Just beyond the gate to the Commonwealth War Cemetery, at Souda Bay, sheltered behind a hedge, is a makeshift cafe. There’s a little fat squat, round shouldered caravan and in the shade of a tree, a couple of plastic picnic tables. A man leans on from the open window in the side of the caravan.
“Come in! Come in!” he shouts cheerfully. “Beer! Coca! Come on! Come on!”
We turn in through hedge. It would be churlish to decline. The man settles us quickly at a table, then joins us with a round of Mythos.
This is Dimitrios. He’s thin, rangy, with sparse grey hair, small sharp eyes, a smile that never fades andand endless fund of stories. Born and raised around Chania, he was a boy when war broke out. He remembers the days when the Allied forces gathered on the island and the morning when the sky filled with German paratroopers. He lives in the house up the hill now. It was his wife’s family’s house. During the war it was requisitioned by the German Commander. When the Commander was kidnapped and smuggled off the island, by the Cretan Resistance, his pistols were left behind and they remain, to this day, Dimitrios tells us with a laugh, under his bed!
As a young man, Dimitrios was a seaman. He travelled the world, even to New Zealand! He sees many New Zealanders here. They come to visit the graves. They all come to his cafe too.
“Ah Maleme!” says Dimitrios, as a tiny white goat trots out from behind the caravan, “Some New Zealand girls gave her that name. They came to see their Uncle over there!” and he gestures away over the hedge towards the graves that lie in neat ranks beside the sea.