LIBERATION & LOVE 1944-1945
My mother had been missing for over a year and I had no idea where she was or if she was even alive. I was on my own with relatives in Athens helping me where possible.
I started working for the British as an interpreter. My office was located in British headquarters in Athens and I spent most of my days in the company of British soldiers of various ranks. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t become emotionally involved with anyone after my release from prison, although I had dated a couple of men in my unit as friends.
Then I met Lenny, and my resolve started to weaken day by day. Neither of us wanted any permanent commitments. He had a fiancée waiting for him in England and I wanted nothing to deter me from my goal of finding my mother and returning to America with her. But as fate would have it, love crept into my life. Although I knew I was heading for heartache, I ignored the consequences and allowed myself to love again. Perhaps I needed the warmth and affection. Lenny was a Sgt. in the Royal Army Service Corps. I met Lenny at work. He was someone who cared, someone who would make me feel safe and help me erase some of the terrible memories of the war, even if only for a little while. Lenny and I enjoyed each other’s company and we went to movies, parties and dinners together – some work related and some social. We visited the ancient ruins and were so thankful that the Germans didn’t go through with their threats to destroy the Acropolis. We took long walks on the beach. On one of those walks, as we strolled on the sand, we suddenly heard voices yelling in the distance. We looked ahead and noticed a small crowd of people waving their arms frantically. It was a few minutes before Lenny and I realized that the people were yelling at us, telling us to be careful. The people were screaming that we were walking on a mine field.
We froze solid. But Lenny kept me from panicking. Lenny said the barbed wire had been pulled away, so the area must have been cleared by the military. Even so, he said, sometimes they miss one here and there. Lenny said he would go ahead of me to carefully look around to find a path where I could follow in his footsteps in the sand . I prayed harder than I ever prayed before. Lenny stepped very slowly and cautiously, one by one. Finally, he reached the edge of the barbed wire area. He turned and encouraged me to come along until I too had made it to the edge. I fell into his arms laughing and crying at the same time. The crowd that had gathered let out a big cheer and shook our hands as we thanked them for warning us. We both laughed nervously and continued our stroll, this time on the sidewalk above the beach.
While at my desk one day translating a letter for one of the British officers I worked with, a corporal walked in the door and asked if I was Angeline Bouyoucas. Corporal William Andrews introduced himself and then said that he and I had a mutual friend. He said that he had just arrived from England, and when our mutual friend Norman heard he was coming to Greece he asked him to drop in on me. The corporal then handed me a letter from Norman. I was happy to hear that Norman was alive, since I hadn’t had any news of him since we were in prison. The corporal and I talked briefly and then I thanked him for the letter and he left.
I stared at the envelope, unsure if I wanted to know the contents or not. I looked at the clock and realized it was near lunch time. I grabbed my purse, told the office clerk I was going to lunch and headed toward the beach. I found a quiet spot away from the swimmers and opened the letter.
“My dearest Angie, I know you will be shocked and surprised to hear from me. I’m sure you had no way of knowing whether I made it or not. But here I am, safe and sound in Britain. After they shipped us to Italy, two of the other prisoners and I escaped and made it to the mountains. We joined a guerrilla group until the Allied troops liberated the area we were in, and we were sent home. I don’t know how to thank you Angie, you and your mother and Apollo, for saving my life. I know you have suffered so much for my sake, and I shall be forever grateful. I would like you to come to England and then maybe I can show you my gratitude. Please say hello to your mother and Apollo and write soon. All my love. Norman.”
I read that letter again and again and felt a lot of resentment. He didn’t profess any undying love and didn’t express any of the feelings we had shared for so long. I wondered how we could love each other so deeply, and yet forget that love and put it aside as though it never existed once the war ended. I sent Norman a return letter and asked him not to send a response.
I never heard from him again.
But that was the past and now it was the end of the war, and Lenny and I were facing a difficult choice about the future. My mother thankfully had recently and unexpectedly returned from Germany, and she and I were planning our trip back to the United States. As this fateful moment approached, one evening Lenny and I sat under the almond trees beyond the garden of the home where I was living. We had spoken little to each other about this future, fearing what we faced. On that evening we talked at length and kissed and wept together. Under the loveliness of that night, the moon and the stars shining bright above us, we said goodbye to each other, trying desperately to believe that this was not the end. I saw Lenny one last time at the dock when our ship left for America, then never saw him again. It was a new beginning for me.
* Adapted from Six Years to Freedom ©, unpublished manuscript by Angeline Spillias, 1992; ©Kenneth Spillias, 2017, 2019, 2022.