timberland men boots Five White Headstones revisited
[The headstones] mark the British war dead of 1940 45. Albania wasn a major theater of action, but apparently things were happening, because forty five British soldiers got killed. (I counted the stones.)
It was very moving. The stones were simple white limestone. Each had a regimental crest “South Lancashire Fusiliers,” and such a name, age, dates, and a short line. Sometimes these were obviously dictated by the family (“Your wife and mother will cherish your memory”); more often, they were lines of poetry or Bible verses. The youngest soldier I saw was 22; the oldest, 37.
The whole enclosure wasn more than twenty feet by thirty, tops. It sat at a wide spot in the path, overlooking the little lake. There was a small stela with some withered poppy flower wreaths, presumably laid by the local British community.
I did notice one odd thing about the site: the headstones seemed much older than the graveyard itself. But the headstones looked older, possibly old enough to date back to the war. The obvious conclusion would be that there was an original cemetery set up by the British just after the war, but that the Communist government shut it down after relations soured. (But then, why keep the headstones? Or did they simply move the whole thing to some isolated spot in the mountains for 45 years?)
That post got a number of interesting comments.
First, the little graveyard turned out to be a .
“Following the end of the war in Europe, an Army Graves Registration Unit entered Albania with the task of concentrating the remains of Commonwealth Servicemen, lost in the struggle to secure Albania freedom, into a site chosen in the capital, Tirana. However, due to the political situation in the country, this task could not be completed, though 52 sets of remains were recovered in the short time available. Eventually, in 1955, after repeated requests to enter the country were refused, the Commission took the decision to commemorate the 38 identified casualties on special memorials erected in Phaleron War Cemetery in Greece. This situation remained thus until 1994, when a change in the political situation in Albania allowed a Commission representative access for the first time. Gotta love Enver Hoxha. After nearly 50 years, I wonder how they found them?
Anyway, that explains why the gravestones looked old, though the graveyard was obviously new:
“At the beginning of 1995, the 38 special memorials were removed from Phaleron and re erected as close as possible to the site of the mass grave, in an area designated the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery. In 1998, following a study of the Graves Registration unit files, it was possible for the Commission’s records staff to confirm the identities of a further seven casualties previously buried in Tirana War Cemetery as unknowns.”
The same site also has a nice
Lot of Special Ops fellows, which makes sense. A couple of air crews. Several Australians, too. Two NCOs who were just 19 years old.
And one Chaplain 4th class the Reverend Gareth Bernard, age 32, son of the Revd. Edgar Banting and Charlotte Emily Banting, of Plumtree Rectory, Nottingham. (Cantab.).
A Cambridge man, who came a long way from Plumtree Rectory.
Months later, I got this e mail:
I was pleased to find a reference at last to Revd. Gareth Banting. My father in law in named after this gentleman, who was a close friend of his father’s at Cambridge.
I was looking for any further details of Revd Banting’s death. The story told in my father in law’s family is shocking and hard to credit in its original form.
The story was that he died in North Africa. He is said to have come across a British sergeant about to drive a party of German prisoners across a minefield. Unable to countermand him, Revd. Banting undertook to accompany the Germans, and was killed.
Such an atrocity would be difficult for any British person to accept, especially in North Africa where the war was generally fought with chivalry one of the German commanders called his memoirs ‘Krieg Ohne Hass’ War Without Hate.
Knowing however that Revd Banting died in Albania, the incident becomes more credible. I couldn’t comment on the attitude of British Special Forces (he was attached to 2 Commando)to taking prisoners in general, but in a partisan war especially this partisan war the killing of prisoners would be much more common. The partisan war in the Balkans was as I understand fought with brutality and atrocity on all sides, especially against civilians and prisoners.
Personally I attribute the destruction of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s substantially to the grief and hatred the Germans left behind every bit as bad as in Poland and Russia.
I wanted to revisit this because I strongly agree with that last point. Much of the recent bloody history of the Balkans gets attributed to “ancient tribal hatreds”. That’s nonsense. A slightly more sophisticated analysis ascribes it to the fissures left by the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. That’s a bit better, but it’s still missing a huge piece.
The Second World War is the elephant in the kitchen of Balkan history. Many if not most of the region’s problems especially its problems with violence date back to that war and its aftermath. In Southeast Europe, World War Two was very bloody and very bitter, and it left festering scars that have not entirely healed today. Every country in the region was drawn into the war, and every country in the region took heavy casualties.
So, for instance, Kosovo. World War Two rolled over it with blood and fire, just like the rest of the Balkans. It was annexed to Italian Albania, then taken over by the Germans two years later. Tito’s Communists and the Serbian Royalist Cetniks both were active all over the province, shooting at the Germans and at each other. The Albanians tended to support the Axis, and some joined the “Skanderbeg” Waffen SS division. (A few went the other way and joined the Communists. None went with the Cetniks.)
So, between Communists, Cetniks, Germans and Albanians (Nazi and non), Kosovo was a free fire zone through much of 1944. And even after the Germans left, the killing kept on. The province wasn’t really quiet until 1949, and Tito’s new government had to kill a lot of Albanians first. So, much of the bitterness in the 1980s stemmed not from “ancient” hatreds, but from mutual accusations of atrocities, massacre and ethnic cleansing in the years between 1941 and 1949.
Anyway. God rest the late Reverend Gareth B. Banting. And may it be a long time before any other Cambridge men have to come to the Balkans to die.
Thank for this interesting story. I think you right when you write that WWII was a more important factor in the wars during the 1990s than any hatreds.
Of course, the breakup of the Ottoman empire led to WWI which led to WWII which led to Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. But still, if things had been cleard up properly after WWII instead of being pasted over, things MIGHT have turned out differently.