By the Autumn of 1940, British forces fighting the Second World War were dangerously overstretched: Paris had fallen, Benito Mussolini had pledged Italy’s support to Germany, and Greece was under a state of emergency, with fascist sympathies.
A POLITICAL stalemate in the Greek Parliament was broken when on August 4th, 1936, King George II approved a state of emergency under the leadership of Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas.* Metaxas then modelled his authoritarian government on that of Benito Mussolini’s Italy.
Mussolini committed Italy to Germany’s cause in June 1940, and in the small hours of October 28th, with the Blitz already heavy in London, the Italian Ambassador to Greece broke away from an Embassy party in Athens to present Metaxas with an ultimatum on behalf of the Axis Powers, demanding to use Greece as a Mediterranean base. The alternative was war.
‘Then it is war’ replied Metaxas, somewhat surprisingly. Just ninety minutes later, Italian troops stationed in Albania attacked the Greek border, but the Greek people rallied to Metaxas’s side, taking to the streets and adding their own cries of ‘No!’ to his. Their defiance is proudly remembered each year on the day, with parades and the laying of wreaths.*
* The instability in Greece was a result of a hung Parliament, with a small but potentially dangerous Communist party holding the balance of power (not necessarily a friend to Britain, as the Soviet Union still shared a non-aggression pact with Germany). King George II of Greece, moreover, had been restored to the throne only the year before, after eleven years of a Republic.
* The Greek Church has moved the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God from October 1st to October 28th, in recognition of the belief that Greece’s ‘No!’ was providential, a modern miracle. For the origins of the feast, see our post Our Lady’s Mantle.