The Day Greece said a Loud OXI – NO – to Mussolini and the 2nd World War Took a Different Turn!
The Greco-Italian War took place between the kingdoms of Italy and Greece from 28 October 1940 to 23 April 1941. This local war began the Balkans Campaign of World War II between the Axis powers and the Allies and eventually turned into the Battle of Greece with British and German involvement. On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France and the United Kingdom. By September 1940, the Italians had invaded France, British Somaliland and Egypt. This was followed by a hostile press campaign in Italy against Greece, accused of being a British ally. A number of provocations culminated in the sinking of the Greek light cruiser Elli by the Italians on 15 August. On 28 October, Mussolini issued an ultimatum to Greece demanding the cession of Greek territory, which the Prime Minister of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, rejected. Italy’s invasion of Greece, launched from Italian-controlled Albania, was a fiasco: six divisions of the Italian Army, badly organized and insufficient to manage a full-scale invasion, encountered unexpectedly tenacious resistance by the Hellenic Army and had to contend with the mountainous and muddy terrain on the Albanian–Greek border.
28th October 1940
“Until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes.
Now we shall say: The heroes fight like Greeks.”
Sir Winston Churchill – Prime Minister United Kingdom
(From a speech he delivered from the BBC in the first days of the Greco-Italian war)
Today is the 28th October in Greece, and for all those who don’t know, it is the anniversary of one of Greece’s most glorious moments – OXI Day.
Today we are rejoicing! Along with the whole of Greece, Cyprus and the Greek communities around the world, we are celebrating the day that our small country decided to be David and take on Goliath.
Today we are honouring our heroes and giving thanks for the valiant and courageous stance our forefathers took on that historic day in October of 1940.
This is our tribute to those noble men and women who fought and died so that today we can be free.
We, not just as Greeks, but as citizens of a free and democratic world, owe an enormous debt of honour to them.
This ultimatum, a demand that Greece allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory or otherwise face war, was presented to Metaxas by the Italian Ambassador in Greece, Emanuele Grazzi, on October 28, 1940, at dawn (04:00 AM), ironically enough after a party in the German Embassy in Athens.
Metaxas, is supposed to have immediately answered with a single word:
Whether he actually did or not, is almost irrelevant… That simple but determined OXI, however it was said, was symbolic and significant. It represented the sentiments and principles of the entire Greek people. This word marked the beginning of Greece’s involvement in the Second World War, an involvement which was to cost Greece dearly, from every point of view.
An hour and a half after Metaxas’ response, at 05:30 AM, Italian troops stationed in Albania, then an Italian protectorate, attacked the Greek border.
The Greek nation was now officially at War!
On the early morning of Oct. 28, 1940, Greek leader Ioannis Metaxas faced a grim ultimatum from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini — surrender to Axis Powers, or fight for survival by entering World War II.
Mussolini’s forces had already amassed on Greece’s northern border, where they threatened to invade through Albania.
Metaxas issued a simple yet firm response that would echo for generations to come — “Alors, c’est la guerre,” meaning “Well then, it is war” in French — the widely used diplomatic language of the time.
The national leader’s subsequent message to the people of Greece — to “fight to your death” — was heard loud and clear throughout the world. His iconic response — and the implied “no” — made international headlines as tiny Greece was the latest nation attacked by the mighty Axis powers of Italy and Nazi Germany.
On the morning of October 28, the people, regardless of political affiliation, took to the streets, shouting ‘OXI’, and this reverberated throughout the country as people everywhere started to fight and resist the invading Italian Army. Greece’s participation in the war, daring to take a forceful and determined stand against the spreading fascism in Europe, was so much more impressive than many of the surrounding countries who gave in relatively quickly and with a much smaller ‘cost’, that it inspired a lot of admiration around the world.
One of the more well known salutes to the heroism of the Greek people was given by the US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who summed it all up beautifully…
“On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if a three day or three week or three year were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.”
The resistance against Mussolini’s troops and the subsequent German invasion was legendary. The Battle of Crete, in May 1941 was pivotal. A small nation, with very few means but with valiant and courageous people who showed determination and nobility of spirit, refusing to bow to the oppressor, worked with the Allied Forces and succeeded in delaying the German advance enough to affect the outcome of World War II.
The cost was enormous for Greece, economically, structurally and more importantly in terms of ‘casualties’. The entire male population of some villages was sent to the firing squad, executed because they refused to name a saboteur or the perpetrator of an anti-Nazi act. This did not cower the Greeks, they resisted with heart and soul until the very end.
Greece’s wonderful Sophia Vembo, like other artists of the time such as Anna Kalouta and Mimi Traiforos, added her magnificent voice to the fight against the occupying forces, and became synonymous with resistance and uprising, thus earning her the title of Singer of Victory (Τραγουδίστρια της Νίκης).
One song which is a feature of nearly all the videos is magnificent Paidia, tis Ellados Paidia, (Sons of Greece) – a particularly moving patriotic song which inspired everyone, regardless of his or her political affiliation, because it spoke directly to the heart of every Greek in Greece, so ‘real’ it became the national song of a whole generation.
It talks to the soldiers and their Mothers, women desperately trying to find, or get a glimpse of, their sons. Their sons, the sons of Greece, have been conscripted and are fighting the enemy in the mountains and villages of Greece, and the song urges the mothers not to weep because such faint-heartedness does not suit the temperament of Greek women and mothers; it tells them that they should be as heroic as Souliotisses, the women of Souli, who joined hands as if in dance and jumped to their death from the heights of Zaloggo, in Epirus, rather than be taken captive by the Turkish troops during the 1821 revolution. (see note and pictures below).
The final chorus tells the soldiers that everyone is praying and waiting for them to return on the wings of victory!
A truly beautiful song.