose love over his duty and we can never be sure if he regretted it or not.  After her divorce became final, they married and toured Germany but were later accused of Nazi sympathies and sent to the Bahamas during the war years.  He and Wallis remained faithful and inseparable for the rest of their days and retired in the end to France, banished and forever unwelcome in England.


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