With the port of Saranda liberated, German forces on the Greek island of Corfu found their escape route blocked and capitulated to the allies. 40 Commando was then redeployed to Corfu to hold the island until the Greek government could take control.
40 Commando Royal Marines led the raid but was backed up by 2 Commando. Between them they lost thirteen men in the first two days of the fighting – 7 from 40 Commando and 6 from 2 Commando, including their chaplain.
These were not the only British and Commonwealth servicemen to die in Albania. The Special Operations Executive worked with Albania’s communist partisans, led by Enver Hoxha, during the occupation, supplying both men and weapons. A number of those who fought with the partisans were killed, as were British and Australian pilots operating over Albania.
After the war, as Hoxha nurtured his own personality cult, he refused to acknowledge the role of the British – or any outside force – in the liberation of Albania. He had been particularly angered by the Saranda raid since, even though local partisans took part in the operation, Hoxha himself had neither been informed nor consulted.
He claimed that Saranda had been liberated by the partisans before the British ever arrived, or, alternatively, that while the British were holed up on the beaches the partisans had defeated the Germans. He also claimed that when the British left after the situation stabilised it was as a result of an ultimatum he had delivered telling them to get out.
His most disgusting attempt to rewrite history came when the bodies of British and Commonwealth servicemen killed in Albania, including those who died at Saranda, were exhumed and reburied in a mass unmarked grave in Tirana.
In 1985 Enver Hoxha died. The Enver Hoxha Memorial was built in his honour. Designed by his architect daughter the memorial was intended to celebrate Hoxha’s ‘achievements’. In Skanderbeg Square a gilded statue of Hoxha was erected. Hoxha himself was buried in an elaborate tomb in the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation (right).
In 1991 the vile regime established by Hoxha collapsed. His statue was toppled. The Enver Hoxha Memorial became the International Centre for Culture – or, more popularly, the Pyramid - and the following year Hoxha’s body was exhumed and reburied in an ordinary grave in the Kombinati cemetery.
Following the changes in Albania, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission began the process of collecting information on the fate of Commonwealth servicemen who had died in Albania.
In 1994 the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery was established close to the spot where the bodies of these men had been buried. At the centre of the memorial stands a block of red granite bearing inscriptions in Albanian and English. Each year, the British Embassy organises an Armistice Day ceremony at the site.
When I first wrote about the Tirana Park Cemetery, someone left a comment directing me to an article written by Hoxha’s son. This is what he wrote:
Shortly after the Berisha regime had disinterred my father's body from the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation, I was passing one day through the park in Tirana with its artificial lake when I noticed a memorial carved out of red marble.
I recognised it immediately as the gravestone which formerly marked my father's grave in the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation. It still bore the holes from the mountings of the letters of his name. But in place of the former inscription 'ENVER HOXHA (1908-1985)' was now written: '1939-1945: IN MEMORY OF BRITISH SOLDIERS WHO FELL IN ALBANIA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR'. As if it was not enough that these soldiers of the Second World War should be buried far from their homeland and their families, now they must bear the weight of the gravestone of Enver Hoxha.
A state which steals the gravestone of the man who led the country's war of national liberation in order to transform it into a memorial for foreign soldiers is a state totally lacking in any semblance of dignity. On the other hand it is an insult to the kingdom of Great Britain. At least, that is what I think.
Look again at the photograph of the tomb of Hoxha in the Martyrs Cemetery before his reburial and that of the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery. I found this story hard to believe, but I went back to the Tirana Park Cemetery and looked more closely. The holes that Hoxha’s son spoke of are still visible if you look closely enough.