After the attack on Tinos, and our return to Athens, I remember feeling much safer later on when British forces came to the city to defend us against Italian and German forces. For various reasons my mother decided it was time for us to move into a new apartment. We felt comfortable in our new home in spite of the war and the air raids, which were becoming more frequent. It was during one of those raids that I met Norman. 

One day my best friend Emilia and I decided to walk to another friend’s house. We planned to spend the afternoon there and then take the bus home. Our walk would take us past an anti-aircraft installation that had been established by the British army. The two of us were engrossed in our conversation as we walked. In our preoccupation we didn’t hear the drone of the enemy planes above. We weren’t aware of anything being wrong until suddenly loud anti-aircraft guns started firing right next to us. 

We looked around and found ourselves in the middle of an air raid, with guns bursting and no place for us to hide. It was an open area with the nearest home quite a distance away. The eerie sounds of the sirens and the guns blasting away stopped us in our tracks. We froze, neither one of us knowing what to do next. A British soldier started yelling at us, motioning to us to take shelter in the entrenchment he was manning. We ran as fast as we could, reached the entrenchment and jumped over the sandbags and almost into the arms of the soldier. He introduced himself as Norman and, yelling over the gun fire with a British voice, informed us ladies that he was too busy to serve tea. He then turned back to his gun and started firing again. I had never felt such terror before. 

This was my very first close encounter with the reality of war. I covered my ears trying to block out the noise. Emilia was holding on to me and we both prayed it would be over soon. It lasted about ten minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. 

When the siren sounded all-clear Norman looked at us and smiled. His intense blue eyes and British accent scolded us for being far from home. But Norman was unusually kind and was surprised by my fluent English. He said he would like to walk us home, but unfortunately was on duty for quite a while longer. He asked if he could come over to see me later to check if I was OK. I gave him my address and asked him to come to my home about 7:30 that evening. We said goodbye and all the way home I wondered how I was going to tell my mother that I had invited a British soldier to our home and the circumstances under which I met him. When he showed up at our house, he kept his visit short and my mother thanked him for protecting us during the raid, a fact which had an influence in her assessment of him. 

We began to see each other, often double dating with Emilia and her boyfriend. As the war progressed so did our relationship. Mother worried. She felt her daughter was too young to be involved in a serious relationship. She said as much to Norman one day when I left the room for a few minutes. Norman told her that it started out as a casual friendship, and as much as he tried to avoid it, he’d become very fond of me. Then he said that he knew it was the wrong time and place to get involved, but that love doesn’t wait for the proper time to make its appearance. It just happens. 

* Adapted from Six Years to Freedom ©, unpublished manuscript by Angeline Spillias, 1992; ©Kenneth Spillias, 2017, 2019, 2022.