British perfidy in Greece: a story worth remembering | openDemocracy

On November 10 1947, the Daily Mirror became one of the few voices back home to question Britain’s role in the carnage, with a historic front page featuring two photographs of severed heads paraded by militiamen through the city of Trikala, under the headline: ‘What Are We British Doing Here?’ The edition caused a frantic exchange between Athens and the Foreign Office, with the head of the British Police Mission in Larisa trundling out the collaborators’ line that the offenders were ‘brigands’. “Prices were fixed on the heads of these bandits,” reported the British officer, “and following the usual custom, their heads were removed to be produced when the reward was claimed. There is no evidence at all of any atrocity having been committed. There is no disfigurement in any of the heads shown”. The British police report concluded: “the whole matter has been grossly exaggerated”. His Majesty’s embassy in Athens concurred: 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 author of this police report is little known: Sir Charles Wickham, assigned by Churchill to head the ‘British Police Mission’ to Greece, the man whose job it was to oversee the new Greek police and security forces – in effect to recruit the collaborators. 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.

But who is Sir Charles Wickham, and what was his collateral for this dubious post? He was a Yorkshireman and a military man, who served in the Boer War, during which concentration camps in the modern sense were invented by the British. Unusually, he then fought in Russia, as part of the allied ‘Expeditionary Force’ sent in 1918 to aid White Russian Czarist forces in their hapless opposition to the Bolshevik revolution, in which 40,000 British soldiers waylaid from the war against Germany – much as those in Greece were in 1944 – formed the largest national contingent.

After Greece, he moved on in 1948 to Palestine. But his career, his qualification for Greece was this: Sir Charles was the first Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, from 1922 to 1945, and to trace and understand this slice of hitherto untold Greek history we need to return back in time, and home.

The setting is the foundation of six-county Northern Ireland during the process of Irish independence from Britain and establishment of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913 by Edward Carson and James Craig before partition in 1921.

via British perfidy in Greece: a story worth remembering | openDemocracy.

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