OXI Day: The day that the Greeks said ‘No!’

28th of October or, as known in Greece,  OXI day.

OXI day commemorates the anniversary when former Greek military general and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas said ‘NO’ to Benito Mussolini. The story goes that in 1940 Benito Mussolini gave an ultimatum to Ioannis Metaxas to allow Italian forces to occupy strategic locations in Greece or otherwise be enemies. The motivation behind Mussolini’s ultimatum was to impress his fellow ally Adolf Hitler, by securing what was thought would be an easy victory and expanding his fascist regime. However, it was clear where Greece stood in WWII w312203_233468646713259_181025121_nhen they delivered the infamous ‘no’ to the Italians. An hour and a half later of Metaxas’ answer, the Italians stationed in Albania, then an Italian protectorate attacked the Greek border. That was the start of the Greco-Italian war and the Greek nation was officially at war!

One of the more well known salutes to the heroism of the Greek people was given by the US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who summed it all up beautifully…

“On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if a three day or three week or three year were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.”

Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933 – 1945

On this day, the Greeks stand and honour the men and women who stood against the Italians and the fascists in WWII. No one believed that Greece would survive the attack. As a small country, Greece faithfully and courageously met her obligations to her allies with heroism and self-sacrifice. Many lives were lost and Greece suffered greatly, much more that other countries that were on the victorious Allied side, as one puts it. This is why world leaders today recognise the contribution of Greece and their bravery. Churchill once said ”Today we shall say that the Greeks fight like heroes, but from now on we shall say that heroes fight like the Greeks.” Today, we honour those who fell by a ceremony filled with poetry, songs and stories from that dark time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe schoolchildren put on their local uniform and march at 11 am to honour and show their respect to our ancestors.  The day is filled with celebrations, food and drink, as well as traditional Greek dancing. When the children parade (or march if you will), people wave their Greek flags and applaud them. The military marches as well and there is even a marching band. Coming from Mykonos, I had to wear the traditional Mykonian dress, which can be seen  (sort of) in the picture. The top 6 students would go first and one of them would carry the Greek flag. Then following would be the rest of the school. Depending on your age, you wear different uniforms; the last-year-students (age 18) wore the traditional Mykonian dress (or other local dress- depending where you are), whereas anyone else below the age of 18 will wear a blue-white outfit. Before the parade starts, we have a little service at our local church and then the local officials, including the Mayor, pay their respects to the dead by placing a leaf-laurel at a memorial stone, which commemorates the dead. The parade lasts about 10-15 minutes and then we dance our traditional Greek dances. When I was young, I never appreciated these traditions, but now that I understand the history and the significance, I can say that I am proud to be part Greek and happy that I was involved in these traditions as well as others while I was growing up. It is something different and as far as I know, no other country does this every year on one specific day. For many, OXI day is more than an anniversary commemorated with parades of schoolchildren, military grandstanding and flag waving. It is a day to remember Hellenic values, passion and ‘filotimo’, and the courageous words and deeds of ancestors who fought for this land with flesh and blood. This year marks the 74th anniversary of OXI day.

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Mykonos 2014 — picture taken from http://www.mykonospress.gr

More reading on OXI day:  http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/oxi-day.html pictures of me and my friends were taken in 2009 and we are wearing the traditional Mykonian ‘dress’ — K.J.Koukas  

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A day to Remember…

wwi-centenary-logo 

Today,  Monday the 4th of August, we mark the day when Britain entered the First World War 100 years ago. It was a time when the world as we knew it changed as our nations and people found themselves in a war, the like of which has never been seen before.

It’s a day to remember the victims of the Great War. Nearly three quarters of a million British men never returned. A lot of people will have relatives who died during the first World War and I will be amongst them. My great-great uncle Wilie Kerr, on my mother’s side, went off to war and died at the age of 19 in France on October 12th 1918- a month before the Armistice. It is sad to think that my grandmother Jean never got to meet her uncle, the youngest in the family. Willie was the youngest son of William and Annie Kerr.

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S/41896 Private Willie Kerr, my great-great uncle. Photo taken by my uncle Sandy. 

I was told the story of Willie by my uncle (mum’s brother) and my aunt as they were interested to know what happened to him. I found it so interesting and sad when I heard his story. I have always been interested in my family’s history and on that day I found out something new. My cousin a few years back went on a school trip to France and managed to find Willie’s grave and placed the only picture that we have of him and a cross next to his grave. And not so long ago my uncle and aunt went to France themselves and found his grave. It’s thanked to them that I have the picture of Willie’s grave (which is linked on the left). One day I hope to go to France and see Willie’s grave for myself.

I have no clue whether I have any relations from my dad’s side of the family who might have fought in WWI, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was. Willie is someone who we remember every November on Remembrance day and buy a red poppy. And I will remember him today while I light a single candle and turn off every other light in my house between the hours of 10-11pm.

It will be a moment of darkness as lights throughout the UK will start to dim off and light one single candle. The last candles held by the congregation in Westminster Abbey for a solemn Commemoration on the Centenary of the outbreak of WWI will be extinguished. It will symbolise a horrible beginning and the start of the Great War. The idea behind extinguishing the lights is to echo the words of the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey: ”The lamps have gone out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our times”.  The last flame, held by the Duchess of Cornwall, will go out over the grave of the Unknown Warrior, which dates from 1920. When this service of remembrance dips into darkness, it will refer not only to the outbreak of war but also its end.

Today is to remember all those who died and sacrificed themselves for their country. It is a day to remember the gallant soldiers, the weak and the frightened, those shot at dawn, those holding the fort at home, and even, as thought back then, the ‘enemy’.  It is a day to remember them ALL.

— K.J.Koukas

British troops in 1914