Part of a series of posts that cover my travel to Greece and the USA in April/May 2016.
April 26 2016 – Corinth
At sunrise I walk to the canal and reflect on what happened here when the Germans attacked 75 years ago to the day in 1941, As soldier/author Robert Crisp describes in his book, The Gods Were Neutral, ‘… first planes were heard shortly after 4am … scores of dots coming over the dark indistinct mass of Mt Parnassus … the air filled with the roaring of planes and deep detonations of the bombs punctuated by startled explanations of Bofors batteries and the rattle of small arms fire … then wave after wave of troop carrying planes disgorging hundred of parachutists so close to the ground that some of the parachutes could not open … the Allies did, in fact, inflict 285 casualties and they managed to blow the bridge.’ (NB: The charges on the canal bridge had been set by the 19th Battalion’s Wellington West Coast company some time earlier.)
I wander to the bus station and look for Yiannis the taxi driver. He is there. I ask him how much to take us to the old army barracks then to the beach, then past the old railways yards and across the submersible canal bridge at the north end of the canal then to the Canal Port Office at the south end of the canal where we will meet with PR Manager Theodora Filandra. He says 20 euros. It sounds very reasonable. I ask him to pick us up after breakfast.
Most tourists stopping in Isthmia want to go to the ruins at Ancient Corinth so Yiannis is very intrigued as to why we want to go to the barracks. We explain that in 1941 it had been taken over by the Germans to use as a POW transit camp and both our fathers spent several weeks there. It was a filthy, lice infested hole, dysentery was rife and there was not enough food for the thousands of men detained there. The POWs called it the ‘Corinth Cage’.
I had visited the barracks in 2013. Then it was a prison for ‘Undesirable Aliens’ and Neil and I were turned away although we did drive around the perimeter, which I asked Yiannis to do again today. More recently the barracks were used as a refugee camp. No-one is being held there in 2016 although there are still guards at the gate.
How lucky are we that Yiannis spent 4 months at the camp – it was a camp for officer training when he did his compulsory military service 38 years previously. The reception today was very different indeed and after a lot of talking and telephone calls, Tom and I were allowed inside. No cameras allowed although Rowena took some from outside.
Yiannis took us to Kalamia Beach where the prisoners had to walk approximately a mile to, naked, for their swim / wash, while their clothes were steamed to kill the lice. In the summer the beach will be filled with sunbathers but not on this windswept early spring day.
Backs towards the direction of the canal the old railway yards have rusting carriage after rusting carriage including some that looked like ones that were used to transport the prisoners north. We cross the canal over the submersible bridge (there’s one at each end) to the Loutraki side. On the way to the Corinth Canal Port Office, Yiannis makes a surpise stop at a track adjacent to the canal where we walk to a now disused railway bridge for a peaceful vantage point of the amazing canal.
We continue on to what will be one of the highlights of this epic day – a crossing of the Corinth Canal.