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A Block of Granite

At dawn on 9 October 1944, 40 Commando Royal Marines launched a raid on the Southern Albanian town of Saranda. They landed on ‘Sugar Beach’ where they encountered strong resistance from German forces. Having managed to fight their way off the beach they joined up with local partisans and continued their assault, eventually subduing the Germans.

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.

To be sure, I contacted the CWGC and they confirmed that this is indeed the memorial block from Hoxha’s old tomb. Hoxha’s son considered its presence an insult to the Kingdom of Great Britain. I think it is a reminder that just sometimes there is some sort of justice in the world. This granite memorial that once stood in honour of a tyrant who is now despised and increasingly forgotten, now honours men who are, at last, respected and remembered.

Comments

Bravo Bravo Bravo!!!

I'm still trying to get people in Greece to remember the Marshall Plan and the American aid that pushed Greece into the modern world.

But, alas, with each passing day, more and more people pass away and the memory disappears.

My goal each day is let Greeks know that America is not only "Bush", and explain our glorious past to anyone who will listen.

Because, they certainly don't teach in Greek schools what the Marshall plan did for Greece. Or if they did, people aren't paying attention.

A shocker was that I had a talk with an 80 year old Greek man the other day and he coudn't sing enough praise for the US and their involvement in WWII. In fact, he told me of a little known story about a Greek-American brigade that was parachuted behind enemy lines in Greece.

But, if only 80 year olds remember this, than I guess life just slips away... Mercedes and BMW's now rule the roost, not ancient (sic) history.

Again, good story Alwyn...
ITS said…
Alwyn,

It was I, who left you that link. You are welcome.

It was Hoxha's son who wrote about the memoirs of post-communist Albania, not his daughter.

Now, there is one more reason for animosity between communist Albania and Great Britain. This is part of communist propaganda and I don't know how much truth it holds.

When King Zog I left Albania in 1939, right before the fascist invasion he settled in GB. He took a great amount of gold and deposited at a British bank.

Hoxha requested that the gold be returned to the Albanian people after the war. The Brits (friends of the Monarchy form of gov't) declined the request.

The result was 45 years of no diplomatic ties whatsoever. He might have re-written the history a bit too. History is a funny thing, you should know. It’s always written by winners. You should know that coming from a long line of winners who defined most of the Western history.

The tombstone story is still a little creepy, I find.
ourmanintirana said…
Yes, its, it was you. I have changed the ascription to the son instead.

I don't subscribe to the fashionable cliche that history is always written by the winners. The defeated or victimised tell their own stories and write their own histories - they may not be as well known but they are just as real and just as potent. And, most of the time, they are just as dishonest and manipulative as those of the winners.

I come from Northern Ireland where two communities in conflict had their own histories and where both were less interested in being portrayed as winners than being portrayed as victims.

You're right, history is a funny thing. That's why saying that it is written by the winners doesn't begin to come close to the truth.
ITS said…
The defeated and the victimized are soon forgotten, for the most part. For example, empires, or countries that were overtaken by the Romans, didn't leave that much behind to be remembered.

I was mostly referring to you as UK's citizen, rather than an Irish. Our Western world/history is defined by the British colonialism era, more than by those who were conquered.

Cheers,

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Welcome

Welcome to Our Man in Tirana. I moved to Tirana, capital of Albania, in October 2005 and left in October 2007. This blog is a mix of photographs, reports, links, impressions and, undoubtedly, prejudices relating to the city and the country.

Since I am no longer in Tirana I am no longer updating this blog. However, there are over 300 posts covering this two year period and I hope that they are still of some interest.

So if you are curious about Albania or if you are planning to visit I hope this blog will be of value.